Monday, August 28, 2006

Security After Katrina: One Year Later

[Also appears atBlogcritics:]

copyright 2006 Jayson Harsin

One year after Hurricane Katrina, the mediated remembrance of that American political (as much as natural) disaster remains sadly selective and, well, typical. On Katrina's first anniversary, American media cheerfully circulate a renewed barrage of stories about glorious private generosity in a time of need; and hackneyed political slogans about security, freedom, duty, compassion, and an ownership society. Those who deliberately use such words are obviously cynical since they imply that democracy does not require careful discussion of complex and emotionally powerful words/ideas such as freedom and security, so they use them with clear consciences to gain consent for their own agendas.

The material insecurity of thousands of American citizens in New Orleans (representative of millions of others in that country and the world) so terribly evident in the images of floating bodies, on the one hand, and an exodus of SUVs, on the other, was the bitterest of ironies since it came at a time when political speech and news media inundated the American public with platitudes about national security and freedom. Recent attempts to exploit the occasion of the uncovered London bombing plan have generated a similar mediated political climate on Katrina's anniversary. Yet such powerful but contested words, as Abraham Lincoln noted, must in the name of ethics be defined and their competing interpretations discussed:

Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty. (Address at a Sanitary Fair, 1864)
A year ago, it was obvious to many Americans (certainly to those waterlogged and praying on their rooftops for rescue of their bodies, since the material markers of their American dream were gone forever) that it was time for a re-thinking or rediscovery of security and government and citizen responsibility for the minimal wellbeing of all American citizens. This latter issue should not have to be argued here, but for those doubters, consider the caution of some of the world's greatest thinkers on the health of democratic republics. Katrina has everything to do with the health and future of American democracy as an example for the world.

Aristotle, for example, argued that it was in the interest of all that a democracy did not have great extremes in wealth (Politics 6.5, and discussed in relation to the founding of the U.S. by David Hopp): "Poverty is the cause of the defects of democracy. That is the reason why measures should be taken to ensure a permanent level of prosperity. "

He does not say that everyone should have the same amount of wealth, but just that great extremes are dangerous to the health of democracy, since they produce envy, faction, hate, and possibly even revolution. Ironically, George W. Bush has even unwittingly acknowledged this truth, applying it to Iraq and not to his own country:

I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again. As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. (State of the Union Address 2004)
America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society. (State of the Union Address, 2006; See Also Second Inaugural)
One of the greatest leaders in the history of democracy, the Athenian Pericles, went so far as to argue that this kind of equality and commitment to one another in a democracy even made its armies more formidable, as they had so much more to lose, unlike those forced to fight for regimes with huge discrepancies in power. One might recall this, too, as over 2,600 young Americans have now died and nearly 20,000 have been wounded in Iraq in the name of the duty to spread freedom and to insure American security by pre-empting terrorism.

One year later, the cutting irony than Katrina occurred in a media and political culture saturated with security and freedom talk has not abated. This is not wholly the fault of opportunistic politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats, who deliberately stultify such lofty terms as freedom, democracy, and security to suit their agendas. It is also the fault of the news media.

Political Communication scholars note the short-life of new stories or cycles. Newsgathering business values privilege certain orientations over others in the coverage of events--what scholars call news "frames." A frame refers to "persistent patterns of selection, emphasis, and exclusion which furnish an interpretation of events." An episodic frame is one the most popular news frame in U.S. news culture. Episodic frames fit into action entertainment genres. Something erupts out of a state of equilibrium, which then passes, resolved by the triumph of good and the punishments it metes or the healing process of grief. These events give way to another major newsworthy event designed to sustain interest for a short while. Thematic frames, on the other hand, give publics a deeper historical and causal explanation for events, and they would, ideally, provide voice to many different sources in the production of such explanations.

Sadly, though Katrina received some more complex explanations and discussions, they were not terribly widespread, and this partly due to the short time constraints of mainstream news presentations, which due to the structure of their productions, favor limited sources and soundbite explanations, if any at all (often viewers are left to infer what might be the cause of a huge event, such as the LA riots of 1992 or the Seattle Protests against the WTO). So it was with Katrina, and after quick rhetorical fixes and false promises to address the puzzling issue of unequal opportunities and conditions (even to exodus a disaster zone) with "bold action." Katrina, like the news frame that largely accompanied it, swept in like--a hurricane. Then it rolled out almost as quickly, as if such threats to security of citizens and the health of democracy itself were just another episodic news story. Such media and political treatments of the most serious threats to American security have resulted in an ignorance of the magnitude and roots of the problem.

In this context, in memory of those who died and lost their homes and other possessions, it is worth thinking carefully about how our political leaders, media, and society have remembered the tragedy.

Security after New Orleans: What Time Tells Us

Poignant images of poor New Orleans residents retreating from the deluge touched a nation and a world, raising troublesome questions about security and the cyclical issue of poverty in the United States. For some older Americans, these images evoked an earlier security panic—the Great Depression. We heard talk about New Deals: both the rediscovery of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and the promise of George W. Bush’s. Beneath the surface of apparent similarity, however, the two deals and the insecurity they promised to relieve were fundamentally different. Bush’s affinity for the New Deal does not run deep, and this is not the first time that he and his predecessors have used its keywords to support policies that undermine its spirit of securing freedom for all Americans.

Roosevelt’s deal was new by comparison to the security and freedom doctrine that came before him. His predecessor Herbert Hoover responded to a condition of national insecurity with ineffective solutions of rugged individualism and minimalist government. Roosevelt argued for a more activist federal government, not to expand government-for-government’s-sake, but because the Depression had shown that individuals could no longer be held completely responsible for their own security. In a time when small shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and farmers were fast disappearing, Roosevelt identified the primary threat to security as the market free of public interest. He promoted a vision of Abraham Lincoln’s government of, by, and for the people as a citizen’s vehicle for dealing with the inevitable and sometimes catastrophic whims of nature, markets and businesses. He maintained this mature vision of security even in the throes of World War II, emphasizing the equal importance of military and social security. For Roosevelt, the social and economic aspects of security were so critical to American freedom that he went so far as to call for an Economic Bill of Rights to supplement the already existing political Bill of Rights.

At the heart of Roosevelt’s New Deal was his argument that freedom could not be viewed as a natural state individually embraced through work or willingly denied through sloth when 1/3 of the American nation was ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-housed. In fact, Roosevelt viewed such poverty as a threat to the nation’s political, social and military security.

The poverty laid bare by Hurricane Katrina demonstrates that obtrusive conditions confronted during the Depression do in fact persist today, in terms of housing, education, healthcare, leisure, political access. Bush’s response to this has been far from “new.” Like Hoover, Reagan, and his own father before him, Bush continues to promote self-discipline and private cures, includig voluntarism, as solutions to large-scale security problems. In this decades-old argument, the federal government should cut all but verbal support for those living in insecure economic conditions, leaving the relief work to good Samaritans who represent the best of the American spirit. But the private sphere of charities could not deal with the magnitude of the security fallout in New Orleans.

The media unwittingly promoted this voluntarist line, telling the New Orleans story almost exclusively through the melodramatic frames of individual heroism and natural disaster. Largely absent from this coverage was an analysis of how Bush and his predecessors’ attempts to repeal the (old) New Deal directly contributed to the un-natural disaster that was Katrina. Katrina was a necessary cause for New Orleans, but it was not sufficient. By relentlessly trimming the “fat” of FDR’s legacy from the federal budget—including income supports, transportation, and public works such as levee repair—the Bush administration has left behind a skeleton security state unable to withstand any significant threat.

In the wake of the hurricane, Bush promised support for minority-owned small businesses but failed to specify how education, public health, and other key resources would be permanently secured for vulnerable citizens. On the contrary, he and some Republicans argued that reconstruction could be financed by trimming more "fat" (part of the plan to promote freedom and prosperity for all). Additional cuts only aggravate the insecurity of poor Americans. Besides, why reconstruct if only to abandon citizens to insecurity again?

George W. Bush staked his reputation on security and has said repeatedly that his number one duty is to protect U.S. citizens. But security has many meanings and demands. The deep floodwaters of New Orleans revealed just how shallow Bush's understanding of security really was. A year later, the president and the media have made little effort to face the deep responsibilities of national security.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

REVIEW: Rock en Seine: ça rocke pas

Friday, August 25, 2006
Paris, France

I like the idea of a rock festival. I have fond memories of Lollapolooza--what was it?--1993, with acts like Luscious Jackson, Sonic Youth, Yo la Tango, George Clinton, and R.E.M. (before they started to suck beyond redemption) on dueling, yes, multiple, stages. I also always forgot how disappointed I was each time I attended such a supersize-me-goes-musical event, with their mostly short, drunken or lifelessly indifferent sets. It was punch in, punch out. Of course, most of the fun was social, not strictly musical (if the sociologists of music will permit me this indulgent categorical split). The Grateful Dead concerts are a case in point (not speaking from experience, but so I've heard; that reminds me of one of my favorite old jokes: "what does a deadhead say when he/she runs out of pot? This music sucks!").

As you can tell from this photo. I'm feeling good in the solidarity of rock...

[are you a new reader? You must see immediately that I have a dangerous compulsion toward the parenththesis (!). Refrain from judgment for a moment. Be transgressive. Consider that there might be pleasure in the parenthesis, perhaps even new knowledge, new paths, new directions. Let yourself go. Feels good, don't it?]

There was joy in being part of a partying little group that was part of a huge, anonymous but somehow shared experience/group, like having a national, ethnic, or fan identity. But I digress.

So it was with some nostalgia that I the American in Paris marched into the Rock en Seine festival with the old ball 'n chain (;. The first thing we recalled of such events is the annoyance of lines. Snaking into the horizon at least a mile long (still haven't learned kilometers: Thanks, Reagan) were the hordes (now I know why they called one of these things Hordefest in the American 90s; I didn't know that from experience, either, mainly because I never liked the Spin Doctors or Big Head Todd). One wondered how many French there were in the hordes, since our little everywhere in the blob-line was like a special EU task force sent to the festival, mostly in Morrissey t-shirts, and speaking creatively accented English. But you could spot the Froggies, as the blagueur has already noted, by their comme il faut scarves and blazers (no, not all of them, but enough to stand out). Hip is a culturally specific concept, despite the globalization of, well, everything, including hip.

So thirty or forty minutes later they took our tickets and we entered the park to find three stages vertically staggered over about a half-mile, and connected by tents full of heineken and Coca Cola, ipod and Levis peddlers. We had missed Calexico, one of the two main bands we had paid some forty euros to see/hear (we originally got there at about the time the thing was to start 15:00; it went 'til midnight). The first act we heard was
Dirty, Pretty Things, the Libertines break-up band. I don't remember much. It didn't suck. Some down time eating sausages, frites, and guzzling 5euro pints of Heineken--pas trop cher.

Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say YeahThen the band we'd been waiting for, Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. They were almost worth the entire ticket. Heady lyrics ("We can do the Zarathustra") and melodic but patently quirky vocals (high and vaguely David Byrne-like with the long-lilt abruptly punctuated by staccato yelps, though he contorts his voice and jumps around the scale more than his ancestor) and lively compositions. The band's other members provide some fascinating hooks that clearly glean from a hybrid of folk like Tom Waits and 80's synth-pop like O.M.D. They looked like indie American thirty-somethings. The lead singer was losing his hair a bit, and, as it turned out, also his voice. Still, he was a good sport; all of them were. They gave it their all and appeared to have fun doing it. This is stuff to jump around and smile to, even when the content defies the form.

It was tough to follow Clap Your Hands. The popular in Britain Kasabian fell flat for us. More top-40 pop dross, neither terribly catchy nor smart, derivative beats that the kids can hop around to and open the pressure cooker of teenage anxiety. The hopelessly insecure lead singer who kept asking for applause didn't increase the appeal.

Jack White's latest effort as part of the Raconteurs (which they gleefully mispronounce in front of their Paris audience) struck me as sad. Yet another talented rock flash (I really only liked the first White Stripes and a couple of tracks off later albums) flailing about in the limelight. Nothing will ever be like it was. So he reverts to the past, the deep past, getting together with old friends with whom he is supposed to be just another band member and pumping out un-ironic 70s c*%ck rock. High decibel, hard guitars, but without the catchiness, the melody, the memorable chorus that blunted the hard edge of the best Kiss, Cheap Trick, or (at their hardest guitar moments) Queen or Styx songs. As with these 70s rockers, when it loses a melody, even a hard one, it's like any other kind of monotonous noise.

Speaking of monotonous noise, there was Morrissey for the festival's finale (actually he dueled DJ Shadow for the bounty of attention at night's end). But before him there was TV on Radio. These three African-American (plus one white guy) rockers were endearing. The vocal style did deliberately invoke Hendrix, and the music was pretty rockin'. Yet, it was also uninsprining, thoroughly mediocre. Again, nothing really "stuck." A bit disappointing given how much they've been feted in the indie press.

And Morrissey. I had never seen the man, the legend, the freak (depending on your taste). I confess to being one of the tormented youth to whom he extended solidarity, a counter-public if you will, in the late 80s. One of my favorite contemporary quirkpop songwriters, Joe Pernice, caputred the subcultural zeitgeist in a recent novel on how The Smiths helped him survive high school. I spent a good deal of college listening to the Smith's, admiring Morrissey's articulately lyrical alienation and Johnny Marr's beautiful guitar compliments. They could rock, they could weep, they could laugh, sometimes all in one or two bars ("What She Said, I smoke, cause I'm hoping for an early death and I need to cling to someone..."; "I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I'm miserable now."). This was no ordinary performer/fan encounter for me. The Smith's are in the pantheon for me, along with the Clash, Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, and Uncle Tupelo.

Morrissey strode into the limelight, a dapper sixty-year old (I'm guessing) in gray-black blazer and marroon shirt, accompanied by five young men in white pants and green t-shirts that read "playboys." In the background was a giant projection of Oscar Wilde in his wavy bob. What are you trying to say with this, Morrissey? Ah, the same thing you've been saying for over twenty years. But alas, it was tired, the whole innuendo now a cliche'. He started off with a misleading bang, rescuing "Panic" from the Smith's dustbin (no little irony that DJ shadow was performing to the electronic crowd a few meters aloft, though I actually like what I've heard by him). It got us all going: "Burn down the disco. Hang the blessed dj, for the music that they constantly play, says nothing to me about my life, hang the blessed dj...." The accompanying band actually rocked it pretty well. But then he proceeded to trot out a seemingly endless string of near spoken-word, obviously auto-biographical tripe. Heaven knows he's miserable now. But it ain't catchy.

I say "near spoken-word" because it was if he was trying on the spot to come up with a melody while reading his un-edited diary. I've always felt Morrissey solo suffered from the compositional genius of Johnny Marr and the creative relationship of the Smiths as a band. There's a disjuncture between Morrissey's lyrics, his vocals, and the musical accompaniment. I liked a couple of songs off "Suedehead," and then I really stopped listening to him. Now and again, a friend would put on something like "the more you ignore, me the closer I get, you're just wasting your time, " or "the last of the international playboys," and I'd feel a taste of the Smith's madeleine and the guilt that I'd given up too early. But his performance last night reassured me that it's somtimes better to remember what inspired as it was, not as it is. If Keats and Shelley had lived to a ripe old age, who knows: perhaps they would've sucked consistently for some thirty odd years. I loved most of Morrisey's Smith's lyrics, but now, the les bons mots are few and far between. At least I know what I've been missing, and it's best that way.

As I was leaving, I wondered if I was too old for this, even though I hate those people who live life according to the Miss Manner's age-o-meter ("You're still doing that? You still go to bars? Well, you don't have kids, afterall, but..."). No, I thought, it's not the event en principe, which is the problem. But I vow never to go to a festival again unless there at least three bands that I really like or love. I love Clap Your Hands. But even they aren't worth 40 euros and 7 hours of waiting for a Morrissey who no longer exists.

Friday, August 25, 2006

George Washington to Americans: Free Yourselves: Destroy political parties!

Abolish political parties in the U.S.! Re-learn/re-imagine politics! General George said so. Little known to Americans today is that the first president of the U.S. and beloved Founding Father, George Washington saw political parties (i.e. brands such as Republicans and Democrats) as a threat to free and public-interested politics and administration of the government. He was especially worried about the possible despotism of one party taking over all branches of government. Today, through political branding, as much as demagoguery in Washington's time, such a despotism is possible, especially when politics has converged with entertainment and marketing anyway. Don't believe me? Listen to George yourself:

"[...]I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy....

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.... If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.[...] Read the entire farewell address if you like.--1796

colbert on wikipedia (i.e. rumor bombs)

Recently, Stephen Colbert, perhaps the greatest and funniest living cultural critic, directed his energies at one of the most fascinating contemporary cultural phenomenons, wikipedia. Clearly, he sees this phenomenon not as the propitious liberation of knowledge production from managing elites but as yet another fake substitute for political democracy, as much a tool of elites who love the war over truth as a threat to them. Wikipedia, in other words, may function as a rumor bomb, where the crisis for verification, supplanted by belief and desire, continues. Click Click Click!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Review: Paris Je t'aime

Paris, Je T'aime: je l'aime plus ou moins

Copyright 2006 by Jayson Harsin
(also published on Bad Subjects)

This is a film of multiple shorts, 20 in fact, by 20 established more or less arty filmmakers, conceived by Tristan Carné & Emmanuel Benbihy. Each short, maximum of five minutes, takes a neighborhood of Paris for its vignette and statement. Unfortunately, most of these stick to well-known neighborhoods in the interntional tourist imagination: Tuileries, Eiffel Tower, Marais, Pigalle, Pêre La Chaise, Montmartre, Montparnasse, Quai de Seine...The ones that ventured into more working class, immigrant or less touristy neighborhoods like Place des Fêtes were among the most creative and moving. Though most dealt with well-known neighborhoods, they often used them to make impressive hardly formulaic stories.

I had several favorites of the bunch. Here are my top three, which barely nudged out Place des Fêtes, a beautiful flashback about a young African immigrant musician stabbed, dying and in love with his paramedic about whom he had just written a love song; and Quai de Seine, a gorgeous intercultural love story.

1. Tour Eiffel. This is a movingly creative short by Sylvain Chomet, which uses the device of a charmingly nerdy schoolboy who tells the camera a la documentary that his parents are in jail. The rest of the short is a flashback showing how his parents landed in jail through a typical day in the life of two atypical parents of the quarter: two mimes. The result is warm hilarity.

2. 14 Arrondissement (Montparnasse and Parc Montsouris): Alexander Payne in Paris. Overtones of About Schmidt galore. Tragi-comic. The main character is a stereotypically overweight but earnest middle-aged, perhaps Middle-West, American woman, in Paris for a week—alone. She narrates her week there, in partly comical fashion, sharing her dedicated attempts to advance her knowledge of and ability in the French language with minimal success (she is answered in English by the shopkeepers she addresses). She is a kind of "everyman," and yet as Payne is brilliant at creating, she is momentarily insightful, about herself, Paris, and humanity, offering fleeting, poignant x-rays of the human condition, that will force tiny tears to the corners of a charitable audience’s eyes.

3. Walter Salles' Loin du 16me is a subtle and haunting micro-Dickensian tale of two cities. Reminiscent of the irony of the discourse about parental responsibility generated around the November 2005 banlieue riots, this short features an immigrant nanny who rises early in the suburbs to leave her child in daycare, only to arrive in the posh 16me to care for the infants of the rich. She sacrifices time raising her own baby in order to afford to raise her and supposedly provide her a good home and future. But the suggestion is that it is the rich infant that will prosper most from her loving attention. The political economy of child care and nurture. Powerful.

Several of the shorts followed the same structural narrative. They told a story that piled up intrigue to a climax, only to undercut the expectations of the narrative and thus of the audience, worthy of a Maupassant short. Other shorts, like Nobuhiro Suwa's Place des Victoires, had potential but despite decent ideas and odd twists end up seeming hackneyed or relying too much on big devices for such small points. For example, Suwa's piece features world cinema bigshots like Juliette Binoche and Wilem Dafoe in a story about a mother drowning in grief for her dead son. Dafoe appears as a kind of otherwordly Charon in Western duds (reminiscent of the bizarre cowboy in Lynch's Mulholland Drive) who appears to comfort Binoche before he ferries her son across Styx to the nether world (but the ferry is a horse, and Styx is a dark alley leading out of the Place). Likewise, the Coen brothers provide a clever meditation on the ugly American tourist (Steve Buscemi) who turns out to be just as hapless as he is ugly, with his bright white sneakers and bag full of tourist kitsch, which, as with other characters in their oeuvre, makes him worthy of ambivalent sympathy. It's hard to imagine the Coen brothers with a different take on the American Tourist.

For some of the films, Paris need not even be the setting, as with, for example, the ridiculous vampire that haunts Madeleine. Furthermore, for some of these films, “Paris, je t’aime” is an ironic device. Clearly, there is plenty to "n'aime pas," given one's knowledge/values/experience/perspective.

Overall, this is a charming film that makes statements about Paris and its place in reflections on both contemporary social life as well as the greater human condition.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Krugman on Gore film

I think it's worth re-posting this Krugman piece.

May 26, 2006OP-ED COLUMNISTA Test of Our CharacterBy PAUL KRUGMAN
In his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore suggests that there are three reasons it's hard to getaction on global warming. The first is boiled-frog syndrome: because the effects of greenhouse gases buildup gradually, at any given moment it's easier to do nothing. The second is the perception, nurtured by acareful disinformation campaign, that there's still a lot of uncertainty about whether man-made globalwarming is a serious problem. The third is the belief, again fostered by disinformation, that trying to curbglobal warming would have devastating economic effects.
I'd add a fourth reason, which I'll talk about in a minute. But first, let's notice that Mr. Gore couldn't haveasked for a better illustration of disinformation campaigns than the reaction of energy-industry lobbyistsand right-wing media organizations to his film.
The cover story in the current issue of National Review is titled "Scare of the Century." As evidence thatglobal warming isn't really happening, it offers the fact that some Antarctic ice sheets are getting thicker— a point also emphasized in a TV ad by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is partly financed bylarge oil companies, whose interests it reliably represents.
Curt Davis, a scientist whose work is cited both by the institute and by National Review, has alreadyprotested. "These television ads," he declared in a press release, "are a deliberate effort to confuse andmislead the public about the global warming debate." He points out that an initial increase in thethickness of Antarctica's interior ice sheets is a predicted consequence of a warming planet, so that hisresults actually support global warming rather than refuting it.
Even as the usual suspects describe well-founded concerns about global warming as hysteria, they issuehysterical warnings about the economic consequences of environmentalism. "Al Gore's global warmingmovie: could it destroy the economy?" Fox News asked.
Well, no, it couldn't. There's some dispute among economists over how forcefully we should act to curbgreenhouse gases, but there's broad consensus that even a very strong program to reduce emissions wouldhave only modest effects on economic growth. At worst, G.D.P. growth might be, say, one-tenth or twotenthsof a percentage point lower over the next 20 years. And while some industries would lose jobs,others would gain.
Actually, the right's panicky response to Mr. Gore's film is probably a good thing, because it reveals for allto see the dishonesty and fear-mongering on which the opposition to doing something about climatechange rests.
But "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't just about global warming, of course. It's also about Mr. Gore. And it is,implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.
Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could bedenied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him afigure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr.Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, manyyears before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbersand serious analysis.
And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything butthe issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both illinformed and dishonest).
I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore apresidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person whoought to be running the country.
Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe whatthey want to believe, sit in the White House. Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleansis a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.
But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean boththe public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk aboutcomplicated issues and call for responsible policies? That's a test of national character. I wonder whetherwe'll pass.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Saturday, August 12, 2006

YouTube infiltrated by PR strategists

There is no fine line between indymedia and mainstream. There are plenty of specific examples of quality and content differences,etc. But PR-driven politics, fake news, fake everything is everywhere--rumor bombs explode at every turn. Well-circulated political speech has not belonged to everyday citizens of American democracy in a long, long time. But this sort of thing has taken the charade to a new level.
See for example this ABC story on the Exxon-funded PR-YouTube spoof of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Another bombing attempt=Freedomlovers vs. Freedomhaters

Why do premiere world news organizations like the NY Times give George Bush and Tony Blair a free stage for their manichean dramas? If they're going to let them try to frame events for their own political agendas, the least they can do is let a counterpoint, -view, -frame follow them.

Consider this from yesterday's NYT:

"But news of the plot also played into the fractured politics on both sides of the Atlantic, bolstering the arguments of those in London and Washington who argue, like Prime Minister Tony Blair, that the West is locked in an “elemental battle” with radical Islam. In the United States, President Bush said the plot showed that the United States was “at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.”
This is a job for Captain Freedom, if there ever was one. Freedom and Security? The pinnacle of cynicism.

We are not told that our freedom and security are threatened by neo-liberal economic policies and theories of government. We are not told that lack of adequate healthcare, education, food, work, and access to political representatives and media organizations for all citizens (in the U.S. and elsewhere) is a threat to freedom, security, and democracy. Nor are we told that violent right-wing political ideologues have already taken many American lives on American soil in the first major terrorist attack in the U.S.--Timothy McVeigh's.

Let us then return to Lincoln for inspiration in these depressing times where events are exploited at every turn by political opportunists.

"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names— liberty and tyranny.
The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the process by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty, and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary has been repudiated." --Abraham Lincoln, LECTURE ON LIBERTY ADDRESS AT SANITARY FAIR IN BALTIMORE, APRIL 18, 1864.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gory Details of Political Communication about the Earth

The Crying Indian (1974)
Watch it here.

As I predicted in my review of the Gore film, the conservatives will not
engage the film's arguments en totale. Gore's two or three quibbl-ible points are then used to brand him as a propagandist on par with Hitler and Goebbels--literally. And this did not appear on Rush Limbaugh, but on CNN (Yes, spare me your yawns;there's a difference)! Click here for the story. Now that's the kind of public discourse worthy of a healthy democracy...

Such cynical political speech and media redcarpeting thereof can send a democracy-lover into a spiral of pessimism and depression. Really, what good is it to start trotting out even the government's own top scientists to make the point to a few shamefully selfish and myopic ("it wouldn't be good for the economy" to limit greenhouse fuels) interests that the world will very likely end in the next 50-200 years if substantial structural change isn't made pronto? How does one proceed in this game of persuasion whose stakes are the fate of the planet and its species?

For a couple more mainstream reports, see this, and especially this.

Secondly, unsurprisingly I'm finding more examples of politics as rumor bomb even here. Instead of engaging Gore and his film on the level of claims and evidence (which isn't that hard; it doesn't ALL hold up, even if most of it does), they hire a public relations firm to diminish him in as entertaining a way as possible. If you thought "YouTube" was apolitical or at least a sometimes tool of left activists and alternative media, think again. A snippet from the article: "What is certain is that political operatives, public relations experts and ad agencies" are increasingly using video-sharing websites like YouTube to shape public opinion." For the rest of that, click here.

p.s. Where do people think energy comes from, the wall (especially so-called "educated" people)? Consider this: "When it comes to devouring our natural resources, the places we live and work are monsters. More than half the materials consumed globally are used in construction, and 45 percent of the world's energy is used to heat, light, and ventilate our [American] buildings." "There is certainly a lot to dispose of. Americans produce 800kg of post-consumer waste per person per year. Europeans produce 400 kg. Between 1980 and 1985 every OECD country (except Germany and Japan) increased its flow of municipal solid waste - Ireland by as much as 72%. Between 1940 and 1976, the USA consumed more minerals than the whole of humanity did prior to 1940." "If the rest of the world's people lived and consumed like that average American, we would need five planets to support them" (source). Not only does all this crap we consume in the West go in landfills or into the atmosphere, but it is made through ecologically harmful expenditures of energy and is sometimes consumed through similar expenditures (our appliances, cars, boats, planes, motorcycles,etc.). All of this is in a global context where parts of the world, their energy reserves, and peoples are disproportionately exploited and served. Remember that next time Tom Bodett says, "We'll leave the lights on for you." (That's right, friend, I'M going to try to practice what I preach, too! Forget about racism, gender discrimination, classism etc. for a second, though they're all caught up in this issue. If we don't have a planet left on which to wage battles for justice, there ain't much point in worrying about them.

Further reading:
  • How PR firms manage major environmental organizations and public opinion generally: Click