Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reprise: Got Milk?

UPDATE: The following entry was originally posted on September 7, 2008, but I thought it made sense to repost it now since "Milk" is finally in theaters. Drea and I saw it yesterday and enjoyed it very much. The pacing lags a bit in the second half of the film and a couple of the characters are thinly drawn, but overall we thought it was great and that there were several strong acting performances in it.


Here is the trailer for Gus VanSant's new film, "Milk," starring Sean Penn. It looks great. Check it out:

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to hold a major political office in the United States when he became a City Supervisor for San Francisco in 1976. (TIME Magazine has named him one of the 100 heroes of the 20th century.) Known as "The Mayor of Castro Street," Milk was an advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians, as well as an advocate of civil rights, more broadly. In 1978, Milk and S.F. Mayor Willie Moscone were gunned down at the capitol by a disgruntled former supervisor, Dan White, who then got off with a very light sentence after a controversial "twinkie defense" defense by his lawyers. White later committed suicide in 1985.

On the historic night of his election, Harvey Milk told supporters, "This is not my victory -- it's yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight." In his famous "Hope speech," Milk said,
"[Y]ou have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home got too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us’es, the us’es will give up….

So if there is a message I have to give, it is that if I’ve found one overriding thing about my personal election, it’s the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it’s a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope."
In an audio note he left, which was to be listened to only upon his assassination, Milk wrote, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." You can listen to the audio tape here:

After the assassinations, Beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, wrote, "An Elegy To Dispel Gloom":

Let us not sit upon the ground
and tell sad stories
of the death of sanity.
Two humans made of flesh
are meshed in death
and no more need be said.
It is pure vanity
to think that all humanity
be bathed in red
because one young mad man
one so bad man
lost his head.
The force that through the red fuze
drove the bullet
does not drive everyone
through the City of Saint Francis
where there's a breathless hush
in the air today
a hush at City Hall
and a hush at the Hall of Justice
a hush in Saint Francis Wood
where no bird tries to sing
a hush on the Great Highway
and in the great harbor
upon the great ships
and on the Embarcadero
from the Mission Rock
to the Eagle Cafe
a hush on the great red bridge
a hush in the Outer Mission
and at Hunter's Point
a hush at a hot potato stand on Pier 39
and a hush at the People's Temple
where no bird
tries its wings
a hush and a weeping
at the Convent of the Sacred Heart
on Upper Broadway
a hush upon the fleshpots
of Lower Broadway
a pall upon the punk rock
at Mabuhay Gardens
and upon the cafes and bookstores
of old North Beach
a hush upon the landscape
of the still wild West
where two sweet dudes are dead
and no more need be said.
Do not sit upon the ground and speak
of other senseless murderings
or worse disasters waiting
in the wings.
Do not sit upon the ground and talk
of the death of things beyond
these sad sad happenings.
Such men as these do rise above
our worst imaginings.

There is also an excellent 1984 documentary, "The Times of Harvey Milk." If you'd like to watch it via YouTube, click here:

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9
part 10

Here is the review from "Siskel and Ebert"

Here is the original tv news report of Milk and Moscone's murder.

Here is footage of the "white night riot" after Milk's assassination and White's light punishment.

Here is footage of the gay pride parade in San Francisco in 1978.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alan Cumming on Gay Rights and Rick Warren

Alan Cumming, the award-winning Broadway and film actor, who also is gay, has penned a decent article responding to Barack Obama's unfortunate decision to have the opportunistic, anti-gay, and hyper-materialistic evangelical minister, Rick Warren, speak at his inauguration.

He writes,
In many ways Rick Warren is like a lot of people we know -- friends' dads or people we meet on planes that are pleasant but occasionally offer an opinion that gives you a startling glimpse into the darkness of their souls. Comparing same-sex relationships with incest and pedophilia is a case in point.

And further on,
Obama is very clearly showing his promise to be everyone's president -- from little, lefty queers like me to big, right-wing religious bigots like Rick Warren.

(And he is a bigot. Go look it up in the dictionary.)

But wait! I can see his point about gay marriage! Much as he misled his congregation about Proposition 8 with the fear-mongering notion that ministers would be arrested for not promoting some gay agenda if it passed, he does have a reasonable point that marriage has been defined in a certain way (i.e. not between two dirty queers) for many years (he claims five thousand, but who's counting?), and as we all know as we emerge exhausted from this last election, change is difficult. I see his issue with it. And Mr. Warren does seem to support equality for the gay community in all other ways, so it seems to be merely a semantic issue with the use of the word 'marriage.'

If he, and many other millions of Americans, cannot handle the word 'marriage' in reference to two men or two women, and if that is the only stumbling block to him being able to embrace equality and the end of prejudice against gays, then fine! Fine, Mr Warren, keep your 'marriage!'

I actually think the gay rights movement has shot itself in the foot with the insistence on this word. For me, the most important thing is that I have the same rights and protections as any other human being, whether I wish to enter into a legally recognized relationship or whether I wish to remain single. And as things stand right now, I have neither.

I am not even actually 'married.' I 'entered into a civil partnership.' Of course everyone, even the man who conducted the ceremony, called it 'marriage,' but technically, legally it is a civil partnership -- one incidentally that straight people can enter into, too. So are we to believe that Mr. Warren and his fellow Americans would feel comfortable if the U.S. government followed the U.K. model (where the word 'marriage' was also a small moot point)?

Maybe -- in the spirit of the new United States of Obamica -- the gay community needs to reach out and say that if the end of a civil rights struggle rests around the interpretation of one word, then it is willing to forgo that word and use another, or others.

But why should they? Obama has shown his empathy for gay marriage by pointing out that his parents' marriage was illegal in many states when he was born. (Incidentally he said 12, but it was actually 22, according to Would he have been fine with saying his parents entered into a civil partnership? Maybe. But would he be fine with hearing that his parents' marriage was akin to a brother marrying his sister or a pedophile marrying a child? I think not.

And that, finally, is what is so upsetting and insulting about the idea that Rick Warren will be standing on the podium on this great day of celebration for a new America: because this whole thing is not about gay rights or policy or differences of opinion. It is about human decency and respect. Let's face it, a generation ago Rick Warren would have made Barack Obama sit at the back of the bus, and now it's the gays who are back there and we feel kind of lonely.

Check out the whole article. What do you think?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dropping Knowledge

Can a single question make change?

What is your question?

This is what "Dropping Knowledge" is all about. Check it out.

Post your question and see what others have to say. Read other people's questions and post your response. Hear what some of the world's leading humanistic thinkers have to say in response to these questions, too...

Here is the original short film the people behind Dropping Knowledge made to introduce their idea and the website:

Here is a more recent 8-minute film on Dropping Knowledge, what it is all about, what they have accomplished so far and what they hope to do in the future:

Dropping Knowledge is very cool and inspiring. I hope you will spend some time with the website and will pass the link along to other people you know...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Katrina's Hidden Race War


The Nation has a new investigative report out that is frightening. It states that white vigilante justice tore through New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina... but no official investigation has ever examined the crimes.  Apparently, in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, White vigilantes hunted down Black men who entered Algiers Point and even tried to expel their Black neighbors. Yet, even with evidence, Louisiana's broken law enforcement agencies have refused to investigate these crimes!  

Seriously. In the two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the media created a climate of fear with trumped-up stories of Black lawlessness. Meanwhile, an armed group of White vigilantes took over the Algiers Point neighborhood in New Orleans and mercilessly hunted down Black people. "It was great!" said one vigilante. "It was like pheasant season in South Dakota. If it moved, you shot it."  As one African American victim tried to escape the vigilantes, he heard them yell, "Get him! Get that nigger!"  The man managed to get away.  Two other black victims were told by their assailants that they would be allowed to live on the condition that they told other Black folks not to come to Algiers Point. 

Here is the main article.

Here is an editorial on the subject.

Here is the tragic story of the murder of Henry Glover, 31.

Here is the Democracy Now! segment on this topic.

In the following video, reporter A.C. Thompson talks with innocent victims and ruthless vigilantes about his expose on shootings of black New Orleans residents fleeing the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and police misconduct after the storm:

Here is the reaction to this story by Congressman John Conyers.

This is an incredibly important, depressing and tragic story that should make anyone interested in justice angry. This needs further and formal investigation. To DEMAND JUSTICE, please go here and sign the online petition.

And, most importantly, SPREAD THE WORD.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Library of Human Imagination

Jay Walker introduces a variety of interesting artifacts, but the capper is his overview of the Library of Human Imagination.

• What is the relation between coal and internet downloads?
• What is the relation between DNA and a Nazi Code Machine?

Check it all out (and more) here:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Writing Art

The Sheldon Museum of Art, which sits on UNL's campus, recently acquired 7 or 8 new pieces by well-known African American artists like Aaron Douglas, Charles White, Lois Mailou Jones and others. The director of the museum asked me to write two short entries for a catalog they are doing on the new work. Here are the works and the words I came up with:

• Charles White, "Frederick Douglass Lives Again (The Ghost of Frederick Douglass)"; pen & ink (1949):

Charles White was born in 1918 on the south side of Chicago, at the epicenter of the “great migration.” White’s maternal grandfather was a slave in Mississippi, his father a rail, steel and construction worker and his mother a domestic. Throughout his career, White’s art consistently emphasized the contributions of working-class African Americans and heroicized their struggles for freedom and equality.

From a young age, White displayed artistic talent and a voracious reading appetite. He was particularly influenced by Alain Locke’s 1925 anthology, The New Negro, which encouraged a younger generation of self-confident and politically aware African American artists to redefine blackness and push for racial change. The onslaught of the Great Depression furthered White’s commitment to social realism and politically relevant art.

During the 1930s, White became interested in the controversial murals of Diego Rivera. "I found a strong affinity in terms of my goals as an artist and what [Mexican muralists like Rivera] represented," White later recalled. Like many artists and writers of his generation, White worked for the Works Progress Administration and, in 1940, was commissioned to create a large mural celebrating the black press. The following year, White toured the American South, an experience he credited with pushing “racial forms and subjects” to the “foreground” in his work. After a series of health challenges and a divorce from sculptor, Elizabeth Catlett, White settled in New York City, where he participated in the city’s thriving black intellectual community, showed his work with other socially conscious artists and published in progressive and left periodicals.

In 1949, White completed “Frederick Douglass Lives Again (the Ghost of Frederick Douglass),” one of a number of powerfully expressive pen and ink drawings from this period that depict black experience under Jim Crow and the burgeoning post-war civil rights movement. The work emphasizes the inter-generational nature of the struggle for racial justice and testifies to both the strength and suffering of black Americans, what one critic called “the throbbing emotion of Negro spirituals.”

• Aaron Douglas, "Emperor Jones" series; woodcut print on Japanese paper (1929)





Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) is the best-known visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1899, Douglas was nurtured by a strong, progressive black community and influenced early by the work of Henry Ossawa Tanner. Like thousands of other African Americans, Douglas migrated North, graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1922 and then moving to Harlem in 1924, where he studied under German-born artist, Winold Reiss. Douglas’s work included paintings, illustrations and murals and combined elements of West African and Egyptian art, impressionism, cubism, art deco, and Mexican muralism into a unique visual style rooted in race pride. “I refuse to compromise,” he explained, “and see blacks as anything less than a proud majestic people.”

While Douglas is most famous for a series of large murals he completed during the depression-era, he first gained notoriety as an illustrator during the 1920s. Throughout the renaissance period, Douglas designed covers and illustrations for The Crisis (NAACP) and Opportunity (Urban League), as well as for literary works by James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. In 1925, Alain Locke hired Douglas to illustrate his groundbreaking anthology, The New Negro. The following year, Douglass, Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and Bruce Nugent published FIRE!!, a controversial magazine that featured poems, stories and illustrations on jazz, blues, poverty, religion, prostitution and homosexuality. Embracing the ideology of the “New Negro,” Douglas strove to create an African American aesthetic that was both political and spiritual. “Let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected,” he wrote. “Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let's do the impossible. Let's create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic."

In 1926, Theater Arts Monthly commissioned Douglas to illustrate scenes from Eugene O’Neill’s racially charged play, “Emperor Jones.” The play helped launch the career of Paul Robeson and is credited as the first Broadway show to feature a racially integrated cast and black lead. The hard, flat contrasts of these energetic, monochromatic woodcuts, the repetitive use of geometric forms and the assertive, assured tone are typical of Douglas’s print work.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sweet Land of Liberty?

A decade or so ago, urban historian Thomas Sugrue published a path-breaking book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, which focused on the fractured racial politics of post-WWII Detroit. The book strongly suggested that the liberal political coalition of the New Deal-era was weak and broke down fairly quickly when race was interjected into the mix. He focused on housing as the lead spot for his analysis, detailing a variety of ways white homeowners acted to "defend" their neighborhoods from African Americans. These racialized housing politics created new political alliances that cut across the traditional New Deal coalition.

Sugrue is now back with a sweeping book - Sweet Land of Liberty - that attempts to chronicle the civil rights movement in the North. Of course, because my own work is in this area, I have been waiting on Sugrue's new book with some interest. Here is the New York Times book review. Here is a recent interview with Sugrue on the book from a New York radio station:

Check 'em out. Any responses? Read anything good lately?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ballast (trailer)

This independent film looks very good:

Seen any good movies lately?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

U.N. Declaration of Human Rights Turns 60

Today is the 60th anniversary of the United Nation's "Declaration of Human Rights." This is one of the great documents of the twentieth century. And, following the Bush administration's disdain for basic human rights and dignity it would be wise for all of us to remind ourselves of this document and the principles it sets forth. If you have never read the DOHR, please take this opportunity to do so... and spread the word!

Capitalist Fools

As usual, Nobel-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, lays it down on the economy.  "Behind the debate over remaking US financial policy will be a debate over who's to blame. It's crucial to get the history right, writes a Nobel-laureate economist, identifying five key mistakes - under Reagan, Clinton and Bush II - and one national delusion." This is must-reading. Check it out. Spread the word.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Majora Carter and the Sustainable South Bronx Project

Too many liberal/progressive/lefties spend a disproportionate amount of time complaining about the way things are, but relatively little time actually building concrete and creative grassroots solutions. Lots of talk, not so much walk. So, I have begun collecting interesting models of social justice activism at the local level to serve as "idea incubators" for others. Periodically I will post about some of these models, with the hope that someone out there might find something useful in their own context. Today, I want to let folks know about Majora Carter and the Sustainable South Bronx Project she started... (Click here, too)

Majora Carter is an AMAZING WOMAN and I hope you will take some time and watch a relatively brief, but incredibly emotional and inspirational TED talk she gave not too long ago on her "Sustainable South Bronx" project. In it, she "details her fight for environmental justice in the South Bronx -- and shows how minority neighborhoods suffer most from flawed urban policy." She's working not just to hold back the polluters who target poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color like hers, but to bring back the green.

Carter is a visionary voice in city planning who views urban renewal through an environmental lens. The South Bronx native draws a direct connection between ecological, economic and social degradation. Hence her motto: "Green the ghetto!"

With her inspired ideas and fierce persistence, Carter managed to bring the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, Hunts Point Riverside Park. Then she scored $1.25 million in federal funds for a greenway along the South Bronx waterfront, bringing the neighborhood open space, pedestrian and bike paths, and space for mixed-use economic development.

Her success is no surprise to anyone who’s seen her speak; Carter's confidence, energy and intensely emotional delivery make her talks themselves a force of nature. (The release of her TEDTalk in 2006 prompted Guy Kawasaki to wonder on his blog whether she wasn't "every bit as good as [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs," a legendary presenter.)

Carter, who was awarded a 2005 MacArthur "genius" grant, now serves as executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, where she pushes both for eco-friendly practices (such as green and cool roofs) and, equally important, job training and green-related economic development for her vibrant neighborhood on the rise.

"We could not fail to be inspired by Majora Carter's efforts to bring green space for exercise to the South Bronx. We need more ideas like these to bring solutions to minority communities."
Time Magazine

This 18 minute presentation is WELL worth the time and effort.  Check it out. Seriously!

And, as always, if you know of any interesting, creative and effective grassroots work going on in your area, please post something in the comments...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Winners of the Bush Era...

The following table shows average income gains, adjusted for inflation, from 2002 through 2006. The information listed is: Income Group - Dollar Increase in income - Percentage Increase...

• Bottom 90 Percent - $1,446 - 4.6%

• Next 9 Percent - $14,496 - 10.0%

• Top 1 Percent - $321,132 - 41.8%

• Top 0.1 Percent - $1,809,824 - 57.6%

Surprise. Surprise. The rich got richer!

Friday, December 05, 2008

"Love for All"

I found this over at Kos. It is an ad created by former tennis legend Bjorn Borg's Swedish clothing company:
Awesome! Borg's company makes it debut in North America soon. For this alone, I think I'll buy something. Hopefully we will see these kinds of ads in the U.S., too...

Curtis Mayfield, "People Get Ready"

Curtis Mayfield is one of my absolute favorite musicians... soulful, spiritual, funky and conscious as hell! Here he is performing "People Get Ready." Dig it!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical

From the Folks at "Funny or Die," a star-studded protest of Prop 8... and it is a musical, too!
See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Singer and Social Justice Activist, Odetta, Has Passed

Odetta, the acclaimed folk singer and civil rights activist, has passed away of heart failure. Here is an excellent obituary from the New York Times. They also have a very nice video tribute here. Here is the NPR segment about Odetta. Here is Odetta talking about Dr. King and non-violence on the Tavis Smiley show. The image to the right is of Odetta performing at the historic 1963 March On Washington for Jobs & Freedom in Washington, D.C.

Here is Odetta rockin' out at the Newport festival:

There is a nice clip of her performing, "Give Me Your Hand," here.

Rest in Peace, Odetta. Thank you for your life lived in struggle...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Let the Right One In

Go see "Let the Right One In." It is billed as a vampire story, which it is, and a darn good one, but it is also a strangely entrancing (and a touch spooky) love story. The film is quite poetic, actually. And the two young leads are fantastic. Here is an interview with the Director, Thomas Alfredson, shortly after the movie made its U.S. debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC...

Check out the trailer:

Seen any good movies lately?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Nebraskans for Peace - Lincoln: The Revival

Another brilliant poster by Justin Kemerling...
(click poster to enlarge)

Our "Present" Economy

The winter holidays: a time to join with family and friends, give thanks, celebrate, and get out the plastic and cash. We are a nation of consumers and we consume the most in November and December—in those two months, the retail profits come rolling in. Fueled by cards, presents, and food, the holidays form their own annual economic boom...

(click image to enlarge)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Kuttner on the Economy

(click any image to enlarge)

For a long time, Robert Kuttner has been one of my favorite progressive economists. He appeared on NPR's excellent news show, NOW, this weekend and suggested a controversial plan for economic recovery that emphasizes massive public investment over fiscal restraint, at least until the economy gets rolling again. Kuttner argues that staving off another Great Depression is more important than balancing budgets. Check it out here.

What do you think? If you could craft public policy to address the economic collapse, what would your plan look like? What would you do?

Here is what Nobel-winning economist and NYTimes columnist, Paul Krugman, thinks should be done about the economic crisis.

Here are some other economy-related political cartoons by Keith Tucker: (click any image to enlarge)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Clarity on Obama

Is Obama the end all be all? Or, is he the same old, same old? Jay Smooth, at, has a nice reply...

What do you think?

The Three Trillion Dollar War (It's Cost in Ten Steps)

In 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld estimated that a war with Iraq would cost $60 billion. Five years later, the cost of Iraq War operations is more than 10 times that figure. By the time the United States leaves Iraq, the estimated total cost of war will be more than $3 trillion.
(click image to enlarge)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An Iroquois Prayer of Thanksgiving

An Iroquois Prayer of Thanksgiving

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, 
which sustains us.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, 
which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, 
which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.

We return thanks to the corn, 
and to her sisters, the beans and squash,
which give us life.

We return thanks to the bushes and trees,
which provide us with fruit.

We return thanks to the wind,
which, moving the air,
pushes away sadness.

We return thanks to the moon and the stars,
which have given us their light
when the sun was gone.

We return thanks to our grandfather He-no,
who has given to us his rain.

We return thanks to the sun,
that he has looked upon the earth
with a beneficent eye.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit,
in whom is embodied all goodness,
and who directs all things
for the good of his children.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Beatles "White Album" Turns 40...

It's the 40th anniversary of The Beatles, "The White Album." NPR had a nice reflection on the album that is worth checking out: When The White Album was released 40 years ago this month, fans were both baffled and awe struck by its sprawling world of sound. It was released as a double LP (almost unheard of at the time) and featured instant classics like "I Will," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Blackbird." But The White Album (its real name is simply The Beatles) was also filled with songs many found hard to digest, like the eight-minute, experimental sound collage "Revolution 9" or the inexplicably surreal "Wild Honey Pie." On this edition of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen talks with Bruce Spizer, author of The Beatles On Apple Records, about the groundbreaking White Album and how it came to be. Listen to the program here.

Here is a similar 40th anniversary reflection on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band": For many fans, hearing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time was a life-changing experience. Prior to its release in June of 1967, most of music being produced was for Top 40, AM radio play and for dance parties. Kids bought 45s and never thought of a collection of songs as a "concept album" or work of art. Bob Boilen has a rememberance.

And another on the "Love" CD that came out a few years ago, which features a remix of various Beatles tunes. "Love" is the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleiel show of the same name in Las Vegas: A new CD of Beatles music is out and it isn't simply a reissue of the same songs. It's a mashup of sorts. Imagine the guitar solo from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" mixed onto "Lady Madonna." Or tablas from "Tomorrow Never Knows" mixed under the sitar of "Within You Without You." That's what Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Giles have done. All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen talks with Giles Martin about these stunning new remixes.

Here is program about a box set that collects the American versions of four early Beatles albums: Capitol Records is releasing four early Beatles recordings, never before available on compact disc. The American versions of The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help! and Rubber Soul make up a new box set, The Capitol Albums Volume 2. All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen talks with Beatles author Bruce Spizer about the new collection.

What is your favorite Beatles album?  Why?

Who is your favorite Beatle? Why?

Living History

Fareed Zakaria: "Some of us--especially those under 60--have always wondered what it would be like to live through the kind of epochal event one reads about in books. Well, this is it. We're now living history, suffering one of the greatest financial panics of all time. It compares with the big ones--1907, 1929--and we cannot yet know its full consequences for the financial system, the economy or society as a whole."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Slow Movement

Journalist Carl Honore believes the Western world's emphasis on speed erodes health, productivity and quality of life. But there's a backlash brewing, as everyday people start putting the brakes on their all-too-modern lives. Slow -it-down and make the time to listen to this interesting talk about "the slow movement"...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some Cyanide to Go With That Whine?

Anti-Racist activist, writer and provocateur, Tim Wise, has penned a new essay: "Some Cyanide to Go With That Whine? Obama's Victory and the Rage of the Barbiturate Left" I'd be very interested in any responses other folks have to Wise's critique of the American Left...

Here is his basic point:
... one of the key problems with the left in the U.S. Namely, for the sake of ideological purity few within the professional left expressed any joy about life, or any emotion whatsoever that wasn't rooted in negativity. They are like the political equivalent of quaaludes: guaranteed to bring you down from whatever partly optimistic place you might find yourself from time to time.

Be sure to check out the whole essay. There is much food for thought there. And the comments are interesting, too.

What do you think about Wise's analysis?

UPDATE: Wise has posted a response to some criticism he has received on his article from lefties, titled, "ARE WORDS (AND HISTORY) THAT HARD TO UNDERSTAND? A FINAL RESPONSE TO THE MORE-RADICAL-THAN-THOU CRITIQUE OF OBAMA SUPPORTERS"

Friday, November 21, 2008

King, Obama and the Politics of Hope

This is an interesting essay, written by Michael Honey, who recently published an excellent book on King's involvement with the Memphis garbage strike in 1968. Honey argues, "After experiencing the limitations of local organizing, [Obama] went on to law and politics to find greater leverage. He also tapped into Martin Luther King’s politics of hope. That combination has opened up the country to the possibility of new politics, and new goals." Check out the whole thing...

... is hope a transformative political concept?

Trashy Art...

This is one of Tim Nobel and Sue Webster's pieces of art made from everyday garbage. To see other examples, click here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Say It Loud!

Obama Election Spurs "Hundreds" of Racist Incidents Around Country

Cross-burnings, threats, racial epithets, assault, a church burned down. These are just a few of the racist incidents that have occurred across the country since Obama's historic victory two weeks ago. Here are some specific examples that give a sense of the scope of this outbreak of racist hate:

* At the Standish, Maine, Oak Hill General Store, an Associated Press reporter saw a sign inviting customers to join a betting pool on when Obama might fall victim to an assassin.Customers could sign up to bet $1 on a date when Obama would be killed. "Stabbing, shooting, roadside bombs, they all count," the sign said. At the bottom of the marker board was written "Let's hope someone wins."

* In Idaho, the Secret Service is investigating a "public hanging" sign erected by a man upset with the election outcome, the Bonner County Daily Bee reported Thursday. A handmade sign posted on a tree reads "FREE PUBLIC HANGING" written in large letters beneath a noose fashioned from nylon rope. The most prominent name on the sign is "OBAMA," according to the Bee. "That's a political statement. They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever," the creator of the sign, Ken Germana, told the Bee.

* A popular white supremacist Web sites got more than 2,000 new members the day after the election, compared with 91 new members on Election Day. The site,, was temporarily off-line on Nov. 5 because of the overwhelming amount of activity it received. One poster, identified as Dalderian Germanicus, of North Las Vegas, said, "I want the SOB laid out in a box to see how 'messiahs' come to rest."

* From the Orange County (Ca.) Register: "Two gang members pleaded not guilty Thursday to hate crime and attempted robbery charges in connection with the beating of a black man who was trying to buy cigarettes at a Fullerton liquor store." The two men shouted racial and anti-Obama epithets in the attack.

* From today's New York Times: "Two white Staten Island men face hate crimes charges after they were arrested on Friday in the beating of a black teenager on the night that Barack Obama was elected president, the police said on Saturday. The teenager, Alie Kamara, 17, was walking home on Pine Place in the Staten Island neighborhood of Stapleton when several men hit him on the head with a baseball bat and yelled 'Obama,' said Aliya Latif, the civil rights director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who was in contact with Alie's family since the attack and spoke to his mother on Saturday after the arrests were announced."

* In Mississippi alone, the American Civil Liberties Union has received more than 10 calls since the staff first reported anti-Obama incidents last Friday, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Free Press.

* In Midland, Mich., a man dressed in full Ku Klux Klan regalia walked around toting a handgun and waving an American flag. Initially denying it, the man eventually admitted to police that the display was a reaction to the Obama victory. "[The man] had a concealed weapon permit and was walking up and down the sidewalk in front of a vehicle dealership while some motorists shouted obscenities at him and others shouted accolades," police told The Saginaw News.

* Parents in Rexburg, Idaho, contacted school officials this week after they learned that 2nd and 3rd graders on a school bus were chanting, "Assasssinate Obama!"

* At the University of Texas in Austin, a racist post on Facebook has cost one student his place on the university football team, according to the Houston Chronicle. Buck Burnette, a sophomore offensive lineman for the fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns, was dismissed from the team on Nov. 5 after posting a racist remark about President-elect Obama as his "status" on the social networking Web site. Burnette posted: "All the hunters gather up, we have a [slur] in the White House," the Chronicle reported.

* AP reports: "While the world watched a Grant Park celebration heralding the election of the first black U.S. president, some white Chicago police officers committed hate crimes against black residents cheering Barack Obama's victory elsewhere in the city, attorneys alleged Thursday." Lawsuits have been filed.

* At Appalachian State University, the administration has expressed disappointment at the numerous times black students have expressed being harassed in residence halls since the election. The Appalachian, a student newspaper serving the university, also reported conversations suggesting Obama may not be alive in 2009 and a t-shirt seen around campus that reads "Obama '08, Biden '09."

* Mentioned in the same article, racist comments were discovered at North Carolina State University last week. Spray-painted in university's free expression tunnel after the election were the phrases, "Kill that nigger," "Let's shoot that nigger in the head" and "Shoot Obama," the Appalachian reported. The NAACP has called for the expulsion of the four students accused of the graffitti, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Obama has received more threats than any other president-elect, authorities say.

* The Associated Press revealed on Wednesday, "Police on eastern Long Island are investigating reports that more than a dozen cars were spray painted with racist graffiti, reportedly including a message targeting President-elect Barack Obama. The graffiti included racist slurs and sexually graphic references. At least one resident in the quiet Mastic neighborhood told Newsday her son's car was scribbled with a message threatening to kill Obama."

* Employees at Hampel's Key and Lockshop in Traverse City, Michigan, flew an American flag upside down last Wednesday protesting of the new president-elect, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. One worker used a racial slur during an interview with the Record-Eagle: "(The inverted flag is) an international signal for distress and we feel our country is in distress because the n----- got in," said Hampel's employee Rod Nyland, who later apologized for the comment, according to the Record-Eagle.

* Authorities in Temecula, Calif., found spray-painted graffiti on a city sidewalk containing a swastika and anti-Obama slogan. And from the Los Angeles Times: "Vandals spray-painted swastikas and racial slurs on a house and several cars in Torrance that displayed campaign signs or bumper stickers for President-elect Barack Obama, authorities said Tuesday. The incidents occurred Saturday night in the Hollywood Riviera section of the city, said Sgt. Bernard Anderson. Four separate incidents were reported the next day, he said. No arrests have been made."

* And from Maine: "More than 75 people rallied Sunday against an incident last week in which black figures were hanged by nooses from trees on Mount Desert Island the day after Barack Obama won the presidential election," according to the Bangor Daily News.

* Racist graffiti was found in places including New York's Long Island, where two dozen cars were spray-painted; Kilgore, Texas, where the local high school and skate park were defaced; and the Los Angeles area, where swastikas, racial slurs and "Go Back To Africa" were spray painted on sidewalks, houses and cars.

* Second- and third-grade students on a school bus in Rexburg, Idaho, chanted "assassinate Obama," a district official said.

* University of Alabama professor Marsha L. Houston said a poster of the Obama family was ripped off her office door. A replacement poster was defaced with a death threat and a racial slur. "It seems the election brought the racist rats out of the woodwork," Houston said.

* Black figures were hanged by nooses from trees on Mount Desert Island, Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported. The president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas said a rope found hanging from a campus tree was apparently an abandoned swing and not a noose.

* Crosses were burned in yards of Obama supporters in Hardwick, N.J., and Apolacan Township, Pa.

* A black teenager in New York City said he was attacked with a bat on election night by four white men who shouted 'Obama.'

* In the Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills, a black man said he found a note with a racial slur on his car windshield, saying "now that you voted for Obama, just watch out for your house."
This website is keeping track of incidents.

And there is other evidence that hate-crimes are on the rise in NY, not just against African Americans, but also against Latino immigrants. Here is one particularly appalling example:

Well, this isn't all that surprising, given our nation's tragic racial past, the long history of white backlash following moments of racial progress, and the way Obama's opponents exploited racial divisions in a series of desperate last-ditch efforts to save their campaigns. Even so, we must call this stuff out when it occurs and stand together publicly to condemn it.

What has been your experience, post election?

The Anti-Gay Blacklist?

Along with Obama's inspiring, historic victory came some electoral disappointments, too. In Nebraska, voters decided to amend the state constitution to ban state affirmative action programs. And in three states, basic civil rights for gays and lesbians were curtailed. Most notably, California residents overturned a recent court decision which had legalized gay marriage.

Even so, one of the promising developments in the wake of these defeats has been a spate of nation-wide protests in support of full equality for the GLBTQ community. Even here in Omaha, an estimated 250 people came out w/ signs last Saturday and filled the pedestrian bridge that crosses Dodge Street, the main drag in the city. Not bad for Nebraska...

It now appears that a boycott of companies that supported the California ban is gaining some steam. One group - Anti-Gay Blacklist - has generated controversy by listing the names of both companies and individuals who donated $1,000 or more to support Proposition 8. It's the individuals that are controversial. Is it ethical to go after individuals, with the threat that they might lose their jobs, or not get hired, because of their political views? Or, is this a fair use of the right to boycott? Emma Ruby-Sachs doesn't think it is cool to go after individuals...

If individuals perform their jobs well, if they are good students or good human resource managers, then they should be allowed to continue in their positions. Until their actions in the workplace create harm -- dismissals based on political affiliation should not be encouraged.

This movement for equal rights is based on the fundamental belief in the equal protection of the law. That means equal protection for us, but it also means equal protection for the people who hate us. We can create an effective movement for full protection for LGBT people under the Constitution without working to unemploy individuals who, because of faith or bigotry, don't think we deserve to be treated equally. That is a movement of which we can all be proud.

What do you think? Is it cool to target individuals?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Post-Racial Society?

Over at The Progressive, Fred McKissick reminds us, in this post-election Obama-glow, "We still aren’t in a post-racial society." He asks,
Exactly how can we be in post-racial America when nearly 40 percent of black children under the age of 5 live at or below the poverty line?

How are we in post-racial America when the level of school segregation for Hispanics is the highest in the forty years and segregation of blacks is back to levels not seen since the late 1960s?

How are we in post-racial America when the gaps in wealth, income, education and health care have widened over the last eight years?
Yes, how, indeed?

Barack Obama's victory was something, but not everything, and we need to be clear about the serious and daunting task that lays ahead in terms of racial justice. The challenge before us is to put substance to the symbol. We must not get so lost in our self-congratulation over the election of our first black president that we forget the persistent chasm of caste and class in our society today, a yawning gap that will require sustained attention, organized political action and significant resources if it is to be bridged.

Childhood Poverty Up 50% in 2007...

... and those numbers came in BEFORE the economic meltdown of recent months!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The "Magical Negro in Chief"?

Bijan Bayne, over at The Root, asks whether Barack Obama is the "magical Negro in Chief." A "magical Negro" is a character in a novel or film, who is possessed of an inner wisdom and who ultimately helps the white lead character get out of trouble. Back in 2003, Rita Kempley wrote an article for Black Commentator on this subject. Here are a few oft-cited examples of "Magical Negroes":

• Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) in the film The Defiant Ones (1958)
• Dick Haloran (Scatman Crothers) in the Stephen King novel The Shining (1977), later a 1980 film
• Willie Brown (Joe Seneca) in the film Crossroads (1986)
• John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) in the serialized Stephen King novel The Green Mile (1996), later a 1999 film
• Albert Lewis (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) in the film What Dreams May Come (1998)
• Cash (Don Cheadle) in the film The Family Man (2000)
• Bagger Vance (Will Smith) in the film The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
• An angel (Gabriel Casseus) in Bedazzled (2000)
• God (Morgan Freeman) in the film Bruce Almighty (2003)
• The blind handcar-pumper (Lee Weaver) in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
• The old woman seer in the Stephen King novel The Stand
• The barkeeper Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation
• The Oracle in The Matrix Reloaded
• Gabriel (voice of Delroy Lindo) in The Simpsons episode "Brawl in the Family" (DABF01, 2002) (a deliberate parody of the archetype)

Almost as soon as Obama began to have success in the presidential primary, debate about his status as a "magical Negro" took off. Steven Rosenfeld, over at Alternet, explored the "Magic" behind Obama's success as did Anne Applebaum, at The Washington Post, who posted a column suggesting Obama's blackness provided some advantagous "magic" in the election. Even conservative blow-hard Rush Limbaugh got into the act with a racially derisive song he played on his show. On the flip side, Gary Kamiya, over at Salon, saw Obama's magical status in a more positive light, raving that "the fact that it is a black man who is serving as America's philosopher's stone, turning the base metal of bitterness into the gold of forgiveness, is extraordinarily moving." But, as recently as March, a writer for the L.A. Times argued that Obama was, in fact, a "magical Negro."

The underlying question is: What does the Obama victory win mean for white liberal/progressive voters? Is the meaning confined to this "magical" paternalistic realm? Does Obama's win liberate white liberals from their racial guilt? If so, is that a bad thing? Or, is there something more substantive and concrete there? Does this view of Obama as "magical Negro" diminish his accomplishment and dismiss the very real and positive inter-racial work being done in this campaign?

Check it out. What do you think?

Good Sheet: National Service

President Kennedy famously declared during his inauguration speech that we should ask ourselves what we can do for our country. National service takes many forms—from Americans deployed overseas to senior citizens teaching a new generation how to read. Now that the election is over, let’s continue the spirit of civic engagement. Find out what you can do for your country...
(click image to enlarge)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Play, Spirit and Character"

It's Sunday...

What is the role of "play" in our lives? How is play linked to our spiritual selves?

That is the subject of NPR's Speaking of Faith program, "Play, Spirit and Character." Click here to listen to "Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play, [who] says that pleasurable, purposeless activity [play] prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life's complication. He promotes cutting-edge science on human play, and draws on a rich universe of study of intelligent social animals."

What do you think?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Financial Meltdown 101

The folks at Truthdig have made this nice, interactive timeline (above) on the financial meltdown, starting during the depression-era and moving right on up to the present. Here is how they introduce it:
Getting a grip on the economic catastrophe that rocked the country during the fall of 2008 is no easy feat, what with so many players, back-room deals, bills, upswings and meltdowns to consider. To that end, Truthdig, once again in collaboration with, has put together a comprehensive multimedia timeline that explains how we got into this mess and how we might avoid repeating history in the near future.

This is a work in progress, and we’ll be adding updates and pointers in coming weeks, so check it out and leave your feedback in the comment section below. We’ll also be including some audio commentary to highlight key turning points along the story line to make this complicated narrative easier to understand, even for those of us who fell asleep during Econ 101 (or avoided that whole scene altogether).

Update: Be sure to watch the first entry on this Capzle to see a video of Truthdig’s Robert Scheer explaining the key issues and moments along the timeline.

What do you think?

Current TV: Interview w/ Shepard Fairey

"Obama inspired his art, and his art is inspiring supporters. Street artist and DJ, Shepard Fairey talks about the positive shift in his work from tagging to political campaigns, and the correlation of his two careers."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Neil Young on How to Save the Auto Industry

Neil Young (yes, that Neil Young!) has penned a thought piece about the American auto industry's woes and how best to solve them. He writes, "We need visionary people now with business sense to create automobiles that do not contribute to global warming." And then he goes on to detail his plan.

Young, a long-time environmental advocate in addition to being one of the most enduring musicians from the 1960s, is the driving force behind Lincvolt, an effort "to turn a nearly 20-foot-long, 5,000-pound 1959 Lincoln Continental into a vehicle that will run on natural gas, electricity or some other form of clean energy. His aim is to win the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, a $10 million challenge to develop a vehicle that can get 100 miles per gallon or better by 2009." Lincvolt even has its own Youtube channel.

I wholeheartedly agree with Young that this moment cries out for bold, visionary solutions to the problems we confront:  on the economy, on the environment, on health care, on education, on foreign policy, etc.  This is the primary difference between the Clinton Democratic moment in 1992 and the Obama moment in 2008.  In 1992, embattled by a rising conservatism, the best the Dems could hope for was a Republican lite version of Democratic politics.  In 2008, though, there seems to be real opportunity to think big and throw long.  I suspect this will ultimately be the measure of Obama's administration:  the degree to which he seizes the historical moment, takes some risks, and goes the visionary route...  or the degree to which he misses the moment by being overly cautious and halting in his reform agenda.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Worlds of Sound": The 60th Anniversary of Folkways

NPR had a nice program honoring the 60th anniversary of Folkways Records:
Sixty years ago, Moses Asch set out with the lofty ambition to record "all the sound of the world." He established Folkways Records — "the little label that could" — and in the decades that followed, Folkways recorded everything from folk singers, to jazz greats, to sounds of the natural world.

Worlds Of Sound, a new book by Richard Carlin, details the history of Smithsonian Folkways and how Asch and his collaborators were able to "capture the soundscape of a century."
You can listen to the program and read an excerpt from Carlin's book here.

The Old-Time Herald has a nice article detailing Asch's life, the establishment/development of Folkways and its ultimate merger with Smithsonian.

Here is Asch, from the pages of Sing Out! in 1961, declaring himself for folk music.

This Week in Blackness #13: "Black, Black, Backity, Black"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TED: What is Our Place in the Cosmos?

Are humans the "hub of the universe" or just "typical chemical scum"? Legendary scientist David Deutsch explains...

What do you think? Scum or hub?