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)