Tuesday, August 24

Rockridge Institute - Lakoff course on Cognitive Framing

Progressive intellectuals should definitely check out the work of the Rockridge Institute , which has a plethora of interesting essays and links to a variety of topics. I'll be linking Lettrist to them in the future.

Professor George Lakoff is teaching a graduate seminar in the Fall I've included below, and due to the importance of the topics, I'll be posting the some of the course readings and class links throughout the coming semester. His books should be required reading for all concerned with contemporary American political discourse.

Language, Thought, and Politics:
The Framing of Issues in the 2004 Election

George Lakoff

This is a graduate course (advanced undergrads with appropriate backgrounds welcome) that goes systematically through the mechanisms of mind and language used in political discourse - in policy-making, advocacy, and in political language.

The purpose of the course is to make students aware of how issues are currently framed, both conceptually and linguistically.

Since there will be a major election in progress, the course will take the day-to-day electoral discussions as part of its subject matter. Students will be expected to be up on politics in general and on the election in particular - to be reading at least one of the major newspapers per day.

The course is intended for a number of audiences: Specialists in one of the social sciences, social advocates and activists, journalists, policy makers, linguists, and cognitive scientists.

Some topics:
… Basic cognitive mechanisms: Frames, metaphors, prototypes, blends; Complex frames, deep frames, communicative frames, discourse frames.
… The structure of political conceptual systems.
… Liberal and conservative conceptual systems.
… Values
… How to decompose a policy into its frames and metaphors.
… Cognitive gaps in political conceptual systems and the process of filling them in.
… Strategic initiatives, slippery slope initiatives, and wedge issues.
… The difference between honest framing, spin, misleading language, and effective communicative framing.

Texts: Lakoff, G., Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.

Lakoff, G., Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
(available for order September 8)

Tuesday, August 17

NYC Republican Convention a 1968 Redux?


John Passacantando, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, believes in confrontation. A protégé of Mike Roselle, co-founder of the radical environmentalist group Earth First, he's led Greenpeace to push the limits of civil disobedience. On his watch, the group has boarded ships involved in illegal logging. He and other activists have chained themselves to the entrance of the Environmental Protection Agency and dumped barrels of contaminated waste at Dow Chemical's headquarters. Last year, he told a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I want Greenpeace first and foremost to be a credible threat ... To paraphrase Thoreau, I regret only our good behavior."

So one might expect Passacantando to be thrilled by the prospect of bad behavior, and a lot of it, at the Republican National Convention late this month. Tens if not hundreds of thousands are expected to take to Manhattan's streets in protest, and plans are being hatched for widespread disruption, from shutting down city streets to throwing pies to assaults on the offices of "war profiteers." But Passacantando isn't happy about what's about to happen in New York. In fact, he's terrified. Like a host of intellectuals, '60s veterans and activists desperate for a John Kerry victory in November, Passacantando worries that the delicious, so-close prospect of defeating George Bush in November will be swept away in the citywide chaos that anarchists have promised to bring to New York.

There's a grim precedent for left-wing protest that empowers the right: the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The parallels between the convention protests that year and those expected this year are striking. Then, as now, the antiwar movement was coursing with justified rage. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley took an even harder line against protesters than New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, refusing to grant any permits at all. There was a radicalized, street-fighting contingent among the demonstrators who released stink bombs in the delegates' hotel, vandalized a CIA building, and engaged in other mischief, but most of the protesters were peaceful. The violence that erupted, leading to days of running street battles, was by most accounts the fault of the police. Phalanxes of cops charged into crowds, beating protesters bloody, spraying mace, and chanting "kill, kill, kill." A report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence called the debacle a "police riot."

Thus the demonstrators assumed that public sympathy would be with them, the victims. They were wrong. "To our innocent eyes, it defied common sense that people could watch even the sliver of the onslaught that got onto television and side with the cops -- which in fact was precisely what polls showed," writes former antiwar organizer Todd Gitlin in his 1987 book, "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage." Indeed, many people believe that the fighting in Chicago helped cement the victory of Richard Nixon, who, as Gitlin notes, won the popular vote by a mere two-thirds of 1 percent.

A similarly minuscule margin could determine this year's election, and the possibility of history repeating itself leaves Gitlin aghast. "I think the Republicans will probably do what they did in 1968 and make television commercials of people rioting in the street and then promote their guy as the superintendent of order," he says. "I sure wouldn't want to be explaining to my kid how it turned out that Bush won election by three electoral votes because of some last-minute surge of opinion in West Virginia where that commercial played three times an hour."

Passacantando expects that there will be provocateurs in the crowds at the RNC, trying to provoke vandalism and spark confrontation. As Gitlin notes in his book, a 1978 CBS broadcast reported that, according to Army sources, as many as one in six protesters at the Chicago '68 protests were really undercover military intelligence agents. There were local police and FBI agents planted throughout the antiwar movement, often urging their cohorts to ever more daring feats of resistance. Richard Nixon's White House relished riots, knowing they only helped the Republicans. On a larger scale, the FBI's COINTELPRO program used its agents to provoke violence in antiwar and civil rights groups throughout the late '60s and early '70s. There have already been some incidents of agents posing as activists and trying to ratchet up confrontation. In Denver last year Darren Christensen, an undercover policeman working with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, joined an antiwar group planning a peaceful sit-in and shocked them by suggesting that they charge a line of armed policemen.

Some believe that's precisely why the Bush team chose New York in the first place. "I think it's a deliberate strategy," Glaser says. "They knew there would be violence in the streets."

No one's come up with any good answers. Instead, a few liberal organizers are hoping to create alternatives that could channel some of the city's anti-Bush energy away from confrontation. Chief among them is Glaser, an urbane, eloquent man who seems to adore New York and despise George Bush with equal fervor. Since Glaser sees the problem of protest violence as a semiotic one, he's tried to find a design solution. To that end, he's working on a project called Light Up the Sky, which he calls a "manifestation that clearly says we are opposed to Bush's principles and policies. It's a powerful and peaceful response to what the Bush administration has done."

He's made fliers and a Web site describing the idea. "On Aug. 30, from dusk to dawn, all citizens who wish to end the Bush presidency can use light as our metaphor," it says. "We can gather informally all over the city with candles, flashlights and plastic wands to silently express our sorrow over all the innocent deaths the war has caused. We can gather in groups or march in silence. No confrontation and, above all, no violence. Violence will only convince the undecided electorate to vote for Bush. Not a word needs to be spoken. The entire world will understand our message. Those of us who live here in rooms with windows on the street can keep our lights on through the night. Imagine, it's 2 or 3 in the morning and our city is ablaze with a silent and overwhelming rebuke ... Light transforms darkness." He envisions something far more expansive than a candlelight vigil. "This city is full of invention," he says, and he hopes people will use some of it to make light sculptures, light suits, all kinds of incandescent constructions. Thus illuminated, he images New Yorkers coming together all over the city, in its parks and avenues and promenades.

Light Up the Sky, he knows, is not going to dissuade those determined to wreak havoc. "There's always a factor of people who need violence. They need to overthrow their father. It gets them into the center of attention," he says. But much of the confrontation between police and protesters is built into the current situation. "People can't go to Central Park. They're marginalized at the edge of the city. It's getting to be a mess," he says. "It's pre-scripted. What you have to do is abort the script." Otherwise, he fears, the consequences could be even more calamitous than they were in 1968. "The revolution will not come," he says, wryly dismissing the grandiose hopes of some anarchists. "What they might do is ensure the election of Bush. I don't think the country can survive another four years of Bush. It's been horrible so far. It's taken us far away from my vision of America." At 75, Glaser fears he'll never see that vision of America again. "I would hate to die," he says, "with Bush in power."


Bush the Sodomite? Tikkun on "Sodomy"

Bush the Sodomite: According to Jewish tradition, the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality, but rather insensitivity to the needs of the stranger. Abraham was famed for his hospitality—according to tradition, he kept his tent open during the day in all four directions, and when he saw strangers approach he would rush to greet them and feed them. Thus, he tried to prepare food for the messengers who came to tell him of the fulfillment of his dream to have a child with Sarah before he even knew who they were. Those same messengers proceeded to the house of Abraham's nephew Lot in the town of Sodom, where they were accosted by an angry mob who demanded Lot hand over the strangers. The Rabbis argued that this was consistent with the Sodomites' general refusal to treat the powerless in a welcoming and generous way—and it is for this sin, not homosexuality, that the city of Sodom merits the fire and brimstone and people turning into salt.

We have that Sodomite policy in our own society. The massive impact of the Bush tax giveaways to the rich has begun to be reflected in less funding for desperately needed social programs on the state and local level. For example, as state revenues decline, hospitals and health care programs for the poor shut down and tuition at state universities rises to levels that poorer students can't afford. While the billionaires rejoice in their windfalls, and the millionaires stuff the pockets of the various organizations created to promote Bush's reelection... This is the kind of sodomy that we need to criminalize while congratulating and welcoming into our midst the many couples newly married under Massachusetts and San Francisco law.

Tikkun blasts Kerry's "100%" Support of Sharon

The Jewish Left blasted John Kerry in A Letter on the Middle East to Senator Kerry

We the undersigned are members of the National Advisory Board representing the 7,000 members of the Tikkun Community, an interfaith organization of American Jews and our non-Jewish allies who strongly believe that the security of Israel is imperiled by the continuation of the occupation of the West Bank and the persistent conflict that such occupation necessarily implies. Recent polls indicate that over 60 percent of American Jews would support an end to the Occupation. Most of them do not support the policies of Ariel Sharon. Those polls demonstrate the unfortunate fact that the Jewish community leadership, the people you are most likely to encounter when you visit Jewish settings, do not reflect the views of most American Jewish voters.

Senator Kerry, it is a moral error and political blunder to embrace so unconditionally the current policies of the State of Israel. Those policies are not only harmful to the interests of the United States—because their transparent insensitivity to the needs of the Palestinian people generates anger around the world, particularly in the Arab and Muslim worlds—but they are also harmful to the interests of the Jewish people (stimulating new levels of anti-Semitism) and of Israel (locking Israel into an endless cycle of violence and confrontation with a people that seeks its own national self-determination).

New Scientist: Ancient Rome's fish pens confirm sea-level fears 

Coastal fish pens built by the Romans have unexpectedly provided the most accurate record so far of changes in sea level over the past 2000 years. It appears that nearly all the rise in sea level since Roman times has happened in the past 100 years, and is most likely the result of human activity. The Romans dug these fish pens into bedrock, and the water line in these well-preserved structures shows that the sea level along the Italian coast 2000 years ago was 1.35 metres below today's levels. 'They were used for only a very short time, so they make rather nice markers,' says Lambeck.

He then analysed how land elevations changed along the Italian coast due to both plate tectonics and the after-effects of the last ice age. In a paper to appear in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, he concludes that geological processes pushed the land up by 1.22 metres over last two millennia, which means that the global sea level rose by 13 centimetres. That is only about 100 years' worth of rise at the present rate of around 1 to 2 millimetres per year, implying that nearly all of it has occurred since 1900. While there is no proof that human activity is to blame, 'I can't think of a natural process that would have started in 1900,' he says. While Gregory cautions that this does not prove that global warming is responsible, both he and Lambeck agree that the results fit the rise in ocean volume expected from global warming melting glaciers in the industrial age.

New Scientist Online

Study Finds Climate Shift Threatens California

A scientific study: " released on Monday presents an alarming view of climate changes in California, finding that by the end of the century rising temperatures could lead to a sevenfold increase in heat-related deaths in Los Angeles and imperil the state's wine and dairy industries.

The study, published in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers the most detailed projection yet of changes in California as temperatures rise around the world because of building concentrations of heat-trapping gases. Under one of two scenarios, in which fossil fuel use continues at its present pace, the study determined that summertime high temperatures could increase by 15 degrees in some inland cities, putting their climate on par with that of Death Valley now. That scenario also foresaw a reduction of 73 percent to 90 percent in the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, resulting in disrupted water supplies from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Central Valley.

Even in the second scenario, which assumed significant increases in the use of renewable energy like wind and solar power, the study concluded that fossil fuel emissions could push average high temperatures up by four to six degrees. The study warned that the higher temperatures could have devastating consequences for wine grapes, which could ripen more quickly and be of poorer quality, and for cows, which could produce less milk. In cities like Los Angeles, it found, the number of days of extreme heat could increase by four to eight times. It projected that heat-related deaths in Los Angeles, which it said averaged 165 annually during the 1990's, could double or triple under the moderate scenario and grow as much as seven times under the harsher one.

The scientists said that California was chosen for the study because of its range of climates and the predominance of industries, like agriculture, that are dependent on climatic conditions. The state's economic heft - by some measures it is the fifth largest economy in the world - and its history of environmental activism were also considerations. "California alone can't address the emissions problem, but California is in a position of leadership," one of the study's authors, Peter C. Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a teleconference.

A Double Blow to Voucher Initiative - Bush Admin Hides its Own Studys Poor Findings

Nation's Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Test Scores Reveal

The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools. The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration. The data shows fourth graders attending charter schools performing about half a year behind students in other public schools in both reading and math.

In virtually all instances, the charter students did worse than their counterparts in regular public schools.

Charters are expected to grow exponentially under the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind, which holds out conversion to charter schools as one solution for chronically failing traditional schools. "The scores are low, dismayingly low," said Chester E. Finn Jr., a supporter of charters and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who was among those who asked the administration to do the comparison.

Federal officials said they did not intend to hide the performance of charter schools, and denied any political motivation for failing to publicly disclose that the data were available. "I guess that was poor publicity on our part," said Robert Lerner, the federal commissioner for education statistics. Mr. Lerner said further analysis was needed to put the data in its proper context.

But others were skeptical, saying the results proved that such schools were not a cure-all. "There's just a huge distance between the sunny claims of the charter school advocates and the reality," said Bella Rosenberg, an special assistant to the president of the American Federation of Teachers. "There's a very strong accountability issue here."

Of the nation's 88,000 public schools, 3,000 are charters, educating more than 600,000 students. But their ranks are expected to grow as No Child Left Behind identifies thousands of schools for possible closing because of poor test scores.

Once hailed as a kind of free-market solution offering parents an escape from moribund public schools, elements of the charter school movement have prompted growing concern in recent years. Around the country, more than 80 charter schools were forced to close, largely because of questionable financial dealings and poor performance, said Luis Huerta, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College. In California, the state's largest charter school operator has just announced the closing of at least 60 campuses, The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday, stranding 10,000 children just weeks before the start of the school year.

------------ ALSO -------------

Florida appeals court ruled yesterday that a voucher program for students in failing schools violated the state's Constitution because it sent public money to religious institutions. In a 2-to-1 decision, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee found that the "vast majority" of students with vouchers used them to enroll in the kind of "sectarian institutions," or religious schools, that are barred from receiving state money under the Florida Constitution.

Most state constitutions prohibit or restrict state money from being spent on religious institutions, and that remains one of the principal legal barriers to the widespread adoption of school vouchers. The United States Supreme Court has said the nation's Constitution does not bar school vouchers. But it also ruled this year that states that gave money for secular education were not compelled to support religious instruction as well, essentially leaving the issue to state courts.

That has placed a focus on the battle over Florida's voucher program. Not only does it take place in a populous state, but it is also one of the first legal contests since the Supreme Court affirmed the role of state constitutions in deciding the fate of vouchers. "The Florida case is really the bellwether that everyone is looking at," said Mark E. DeForrest, an assistant professor at Gonzaga University School of Law, whose research was cited by the Florida appeals court. "It's something that almost all the other states will look at closely. They're not going to be bound by it, but they're definitely going to be influenced by it."

Gov. Jeb Bush said he would appeal the decision.

Saturday, August 14

Chris Landreth's new film

A gentleman panhandler. One of the pioneers of Canadian animation. Oscar nominee. Poor beggar. An artist unable to create. God observing the world. Fallen angel. Arrogant. Shy. Broken. Not destroyed.

Ryan, directed by Chris Landreth, is an animated tribute to Canadian animator Ryan Larkin. Thirty years ago, at the National Film Board of Canada, Ryan produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. Today, Ryan lives on welfare and panhandles for spare change in downtown Montreal. How could such an artistic genius follow this path?

In Ryan we hear the voice of Ryan Larkin and people who have known him, but these voices speak through strange, twisted, broken and disembodied 3D generated characters... people whose appearances are bizarre, humorous or disturbing. Although incredibly realistic and detailed, Ryan was created and animated without the use of live action footage, rotoscoping or motion capture...but instead from an original, personal, hand animated three-dimensional world which Chris calls 'psychological realism'.

Wednesday, August 11

WAR! PROTEST IN AMERICA Film Series at Whitney Museum, NYC

August 25 - October 24

In the 1960s a new generation, disillusioned with authority and motivated by the political and social turbulence of the times, became engaged with civil rights, black power, personal liberation and political action. 'War! Protest in America 1965 - 2004' brings together a group of films addressing one of the key issues around which this unrest revolved: the Vietnam War. Some of the filmmakers included in "War!" demonstrated solidarity with a new, collectivized political filmmaking centered around the New York and San Francisco Newsreels (later known as Third World Newsreel). In many cases their anonymously produced films challenged the hierarchy of television news reportage and 'professional' documentary filmmaking, capturing testimony and interview material with controversial and sometimes shocking content. Filmmakers such as Emile de Antonio, Beryl Fox, Jean-Luc Godard and D.A. Pennebaker captured similarly raw, controversial footage, creating iconic independent documentaries whose anti-war statements of protest and civic unrest came to define the period. A section of the program is devoted to experimental films protesting the Vietnam war, by filmmakers including Paul Sharits, Stan Brakhage, and Carolee Schneemann. The series also includes Not in Our Name, in which artists including Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner, Martha Rosler and Leon Golub are filmed by Brigitte Cornand on the eve of the Iraq War, and Julie Talen's 'Sixty Cameras Against the War', in which sixty independently filmed documents of the New York march against the Iraq War in March 2003 are edited together to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of a demonstration split apart by barricades.

Concurrent with the film series 'War! Protest in America 1965 - 2004', 'Memorials of War', an exhibition of prints, sculpture and photographs from the Whitney Museum's permanent collection, brings together works made by artists from the 1960s to the present addressing the issue of war and memory. Chris Burden's 'America's Darker Moments' (1994) and Robert Morris's lithograph series 'War Memorials' (1970) are shown alongside Jon Haddock's 'Children Fleeing Napalm Strike, Modified (1972), Sigmund Abeles' Vietnam Series: Helicopters' (1967) and Edward Kienholz's assemblage 'The Non War Memorial' comprising an American mud-filled soldier's uniform from Vietnam. Vik Muniz's blurred image in 'Memory Rendering of Kent State Shootings' (1988-90) evokes the elusive state of memory itself. Curated by David Kiehl, curator of Prints and Special Collections

CONTINUOUS SCREENINGS: One long program of films repeated each day:
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays
SPECIAL WEEKEND SCREENINGS on Saturdays (listed below)


Third World Newsreel, America, 1969, 30 min.
Teenagers, Vietnam veterans and Black militants express frustration with the escalating war in Vietnam, interwoven with footage of police brutality and war to a background of 1960s rock classics, including the lyrics "America, where are you now?"

Brigitte Cornand, Not in Our Name, 2003, 62 min.
Cornand interviews Lawrence Weiner, Richard Serra, Martha Rosler, Leon Golub, Rob Storr, Edouard Glissant and Jonas Mekas on the eve of America's war in Iraq.

Third World Newsreel, Resist - with Chomsky, 1968, 12 min.
A rare look at Noam Chomsky in the late 1960s as he speaks candidly about the war in Vietnam.

Third World Newsreel, No Game, 1968, 17 min.
In October 1967, 100,000 people marched on Washington demanding an end to the Vietnam war. A number of filmmakers pooled their footage to produce this documentation of a peaceful march that ended in the occupation of the grounds of the Pentagon.

Third World Newsreel, Only the Beginning, 1971, 20 min.
In April 1971, thousands of GIs came to Washington D.C. to protest the Vietnam war. They stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and threw away their medals. Told from the veterans' point of view, the film examines the conditions that led many decorated but disillusioned veterans to their dramatic action.

Richard Myers, Pat Myers, Jake Leed, Mary Leed, Robert Olrich, Carla Olrich, Mel Someroski and Mike Tarr, Confrontation at Kent State , 1971, 43 min.
On May 4 1970 four students on Kent State University campus were shot to death and others wounded. This film, made by members of the faculty and student body, documents this confrontation, including interviews with the National Guard, people in the town of Kent, and students.

Richard Myers, Allison, 1970, 7 min.
A portrait of Allison Krause, one of the four students murdered at Kent State by the Ohio National Guard, from footage Myers and others had unknowingly filmed of Krause during student demonstrations.

Julie Talen, Sixty Cameras Against the War, 2004, 110 min.
Sixty cameras independently filming the New York march against the war in Iraq in February 2003 are gathered by Talen into a kaleidoscopic portrait of a demonstration split apart by barricades.

PLEASE NOTE: The DAILY SCREENING PROGRAM (see above) will also be shown on Saturday, August 28 and Saturday, September 4 (Labor Day). The following special Saturday screenings veer from the regular daily screening schedule.


Saturday September 11

Norman Fruchter and John Douglas, Summer '68, 1969, 60 min.
An alternative documentary reporting the protest activities surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, including the growth of G.I. coffee houses and the resistance to the draft.

Albert Alotta, Peacemeal, 1967, color, sound, 7 1/2 min.
A poetic study of an anti-war rally.

Third World Newsreel, Yippie, 1968, 10 min.
An irreverent official statement by the Youth International Party on the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, featuring the pig the Yippies ran for president. A satirical addressing of police brutality reveals an undercurrent of deep anger.

Third World Newsreel, Boston Draft Resistance Group, 1968, 18 min.
A profile of a grass-roots anti-war group in Boston that documents the tactics of draft resistance groups across the country during the Vietnam war.

Lenny Lipton, We Shall March Again, 1965, 8 min.
David Ringo, March on the Pentagon, 1968, b/w, sound, 20 1/2 min.
Leonard Henny, Black Power - We're Goin' Survive America!, 1969, 15 min.
Three experimental films documenting the anti-war marches of the 1960s and the Black Power movement's protest against discrimination, war and racism.

Saturday September 18
Paul Sharits, Piece Mandala/End War, 1966, b/w and color, silent, 5 min.
Stan Vanderbeek, Poem Field no. 7, 1966/1969, 4 min.
Storm de Hirsch, Trap Dance, 1968, b/w, sound, 1 1/2 min.
"End War" flashes out of Paul Sharits' violently pulsating mandala; Stan Vanderbeek's computer-patterns animate the poem "There is no way to peace - peace is the way", with soundtrack by John Cage; Storm de Hirsch creates a protest film of black and white gestural marks.

Carolee Schneemann, Viet Flakes, 1965, b/w, sound, 11 min. Sound collage by James Tenney.
Composed of Vietnam atrocity photographs from newspapers and magazines, Schneemann's disturbing collage film was a central element of her kinetic theatre piece 'Snows' of 1966, expressing moral outrage at the endless destruction.

Andy Warhol Chelsea Girls, 1966, reels 5 ("Hanoi Hannah"), and 6 ("Hannoi Hannah and Guests"), 38 min.
The increasing American military involvement in Vietnam seeped into the thinking of artists and filmmakers everywhere. In this section of Chelsea Girls, Mary Woronov plays the Vietnam anti-war radio announcer Hannoi Hannah in Ronald Tavel's play.

Howard Lester, One Week in Vietnam, ? min.
The published photographs of all the American soldiers lost during one week in Vietnam flash past in a numbered countdown reaching 150.

Hollis Frampton, Apparatus Sum (Studies for Magellan #1), 1972, 2 1/2 min.
A poetic study of the body in death.

Stan Brakhage, Song 23: 23rd Psalm Branch, Parts 1 & 2 , 1966/1978, 85 min.
Brakhage's most political film, Song 23 is a meditation on war, a response to Vietnam, "an apolcalypse of the imagination". (P.Adams Sitney).

Saturday September 25
David Loeb Weiss, 1968, b/w, sound, 68 min.
Filmed at the Harlem Fall Mobilization March against the war in 1967, three African American Vietnam veterans discuss the relationship between the racism they encountered in the army, the poverty and discrimination of the ghetto, and war.

Beryl Fox, 1965, 55 min.
Fox's seminal film, one of the earliest documentaries on Vietnam, commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, includes candid interviews with young GIs and pilots, intercut with the devastation they caused, in one of the most penetrating documents of the Vietnam war.

Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker, 1972, color, sound, 95 min.
On the eve of what he predicted would be a revolution in the United States, Jean-Luc Godard embarked on a collaborative project with American documentarists Leacock and Pennebaker in 1968 in Chicago. The project was abandoned and the footage edited by Leacock and Pennebaker into "One PM" ("One Perfect Movie"), in which the Jefferson Airplane, Rip Torn, Eldridge Cleaver and others articulate the attitude of a young generation towards the political system in America at the end of the 1960s.

Saturday 2 October

Emile de Antonio, 1969, 101 min.
Widely considered a masterpiece, this raw documentary, including archive footage, interviews by de Antonio and a soundtrack by a student of John Cage, traces the origins of the Vietnam war, making an impassioned argument for its futility and moral tragedy.

Saturday 9 October


Saturday 16 October



Saturday 23 October

Beryl Fox


Friday, August 6

Disgust and Shame in the Law

Danger to Human Dignity: the Revival of Disgust and Shame in the Law
The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 6, 2004


(Martha C. Nussbaum is a professor of law and ethics in the philosophy department, law school, and divinity school at the University of Chicago. Her most recent book, Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law, was published this spring by Princeton University Press.)

The law, most of us would agree, should be society's protection against prejudice. That does not imply that emotions play no legitimate role in legal affairs, for often emotions help people to see a situation clearly, doing justice to the concerns that ought to be addressed. The compassion of judge and jurors during the penalty phase of a criminal trial, for example, has been held to be an essential part of criminal justice, a way of connecting to the life story of a defendant whose experience seems remote to those who sit in judgment. Emotions are not intrinsically opposed to reason, for they involve pictures of the world and evaluations. But there are some emotions whose role in the law has always been more controversial. Disgust and shame are two of those.

And disgust and shame are enjoying a remarkable revival in our society, after years during which their role in the law was widely criticized.

Consider shame: A California judge orders a man convicted of larceny to wear a shirt stating, "I am on felony probation for theft." In Florida, drunk drivers are required to display bumper stickers announcing, "Convicted DUI." Similar stickers have been authorized in other states, including Texas and Iowa.

Disgust, too, is making its way into the law. Stephen Roy Carr, a drifter lurking in the woods near the Appalachian Trail, saw two women making love at their campsite. He shot them, killing one and seriously wounding the other. At trial, charged with first-degree murder, he argued for mitigation to manslaughter on the grounds that his disgust at their lesbian behavior had produced a reaction of overwhelming revulsion that led to the crime.

In a 1973 opinion that is still the central source for the law of obscenity, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote that the obscene must be defined in a manner that includes reference to the disgust and revulsion that the works in question would inspire in "the average person, applying contemporary community standards." To make the connection to disgust even clearer, Justice Burger added a learned footnote about the etymology of the term "obscene" from the Latin caenum, "filth."

If shame and disgust are prominent in the law, as they are in our daily lives, do we really understand the role they play? Have we sufficiently investigated the thoughts involved in each of these emotions? Or do common assumptions that emotions are devoid of thought prevent us from asking the questions that we ought to ask?

Penalties based on shaming encourage the stigmatization of offenders, asking us to view them as disgraced and disgraceful. At the same time, other current trends in our democracy, typified by our treatment of people with disabilities, discourage persistent habits of stigmatization and shaming, in the name of human dignity and individuality. There seems to be a tension between support for punishments that humiliate and the general concern for human dignity that lies behind the extension of stigma-free status to formerly marginalized groups -- and, in general, between the view that law should shame malefactors and the view that law should protect citizens from insults to their dignity.

Disgust, too, functions in complicated ways. It serves, sometimes, as the primary or even sole reason for making some acts illegal. Thus the disgust of the reader or viewer is one primary aspect of the definition of obscene materials under current obscenity law. Similar arguments have been used to support the illegality of homosexual relations between consenting adults: Such acts should be illegal, it has often been said, because the "average man" feels disgust when he thinks about them. Ideas based on our tendency to experience disgust also appear to be involved in the debate over gay marriage, especially when people suggest that gay marriages would defile heterosexual marriage.

Disgust has been used as well as an aggravating factor in acts already illegal on other grounds: The disgust of judge or jury at a murder whose gory or bloody aspects are vividly described may put the defendant into a class of especially heinous offenders, a factor often relevant to the applicability of the death penalty. However, disgust also plays a role in mitigating culpability. Although Stephen Roy Carr did not succeed in winning a reduction in the charge against him, other offenders have succeeded with a similar defense based on disgust.

If we turn to the theoretical literature, our sense of perplexity only grows, because there is a marked revival of the idea that disgust and shame are reliable and valuable forces on which law may rightly be based, but little sustained critical scrutiny of such ideas. Shame-based penalties are frequently defended by communitarian theorists (who promote the importance of social cohesion and homogeneity) as valuable expressions of shared values.

In his 2001 book The Monochrome Society (Princeton University Press), for example, Amitai Etzioni, a leading communitarian, memorably suggested that society would improve if young drug dealers, caught in a first offense, were "sent home with their heads shaved and without their pants." In a similar vein (although he didn't even require that those to be stigmatized be convicted of an offense), the conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. proposed in a 1986 newspaper article that gay men with AIDS should be tattooed as such on their buttocks.

Theorists suggest that what is good about such penalties is the fact that they stigmatize vice; but they offer no sustained analysis of the operations of shame and stigma that would help convince us that the penalties are likely to be reliably directed at vice, rather than at unpopular people or people who make the dominant majority uncomfortable. Yet some writers, such as the legal theorists Toni M. Massaro and James Q. Whitman, have strongly opposed a reliance on humiliation in punishment -- but, like the people with whom they disagree, the theoretical basis of their conclusions is somewhat underdeveloped.

Disgust is equally perplexing in theory. The appeal to disgust in law has its most famous defense in Lord Devlin's The Enforcement of Morals (Oxford University Press, 1959), an influential work of conservative political thought. Lord Devlin argued that the disgust of average members of society (the "man on the Clapham omnibus") gives us a strong reason to make an act illegal, even if it causes no harm to others. That is so, he claimed, because every society has the right to preserve itself.

More recently, the legal theorist William I. Miller, while apparently disagreeing with Devlin about some concrete policy matters (since he appeared to favor at least some liberal policies on issues of sex and sexual orientation), supported Devlin's general line. Miller argued in the 1997 book The Anatomy of Disgust (Harvard University Press) that a society's hatred of vice and impropriety necessarily involves disgust and cannot be sustained without it.

And Leon R. Kass, chairman of President Bush's Council on Bioethics, wrote in "The Wisdom of Repugnance" (1997) that our responses of disgust embody a wise aversion to evil that can steer us reliably in times of social change. Such views are built into many of our legal traditions: Sodomy laws, for example, have typically been defended in Devlin's way, by an appeal to the feelings of average people.

Like the legal writings on shame, theoretical analyses of disgust offer too little theory. Only Miller provided a sustained analysis of the emotion of disgust, and he did not connect it to any concrete legal conclusions. Moreover, the analyses are inconsistent with each other: Devlin liked disgust because it expresses deep-seated social conventions, Kass because it (allegedly) expresses a wisdom that lies deeper than mere convention. No examination of the genesis and cognitive content of the emotions was offered to support either position.

For their part, opponents of disgust in the law, like the theorists H.L.A. Hart and Ronald W. Dworkin, have argued that the appeal to disgust is somehow illiberal, but they have offered no concrete analysis of the emotion that would help us see why disgust would be more problematic than other emotions (like compassion, anger, and fear) that the law indubitably, in at least some cases, incorporates.

I believe that we can sort through this confusion only if we begin with a deeper and more detailed understanding of the emotions of shame and disgust and their role in the narrative history of human life. If we draw on cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis for a richer view, we will see that there is something very problematic about these two emotions, something of which a liberal society should indeed be suspicious. They are linked to a general shrinking from the bodily nature of human life, and hence to various forms of prejudice, exclusion, and misogyny, as people project the discomfort they feel about mortality and decay onto vulnerable groups and individuals.

Let us look in depth at disgust. Disgust appears to be an especially visceral emotion. It involves strong bodily reactions to stimuli that often have marked sensory characteristics. Its classic expression is vomiting; its classic stimulants are vile odors and other objects whose very appearance seems loathsome. Nonetheless, important research by Paul Rozin, a psychologist, has made it evident that disgust has a complex cognitive content. Rozin does not dispute that disgust may well have an underlying evolutionary basis; but he shows that social training crucially shapes the form that the underlying tendencies take.

Disgust is distinct from both distaste, a negative reaction motivated by sensory factors, and from a sense of danger, motivated by anticipated harmful consequences. Disgust is not simple distaste because, Rozin has found, the very same smell elicits different disgust reactions depending on the subject's conception of the object. Subjects sniff decay odor from two different vials, both of which in reality contain the same substance; they are told that one vial contains feces and the other contains cheese. (The real smells are confusable.) Those who think that they are sniffing cheese usually like the smell; those who think they are sniffing feces find it repellent and unpleasant. It is the subject's conception, rather than the sensory properties of the object, that primarily determines the disgust response.

Nor is disgust the same as perceived danger. Dangerous items (for instance, poisonous mushrooms) are tolerated in the environment, as long as they will not be ingested; disgusting items are not. When danger is removed, the dangerous item will be ingested: Detoxified poisonous mushrooms are acceptable. But disgusting items remain disgusting even when all danger is removed. People refuse to eat sterilized cockroaches; many, Rozin has shown, object even to swallowing a cockroach inside an indigestible plastic capsule.

Disgust concerns the borders of the body: the possibility that an offensive substance may be incorporated into and debase a person. The core objects of disgust are animals or their secretionsabove all feces, bodily wastes, and corpses, or creatures who have (or appear to have) related properties (ooziness, sliminess, decay). To put it very briefly, it would appear that disgust embodies a shrinking from animality and mortality, which, if taken in, would contaminate the human being who has a stake in rising above the merely animal.

Disgust is, then, very different from anger and indignation. Anger is about damage or harm. For that reason, it is very closely related to a central function of the legal system- namely, that of protecting citizens from harm, and punishing harms that occur. The reasons underlying a particular case of anger may, of course, be false or distorted; but if they stand up to scrutiny, we can expect the law to take an interest in them, and nobody would dispute the legitimacy of its doing so. Disgust is different. It is by no means clear that feeling grossed out by something gives the disgusted person a set of reasons that plausibly lead to making conduct illegal, especially when we note, as does Rozin, the irrational and associational thinking so often involved in disgust.

But if disgust is problematic in principle, we have all the more reason to regard it with suspicion when we observe that throughout history it has been used as a powerful weapon in social efforts to exclude certain groups and persons. So strong is the desire to cordon ourselves off from our animality that we often don't stop at feces, cockroaches, and slimy animals. We need a group of human beings to bound ourselves against, to exemplify the line between the truly human and the basely animal. If those quasi animals stand between us and our own animality, then we are one step further away from being animal and mortal ourselves.

Thus throughout history certain disgust properties -- sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness -- have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with, indeed projected onto, people by reference to whom privileged groups seek to define their superior human status. The stock image of the Jew, in anti-Semitic propaganda, was that of a being with a disgustingly soft and porous body, womanlike in its oozy sliminess, a foul parasite inside the clean German male self. Hitler described the Jew as a maggot in a festering abscess, hidden away inside the apparently clean and healthy body of the nation.

Similar disgusting properties are traditionally associated with women. In more or less all societies, women have been vehicles for the expression of male loathing of the physical and the potentially decaying. Taboos surrounding sex, birth, menstruation -- all express the desire to ward off something that is too physical, that partakes too much of the secretions of the body.

Consider, finally, the central locus of disgust in today's United States, male loathing of the male homosexual. Female homosexuals may be objects of fear, or moral indignation, or generalized anxiety, but they are less often objects of disgust. Similarly, heterosexual females may feel negative emotions toward the male homosexual -- fear, moral indignation, anxiety -- but again, they rarely feel emotions of disgust. What inspires disgust is male fear of anal penetration: of breaking down the sacred boundary against stickiness, ooze, and death. The presence of a homosexual male in the neighborhood inspires the thought that a man might himself be contaminated. The very look of such a male is itself contaminating -- as we see in the extraordinary debates about showers in the military.

Does disgust, then, contain a wisdom that steers law in the right direction? Surely the moral progress of society can be measured by the degree to which it separates disgust from danger and indignation, basing laws and social rules on substantive harm, rather than on the symbolic relationship an object bears to our anxieties. (Thus the Indian caste system was less civilized than the behavior of Mahatma Gandhi, who cleaned latrines in order to indicate that we share a human dignity that is not polluted by such menial functions.)

There are many areas of law to which such ideas might lead us; let me focus on just one. Legal accounts of the obscene in the Anglo-American common-law tradition standardly refer to the disgusting properties of a questionable work as they relate to the sensibilities of a hypothetical "average man." The legal standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. California in 1973 holds that "a work may be subject to state regulation where that work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." That determination is to be made from the point of view of "the average person, applying contemporary community standards." Disgust enters the picture in two ways: as a means to articulate the notion of the "patently offensive," as well as to define "prurient interest" (something that is a "shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion").

In order to make those connections clearer, Justice Burger, writing for the majority, analyzed the concept of obscenity in a fascinating footnote. Criticizing an earlier decision for not offering a precise definition of the obscene, he first traced the etymology of the word "obscene" from the Latin caenum, "filth." Next he cited a current dictionary definition of "obscene" as "disgusting to the senses ... grossly repugnant to the generally accepted notions of what is appropriate ... offensive or revolting" and another dictionary definition of "obscene" as "offensive to the senses, or to taste or refinement; disgusting, repulsive, filthy, foul, abominable, loathsome."

That, however, was not the end of the matter. The note then added that the material being discussed in the Miller case was "more accurately defined as 'pornography' or 'pornographic material.'" In other words, the concept of the "obscene" underwent further refinement and analysis via the concept of the "pornographic." The etymology of "pornography," from the Greek term for "harlot," is then discussed, and pornography is defined (via a dictionary) as "a depiction ... of licentiousness or lewdness: a portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement."

The mingling of ideas in that account is truly fascinating. In order to offer a "precise" definition of the notion of "prurient interest," the court brought in the concept of the disgusting; that concept, in turn, was rendered "more accurately" by reference to the concept of the female whore and the related idea of a "portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement." In other words, that which appeals to prurient interest is that which disgusts, and that which disgusts is that which (by displaying female sexuality) causes sexual excitement. But aren't disgust and sexual arousal very different things?

The linking of those ideas has in fact caused some legal conundrums. In a 1987 case in the Fourth Circuit concerning films depicting human intercourse with animals, U.S. v. Guglielmi, the defense argued that the materials in question were not obscene because they were surely not sexually arousing to the "average person"; indeed, the "average person" would find films like Snake Fuckers, Horsepower, and Horny Boar pretty revolting. Undaunted by that difficulty, the unanimous three-judge panel responded that the obscene is the disgusting, and it surely would be inconsistent with the spirit of the law to find milder materials obscene because they aroused average people, and to let more deeply revolting materials off because they disgusted average people.

But why, we might ask, should one ever have supposed that the ideas mixed together in Miller would go together? What is sexy about the disgusting, and what is disgusting about the activities of a female whore? The answer should by now be all too evident. In the confusion of concepts we discern the time-honored view that sex itself has something disgusting about it, something furtive and self-contaminating, particularly if it is the body of a female whore that has been tainted by the bodily secretions of numerous men. The female body is seen as a filthy zone of pollution, disgusting to males because it is the evidence of the male's own embodiment, animality, and mortality.

Such connections are nothing new. In the early 20th century, for example, James Joyce's Ulysses was attacked as obscene. Often complaints focused on its frank depiction of a woman's nonmarital sexual desires (in Molly Bloom's famous monologue, combined with ruminations about her menstrual period, deflationary thoughts about the penis, and memories of love). Joyce believed that our disgust with our own bodily functions lay at the root of much social evil -- nationalism, fanaticism, misogyny. Like D.H. Lawrence, he held that a healthy society would be one that came to grips with its own mortal bodily nature. Joyce's novel, of course, is the opposite of disgusting to one who reads it as it asks to be read. It presents the body as an object of many emotions -- desire, humor, tender love, calm acceptance. But one emotion that is conspicuously absent from its invitation to readers is the emotion of disgust.

We have good reasons, then, to doubt whether the disgust of the "average man" would ever be a very reliable test for what might be legally regulable in the realm of art. In many other areas, deeper psychologically informed analysis of specific emotions would also help us advance beyond simplistic generalizations about "emotion" in the law.

Take shame. It is connected to deep human insecurities that similarly project themselves outward, via the stigmatization of vulnerable people and groups. As Erving Goffman showed in his classic sociological analysis, Stigma (Prentice-Hall, 1963), all societies contain a composite image of the "normal" person that is actually embodied, as a whole, by more or less nobody. (Goffman's account of the American norm is that of "a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports.") People who lack any of those desirable characteristics are made to feel shame; so more or less all of us feel shame about something. But some people's lives are more dominated by shame than others. Racial and sexual minorities, and people with marked physical disabilities in particular are ostracized and made to feel that they must hide themselves.

Why do all societies inflict stigma? I suggest that the desire to stigmatize others grows out of the insecurity that all human beings experience, being intelligent creatures who soon learn how weak and helpless they are in regard to things of the highest importance. The more our development encourages us to expect and seek control, the more likely we are, finding out that we can't really have it, to gain a substitute kind of safety by defining a dominant group as perfect, lacking in nothing, and projecting weakness and inadequacy onto an outside group. To the extent that societies can teach people that the desired condition is one of interdependence, rather than control and self-sufficiency, such pernicious tendencies can be minimized. But they are never likely to be completely eradicated, given that people really are weaker than they want to be and, as they grow older, are likely to have an increasing desire to conceal their weaknesses.

The history of punishment bears witness to the ubiquity of the desire to shame others. In many societies, penalties based on shaming (tattoos and brands, the stocks, the pillory, the scarlet letter) are often introduced at first to target a truly harmful vice. But history shows that they quickly take on a different purpose: to demonize people who are merely unpopular or who belong to a minority religion or sexuality. We hear many proposals today to revive shame-based punishments; given the history of such punishments, they need to be examined with a skeptical eye.

Fear of a dissident minority often masquerades as moral disapproval. Societies frequently experience what social scientists call "moral panics," in which some "deviant" group is thought to be a threat to key moral values and is stigmatized in consequence. Often the danger posed by the group is purely imaginary, and the real issue is a desire to create a zone of safety and security by defining the dominant group as good and "normal," the outsider groups as the bearer of a disgraceful tainted identity. Our debates today over gay marriage contain much of this muddled thinking, whatever else they also contain.

In general, a society based on the idea of equal human dignity must find ways to inhibit stigma and the aggression that are so often linked to the proclamation that "we" are the ones who are "normal." Such a society is difficult to achieve, because incompleteness is frightening, and grandiose fictions are comforting. As a patient of the psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott said to him, "The alarming thing about equality is that we are then both children, and the question is, where is father? We know where we are if one of us is the father."

It may even be that a society in which people acknowledge their equal weakness and interdependence is unachievable because human beings cannot bear to live with the constant awareness of mortality and of their frail animal bodies. Some self-deception may be essential in getting us through a life in which we are soon bound for death, and in which the most essential matters are in fact beyond our control. But if we cannot fully achieve such a society, we can at least look to it as a paradigm (as Plato said of his ideal city), and make sure that our laws are the laws of that community and no other.

Sunday, August 1

Henry Louis Gates Jr: Breaking the Silence

"'If our people studied calculus like we studied basketball,' my father, age 91, once remarked as we drove past a packed inner-city basketball court at midnight, 'we'd be running M.I.T.' When my brother and I were growing up in the 50's, our parents convinced us that the 'blackest' thing that we could be was a doctor or a lawyer. We admired Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, but our real heroes were people like Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Benjamin Mays and Mary McLeod Bethune. Yet in too many black neighborhoods today, academic achievement has actually come to be stigmatized. 'We are just not the same people anymore,' says the mayor of Memphis, Dr. Willie W. Herenton. 'We are worse off than we were before Brown v. Board,' says Dr. James Comer, a child psychiatrist at Yale. 'And a large part of the reason for this is that we have abandoned our own black traditional core values, values that sustained us through slavery and Jim Crow segregation.'

'Americans suffer from anti-intellectualism, starting in the White House,' Mr. Obama went on. 'Our people can least afford to be anti-intellectual.' Too many of our children have come to believe that it's easier to become a black professional athlete than a doctor or lawyer."

Henry Louis Gates Jr: Breaking the Silence

Barack Obama's Speech at the Democratic Convention