Thursday, March 31, 2011


This is odd. Seldom-seen footage of America’s pimp laureate Iceberg Slim, promoting his book Trick Baby and talking about “White Folk,” taken from a 1968 episode of The Joe Pyne Show.

First off, what was Iceberg Slim doing on Joe Pyne? (Joe Pyne = the Bill O’Reilly of the 1960s).

And secondly, what’s with that crazy mask?

This is just a three-minute excerpt from a 49-minute long video that can be watched on Amazon.

from Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Being Fat in America
(comment by John Robbins)

from the Huffington Post
We can, as a society, be astoundingly cruel to people who are obese. They might be creative, caring and hopeful people, but we don't see that. Far too often, we see only their weight.

What does it say about us that we act as though you can take the measure of a person by the size bathing suit they wear?

Maybe this partially explains why obese people are flocking to a restaurant outside Phoenix, Arizona, whose name, and I am not making this up, is the Heart Attack Grill. The restaurant, which seats 100, is often packed. It offers what owner Jon Basso calls, "an environment of acceptance to overweight customers who are typically demonized by society."

But at this restaurant, it's a little more than acceptance. The Heart Attack Grill literally celebrates obesity. Customers who are over 350 pounds eat for free. A scale is strategically placed at the center of the restaurant, so other diners can watch the weigh-ins. When customers exceed 350 pounds, says the restaurant's owner, "Everybody applauds and cheers for them. A big smile comes over their face, and for once they are finally accepted. They are not picked on here."

It's all made to seem sexy, too. Waitresses, all of them young and slender, are dressed as scantily clad nurses, wearing high heels, thigh-high stockings, and skimpy outfits revealing lots of cleavage.

It sounds like fun.

Except when it isn't.

A few weeks ago, the 575-pound spokesman for the Heart Attack Grill, a 29-year-old man named Blair River, died. It wasn't a heart attack, it was pneumonia. He had been the public face of the restaurant and the star of its advertising. He was also the single father for a five-year-old girl.

At nearly 600 pounds. Blair River ate all his meals free at the restaurant.

Heart Attack Grill owner Jon Basso did not deny the link between the young man's excessive weight and his tragically premature death. "I hired him to promote my food," said Basso, "(but his) life was cut short because he carried extra weight." Ironically, the restaurant's motto is "Food Worth Dying For."

Of course, no one is forcing anyone to eat at the Heart Attack Grill or to stuff themselves full of unhealthy food. It's a free country, in theory anyway, and we're free to eat ourselves to death if we want to do so.

Some would say that the Heart Attack Grill steps over a line, to the point of enabling dangerous food addictions. There is certainly nothing remotely resembling healthy on the menu. Customers can purchase cigarettes, but only the non-filtered type. On the wall are prominent displays advertising menu items such as "Quadruple Bypass Burgers" that carry 8,000 calories, and "Flatliner Fries" that are deep-fried in pure lard. Perhaps joking, owner Basso says, "We're in the front lines of the battle against anorexia."

But Blair River's death is no joke. And it would be a mistake to make light of the medical consequences of obesity. The Centers for Disease Control tells us that obese people have a substantially higher risk not only for heart attacks, but also for diabetes, most cancers, and many other types of cardiovascular disease.

Heart Attack Grill owner Basso doesn't plan any changes on account of the young man's death. Scantily-clad waitresses will still regularly exhort customers to eat all they can. He's making money, and thinks the restaurant is great fun.

But is it funny that we have become the most obese society in the history of the world? Two-thirds of the residents of the United States are now either overweight or obese. So many children are developing the most common type of diabetes that medical authorities have had to change the name of the disease. What was formerly called "adult-onset diabetes" is now called "type 2 diabetes." It accounts for 90 percent of the diabetes in the country, and the incidence in children is skyrocketing.

It's easy to point our fingers and pass judgment. We can blame fast food companies that aggressively market unhealthy foods to children, we can blame people who overeat for their lack of will power, and we can blame parents for feeding their kids poorly. We can blame harmful ingredients such as trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup, and we can blame the pressures of modern life that turn people into addicts of one kind or another.

We can play the blame game ad infinitum, but who does that help? Does it help those with weight problems that leave them vulnerable to disease and prone to feelings of shame?

What if we were instead to learn from those people who have taken the arduous, difficult, and ultimately joyful journey from obesity to health?

I have had the wonderfully good fortune recently to become friends with a young woman named Natala Constantine and her husband Matt. They've been married for seven-and-a-half years. At their wedding, Natala was morbidly obese.

She knew something about the abuse endured by obese people in our society. By then, she had lost track of the number of times she had been humiliated in public, called ugly names by strangers, and been physically hurt by people who felt entitled to treat her as less than human because of her weight.

People constantly told Natala she was lucky Matt had fallen in love with her, and that he must be amazing to be able to look past her weight.

A week after the wedding, she was diagnosed with severe diabetes. Her blood had become so acidic that her organs were shutting down, and doctors seriously doubted whether she would survive. She was 25-years-old.

Five years later, Natala was taking up to 13 different medications and as much as 200 units of insulin a day. She ate what many people would call a healthy diet -- lots of animal protein, and almost no carbohydrates. She had been told that a diet high in animal protein was the only way she could control her diabetes, but it wasn't working. She was working out at a gym for two to three hours a day, but at 5'2" tall, she weighed close to 400 pounds.

When Natala developed an infection in her right calf, doctors told her that part of her lower right leg might need to be amputated. But then a friend, who Natala described to me as "a vegan and into yoga," suggested that she consider a natural approach to her diabetes, and that she start to think of food as medicine. "I wanted to smash her," Natala admits. "How dare she suggest something so simple! Didn't she know that I had been to the best doctors, that I was on the best diet, that I was working out?"

But Natala did take her friend's advice to heart, and decided to go on what she calls a "100-percent healthy plant-strong diet."

"For the first three weeks," she says, "I felt as though I was ridding myself of much more than animal products. Food had a hold on me that I could not even conceptualize prior to those three weeks. I would sit in my car and cry outside of sub shops, just wanting a tuna melt."

It was very rough, but Natala stayed with it and the results were nothing short of miraculous. In 30 days, she was off all insulin.

The physicians she was seeing for her diabetes took a look at her numbers, were amazed, and wanted to know how she did it. "I told them I had adopted a completely plant-based diet. They didn't seem surprised at all, and told me that plant-based diets were helping to reverse diabetes. When I asked why they had not suggested it, they told me because it isn't practical."

Aghast, she asked her doctor, "Do you think it's practical to be 30 years old and lose a leg?"

She walked out of that doctor's office and never went back. "Everything changed from that moment," she recalls. "I slowly decreased all the other diabetes medicines I was on. I lowered my blood cholesterol without drugs. I lowered my blood pressure without drugs. I corrected my hormonal problems without drugs. Many diabetics go blind, but I reversed the nerve damage in my eyes. And that infection in my leg? It completely healed. The arthritis in my feet? It went away."

Today, Natala Constantine has lost almost 200 pounds, is medicine-free, and continues to make great strides toward her ideal weight. Her diabetes is in complete remission. I've met her and I can attest that she is one of the happiest and most radiant people you could hope to meet. A concert violinist, she exudes joy.

And her husband, Matt? While Natala was dealing with diabetes, he was not only obese but also suffered from severe food allergies. Eating a few tomatoes would send him to the emergency room. His food allergies dominated his life. And now? His improvement, on a 100-percent healthy plant-strong diet, is almost as miraculous as his wife's. A concert pianist, he has lost 90 pounds, is now a healthy weight, and his food allergies are entirely behind him.

It's quite a world we live in it, isn't it? On the one hand, we have the Heart Attack Grill, whose 570-pound spokesman died this month at the age of 29. On the other, we have people like Natala and Matt Constantine, who have taken a different path.

We live in a society that tends to cruelly stigmatize the obese. The Heart Attack Grill represents one form of response. It can feel empowering to turn shame into defiance. When society points its finger at you, blaming you and denying its own illness, there is a natural urge to send a message back to society with your middle finger.

But is there a healthier alternative? What about turning shame into a commitment to greater wellbeing and happiness? What about refusing to internalize society's negative messages, and instead building a healthy life of joy, confidence, and beauty?

Cutting back on heavily sweetened beverages like sodas and juice-like drinks is a good place to start. Eating less processed foods and more whole foods is another good step. Getting exercise helps a lot. And the more of your nutrients you can get from plant sources, the better.

Eat a healthy plant-strong diet, and your body will thank you for the rest of your life.

John Robbins is the author of many bestsellers include "The Food Revolution" and "Diet For A New America." He is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award, and Green America's Lifetime Achievement Award. To learn more about his work, visit"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Packaging the Future: Micromidas Makes Biodegradable Plastic from Sewage

from Inhabitat

Right now, 8% of the world’s oil is used to make plastics — and oil has to be extracted from the belly of the earth using extremely energy and cost-intensive processes. At the same time, the world’s cities are constantly growing and producing more waste, which is usually dehydrated and trucked off to be dumped. In a planet-positive double-whammy, Micromidas has figured out how to transform raw sewage into a versatile form of plastic that biodegrades in 6-12 months. The new company (they’ve only been around since mid-2008) accomplished the feat by harnessing microbes — specifically, bacteria — to produce a bioplastic resin, which can be processed into a malleable plastic.

“This technology has been bounced around for a while, and has been in existence for over 20 years. We decided to take it from experimental to industrial scale. It wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but we decided to take it to that level,” Micromidas CEO John Bissell told me in a recent interview.

Here’s how it works: after removing water from sewage, the solids (shudder) are put through a system wherein even more water is removed (and sent back to the sewage line) and other solids are drawn off. A ‘consortium’ of bacteria (different organisms address different sewage constituents including sugars, proteins, fats, etc.) get to work, and produce a malleable bioplastic polystyrene akin to a coffee cup top. “It’s the kind of plastic that can be used in packaging of all kinds,” says Bissell.

This is an ideal use for unused waste material which contains valuable, usable ingredients — “Everything you need to make plastic is actually up here, on the surface of the Earth. All the ingredients of sewage have what you need to make plastic,” said Ryan Smith, Micromidas’ CTO and co-founder at a recent Poptech! Conference.

When I asked Bissell about the “ick” factor that has held back projects like turning sewage into drinking water in Southern California (aka ‘toilet to tap’), he said that it wasn’t a big worry. “For the most part, people don’t seem to be concerned. Everybody thinks that someone else is concerned about it, but they aren’t. On the other hand, there’s no reason why we’d try to make food packaging first,” said Bissell.

The company was motivated by a few factors; a combination of business, growing environmental concerns, and timing. “Most people in companies like ours say there’s a mission aspect. For us, the idea is of maximal utilization of biomass and we appreciate that. It’s elegant. And it’s also economically attractive,“ said Bissell. Working with Stanford University students on the biorefinery plant design, they hope to be producing at scale in about a year. While they are keeping mum on who their first clients may be, they say they will be “working with a number of large companies,” moving forward.

Check out the Pop!tech video above for more about the provenance and possibilities of this new plasic. You can follow Micromidas’ project through their Twitter feed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Back To The Future : Irina Werning - Photographer

from Irina's blog:
I love old photos. I admit being a nosey photographer. As soon as I step into someone else’s house, I start sniffing for them. Most of us are fascinated by their retro look but to me, it’s imagining how people would feel and look like if they were to reenact them today... A few months ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future. [click on the images to see them bigger - most of these are taken 20-30 years apart]

by the way, this project made me realise Im a bit obsessive...

Looking for subjects in NY, Boston (May) and Europe (June). Drop me an email if you live there and would like to take part.

Get more info (including dates) and see a few more HERE

thanks, Roger Ebert

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Disaster in Japan and the science of belief

Here's an interesting interview piece from Maggie Koerth-Baker, science editor over at BoingBoing.

I spoke with research psychologist Jesse Bering for Bloggingheads Science Saturday—a weekly feature that records interesting conversations between science bloggers. Unsurprisingly, the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan were on both our minds. But I think you'll find Jesse's take on this stuff particularly interesting. He studies the human tendency to believe in the supernatural, and he had a lot of thought-provoking things to say about that instinct, how it affects even unbelievers during disaster situations, and why belief was useful to our ancestors, but isn't necessarily something that we need today.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Leading Animal Rights Organization, Farm Sanctuary, Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer described Farm Sanctuary in his book Eating Animals as “one of the most important animal protection, education, and lobbying organizations in America.” And as the organization responsible for bringing farm animal issues to the forefront celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s important to remember all of the progress Farm Sanctuary has made.

The organization urged the passage of the first U.S. laws to protect animals on farms, initiated the first cruelty convictions at slaughterhouses, and established the largest rescue network for farm animals in North America. In addition, Farm Sanctuary is responsible for getting fast food chain Burger King to add a veggie burger to their menu.
My Family and I with some friends visited the "Farm Animal Sanctuary" in Woodstock, New York last fall and had a very nice time with the rescued animals, so much nicer than going to a zoo. "Captivity Sucks!"

Thanks, Ecorazzi

Friday, March 25, 2011

Incredible video of Aurora Borealis

Norwegian landscape photographer Terje Sorgjerd spent one week around Kirkenes and the Norway-Russia border, in -25 Celsius temperature, to make this magnificent time-lapse video of the Aurora Borealis.
thanks, BoingBoing

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vision: Revolution Is
"Unpredictable and As Beautiful as Spring"

By Rebecca Solnit, via
Revolution is as unpredictable as an earthquake and as beautiful as spring. Its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be.

Revolution is a phase, a mood, like spring, and just as spring has its buds and showers, so revolution has its ebullience, its bravery, its hope, and its solidarity. Some of these things pass. The women of Cairo do not move as freely in public as they did during those few precious weeks when the old rules were suspended and everything was different. But the old Egypt is gone and Egyptians’ sense of themselves -- and our sense of them -- is forever changed.

No revolution vanishes without effect. The Prague Spring of 1968 was brutally crushed, but 21 years later when a second wave of revolution liberated Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek, who had been the reformist Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, returned to give heart to the people from a balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square: "The government is telling us that the street is not the place for things to be solved, but I say the street was and is the place. The voice of the street must be heard."

The voice of the street has been a bugle cry this year. You heard it. Everyone did, but the rulers who thought their power was the only power that mattered, heard it last and with dismay. Many of them are nervous now, releasing political prisoners, lowering the price of food, and otherwise trying to tamp down uprisings.

There were three kinds of surprise about this year’s unfinished revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the rumblings elsewhere that have frightened the mighty from Saudi Arabia to China, Algeria to Bahrain. The West was surprised that the Arab world, which we have regularly been told is medieval, hierarchical, and undemocratic, was full of young men and women using their cell phones, their Internet access, and their bodies in streets and squares to foment change and temporarily live a miracle of direct democracy and people power. And then there is the surprise that the seemingly unshakeable regimes of the strongmen were shaken into pieces.

And finally, there is always the surprise of: Why now? Why did the crowd decide to storm the Bastille on July 14, 1789, and not any other day? The bread famine going on in France that year and the rising cost of food had something to do with it, as hunger and poverty does with many of the Middle Eastern uprisings today, but part of the explanation remains mysterious. Why this day and not a month earlier or a decade later? Or never instead of now?

Oscar Wilde once remarked, “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” This profound uncertainty has been the grounds for my own hope.

Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and you can tell stories where it all makes sense. A young Tunisian college graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi, who could find no better work than selling produce from a cart on the street, was so upset by his treatment at the hands of a policewoman that he set himself afire on December 17, 2010. His death two weeks later became the match that lit the country afire -- but why that death? Or why the death of Khaled Said, an Egyptian youth who exposed police corruption and was beaten to death for it? He got a Facebook page that said “We are all Khaled Said,” and his death, too, was a factor in the uprisings to come.

But when exactly do the abuses that have been tolerated for so long become intolerable? When does the fear evaporate and the rage generate action that produces joy? After all, Tunisia and Egypt were not short on intolerable situations and tragedies before Bouazizi’s self-immolation and Said’s murder.

Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death at an intersection in Saigon on June 11, 1963, to protest the treatment of Buddhists by the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam. His stoic composure while in flames was widely seen and may have helped produce a military coup against the regime six months later -- a change, but not necessarily a liberation. In between that year and this one, many people have fasted, prayed, protested, gone to prison, and died to call attention to cruel regimes, with little or no measurable consequence.

Guns and Butterflies

The boiling point of water is straightforward, but the boiling point of societies is mysterious. Bouazizi’s death became a catalyst, and at his funeral the 5,000 mourners chanted, "Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today, we will make those who caused your death weep."

But his was not the first Tunisian gesture of denunciation. An even younger man, the rap artist who calls himself El General, uploaded a song about the horror of poverty and injustice in the country and, as the Guardian put it, “within hours, the song had lit up the bleak and fearful horizon like an incendiary bomb.” Or a new dawn. The artist was arrested and interrogated for three very long days, and then released thanks to widespread protest. And surely before him we could find another milestone. And another young man being subjected to inhuman conditions. And behind the uprising in Egypt are a panoply of union and human rights organizers as well as charismatic individuals.

This has been a great year for the power of the powerless and for the courage and determination of the young. A short, fair-haired, mild man even younger than Bouazizi has been held under extreme conditions in solitary confinement in a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, for the last several months. He is charged with giving hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks and so unveiling some of the more compromised and unsavory operations of the American military and U.S. diplomacy. Bradley Manning was a 22-year-old soldier stationed in Iraq when he was arrested last spring. The acts he’s charged with have changed the global political landscape and fed the outrage in the Middle East.

As Foreign Policy put it in a headline, “In one fell swoop, the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.” The cables suggested, among other things, that the U.S. was not going to back Tunisian dictator Ben Ali to the bitter end, and that the regime’s corruption was common knowledge.

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, a 1958 comic book about the Civil Rights struggle in the American South and the power of nonviolence was translated and distributed by the American Islamic Council in the Arab world in 2008 and has been credited with influencing the insurgencies of 2011. So the American Islamic Council played a role, too -- a role definitely not being investigated by anti-Muslim Congressman Peter King in his hearings on the “radicalization of Muslims in America.” Behind King are the lessons he, in turn, learned from Mohandas Gandhi, whose movement liberated India from colonial rule 66 years ago, and so the story comes back to the east.

Causes are Russian dolls. You can keep opening each one up and find another one behind it. WikiLeaks and Facebook and Twitter and the new media helped in 2011, but new media had been around for years. Asmaa Mahfouz was a young Egyptian woman who had served time in prison for using the Internet to organize a protest on April 6, 2008, to support striking workers. With astonishing courage, she posted a video of herself on Facebook on January 18, 2011, in which she looked into the camera and said, with a voice of intense conviction:

“Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire to protest humiliation and hunger and poverty and degradation they had to live with for 30 years. Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire thinking maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia, maybe we can have freedom, justice, honor, and human dignity. Today, one of these four has died, and I saw people commenting and saying, ‘May God forgive him. He committed a sin and killed himself for nothing.’ People, have some shame.”

She described an earlier demonstration at which few had shown up: “I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor. No one came except three guys -- three guys and three armored cars of riot police. And tens of hired thugs and officers came to terrorize us.”

Mahfouz called for the gathering in Tahrir Square on January 25th that became the Egyptian revolution. The second time around she didn’t stand alone. Eighty-five thousand Egyptians pledged to attend, and soon enough, millions stood with her.

The revolution was called by a young woman with nothing more than a Facebook account and passionate conviction. They were enough. Often, revolution has had such modest starts. On October 5, 1789, a girl took a drum to the central markets of Paris. The storming of the Bastille a few months before had started, but hardly completed, a revolution. That drummer girl helped gather a mostly female crowd of thousands who marched to Versailles and seized the royal family. It was the end of the Bourbon monarchy.

Women often find great roles in revolution, simply because the rules fall apart and everyone has agency, anyone can act. As they did in Egypt, where liberty leading the masses was an earnest young woman in a black veil.

That the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can shape the weather in Texas is a summation of chaos theory that is now an oft-repeated clichĂ©. But there are billions of butterflies on earth, all flapping their wings. Why does one gesture matter more than another? Why this Facebook post, this girl with a drum?

Even to try to answer this you’d have to say that the butterfly is born aloft by a particular breeze that was shaped by the flap of the wing of, say, a sparrow, and so behind causes are causes, behind small agents are other small agents, inspirations, and role models, as well as outrages to react against. The point is not that causation is unpredictable and erratic. The point is that butterflies and sparrows and young women in veils and an unknown 20-year-old rapping in Arabic and you yourself, if you wanted it, sometimes have tremendous power, enough to bring down a dictator, enough to change the world.

Other Selves, Other Lives

2011 has already been a remarkable year in which a particular kind of humanity appeared again and again in very different places, and we will see a great deal more of it in Japan before that catastrophe is over. Perhaps its first appearance was at the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson on January 8th, where the lone gunman was countered by several citizens who took remarkable action, none more so than Giffords’s new intern, 20-year-old Daniel Martinez, who later said, "It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots. But people needed help."

Martinez reached the congresswoman’s side and probably saved her life by administering first aid, while 61-year-old Patricia Maisch grabbed the magazine so the shooter couldn't reload, and 74-year-old Bill Badger helped wrestle him to the ground, though he’d been grazed by a bullet. One elderly man died because he shielded his wife rather than protect himself.

Everything suddenly changed and those people rose to the occasion heroically not in the hours, days, or weeks a revolution gives, but within seconds. More sustained acts of bravery and solidarity would make the revolutions to come. People would risk their lives and die for their beliefs and for each other. And in killing them, regimes would lose their last shreds of legitimacy.

Violence always seems to me the worst form of tyranny. It deprives people of their rights, including the right to live. The rest of the year so far has been dominated by battles against the tyrannies that have sometimes cost lives and sometimes just ground down those lives into poverty and indignity, from Bahrain to Madison, Wisconsin.

Yes, to Madison. I have often wondered if the United States could catch fire the way other countries sometimes do. The public space and spirit of Argentina or Egypt often seem missing here, for what changes in revolution is largely spirit, emotion, belief -- intangible things, as delicate as butterfly wings, but our world is made of such things. They matter. The governors govern by the consent of the governed. When they lose that consent, they resort to violence, which can stop some people directly, but aims to stop most of us through the power of fear.

And then sometimes a young man becomes fearless enough to post a song attacking the dictator who has ruled all his young life. Or people sign a declaration like Charter 77, the 1977 Czech document that was a milestone on the way to the revolutions of 1989, as well as a denunciation of the harassment of an underground rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. Or a group of them found a labor union on the waterfront in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980, and the first cracks appear in the Soviet Empire.

Those who are not afraid are ungovernable, at least by fear, that favorite tool of the bygone era of George W. Bush. Jonathan Schell, with his usual beautiful insight, saw this when he wrote of the uprising in Tahrir Square:
“The murder of the 300 people, it may be, was the event that sealed Mubarak’s doom. When people are afraid, murders make them take flight. But when they have thrown off fear, murders have the opposite effect and make them bold. Instead of fear, they feel solidarity. Then they ‘stay’ -- and advance. And there is no solidarity like solidarity with the dead. That is the stuff of which revolution is made.”
When a revolution is made, people suddenly find themselves in a changed state -- of mind and of nation. The ordinary rules are suspended, and people become engaged with each other in new ways, and develop a new sense of power and possibility. People behave with generosity and altruism; they find they can govern themselves; and, in many ways, the government simply ceases to exist. A few days into the Egyptian revolution, Ben Wedeman, CNN’s senior correspondent in Cairo, was asked why things had calmed down in the Egyptian capital. He responded: “[T]hings have calmed down because there is no government here," pointing out that security forces had simply disappeared from the streets.

This state often arises in disasters as well, when the government is overwhelmed, shut down, or irrelevant for people intent on survival and then on putting society back together. If it rarely lasts, in the process it does change individuals and societies, leaving a legacy. To my mind, the best government is one that most resembles this moment when civil society reigns in a spirit of hope, inclusiveness, and improvisational genius.

In Egypt, there were moments of violence when people pushed back against the government’s goons, and for a week it seemed like the news was filled with little but pictures of bloody heads. Still, no armies marched, no superior weaponry decided the fate of the country, nobody was pushed from power by armed might. People gathered in public and discovered themselves as the public, as civil society. They found that the repression and exploitation they had long tolerated was intolerable and that they could do something about it, even if that something was only gathering, standing together, insisting on their rights as the public, as the true nation that the government can never be.

It is remarkable how, in other countries, people will one day simply stop believing in the regime that had, until then, ruled them, as African-Americans did in the South here 50 years ago. Stopping believing means no longer regarding those who rule you as legitimate, and so no longer fearing them. Or respecting them. And then, miraculously, they begin to crumble.

In the Philippines in 1986, millions of people gathered in response to a call from Catholic-run Radio Veritas, the only station the dictatorship didn’t control or shut down.

Then the army defected and dictator Fernando Marcos was ousted from power after 21 years.

In Argentina in 2001, in the wake of a brutal economic collapse, such a sudden shift in consciousness toppled the neoliberal regime of Fernando de la RĂșa and ushered in a revolutionary era of economic desperation, but also of brilliant, generous innovation. A shift in consciousness brought an outpouring of citizens into the streets of Buenos Aires, suddenly no longer afraid after the long nightmare of a military regime and its aftermath. In Iceland in early 2009, in the wake of a global economic meltdown of special fierceness on that small island nation, a once-docile population almost literally drummed out of power the ruling party that had managed the country into bankruptcy.

Can’t Happen Here?

In the United States, the communion between the governed and the governors and the public spaces in which to be reborn as a civil society resurgent often seem missing. This is a big country whose national capital is not much of a center and whose majority seems to live in places that are themselves decentered.

At its best, revolution is an urban phenomenon. Suburbia is counterrevolutionary by design. For revolution, you need to converge, to live in public, to become the public, and that’s a geographical as well as a political phenomenon. The history of revolution is the history of great public spaces: the Place de la Concorde during the French Revolution; the Ramblas in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War; Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 (a splendid rebellion that was crushed); the great surge that turned the divide of the Berlin Wall into a gathering place in that same year; the insurrectionary occupation of the Zocalo of Mexico City after corrupt presidential elections and of the space in Buenos Aires that gave the Dirty War’s most open opposition its name: Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the Mothers of the Plaza of May.

It’s all very well to organize on Facebook and update on Twitter, but these are only preludes. You also need to rise up, to pour out into the streets. You need to be together in body, for only then are you truly the public with the full power that a public can possess. And then it needs to matter. The United States is good at trivializing and ignoring insurrections at home.

The authorities were shaken by the uprising in Seattle that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting on November 30, 1999, but the actual nonviolent resistance there was quickly fictionalized into a tale of a violent rabble. Novelist and then-New Yorker correspondent Mavis Gallant wrote in 1968:
"The difference between rebellion at Columbia [University] and rebellion at the Sorbonne is that life in Manhattan went on as before, while in Paris every section of society was set on fire, in the space of a few days. The collective hallucination was that life can change, quite suddenly and for the better. It still strikes me as a noble desire..."
Revolution is also the action of people pushed to the brink. Rather than fall over, they push back. When he decided to push public employees hard and strip them of their collective bargaining rights, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took a gamble. In response, union members, public employees, and then the public of Wisconsin began to gather on February 11th. By February 15th, they had taken over the state’s capitol building as the revolution in Egypt was still at full boil. They are still gathering. Last weekend, the biggest demonstration in Madison’s history was held, led by a “tractorcade” of farmers. The Wisconsin firefighters have revolted too. And the librarians. And the broad response has given encouragement to citizens in other states fighting similar cutbacks on essential services and rights.

Republicans like to charge the rest of us with “class war” when we talk about economic injustice, and that’s supposed to be a smear one should try to wriggle out of. But what’s going on in Wisconsin is a class war, in which billionaire-backed Walker is serving the interests of corporations and the super-rich, and this time no one seems afraid of the epithet. Jokes and newspaper political cartoons, as well as essays and talks, remark on the reality of our anti-trickle-down economy, where wealth is being pumped uphill to the palaces at a frantic rate, and on the reality that we’re not poor or broke, just crazy in how we distribute our resources.

What’s scary about the situation is that it is a test case for whether the party best serving big corporations can strip the rest of us of our rights and return us to a state of poverty and powerlessness. If the people who gathered in Madison don’t win, the war will continue and we’ll all lose.

Oppression often works -- for a while. And then it backfires. Sometimes immediately, sometimes after several decades. Walker has been nicknamed the Mubarak of the Midwest. Much of the insurrection and the rage in the Middle East isn’t just about tyranny; it’s about economic injustice, about young people who can’t find work, can’t afford to get married or leave their parents’ homes, can’t start their lives. This is increasingly the story for young Americans as well, and here it’s clearly a response to the misallocation of resources, not absolute scarcity. It could just be tragic, or it could get interesting when the young realize they are being shafted, and that life could be different. Even that it could change, quite suddenly, and for the better.

There was a splendid surliness in the wake of the economic collapse of 2008: rage at the executives who had managed the economy into the ground and went home with outsized bonuses, rage at the system, rage at the sheer gratuitousness of the suffering of those who were being foreclosed upon and laid off. In this country, economic inequality has reached a level not seen since before the stock market crash of 1929.

Hard times are in store for most people on Earth, and those may be times of boldness. Or not. The butterflies are out there, but when their flight stirs the winds of insurrection no one knows beforehand.

So remember to expect the unexpected, but not just to wait for it. Sometimes you have to become the unexpected, as the young heroes and heroines of 2011 have. I am sure they themselves are as surprised as anyone. Since she very nearly had the first word, let Asmaa Mahfouz have the last word: "As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go down and take a stance, then there will be hope."

Rebecca Solnit is the author of 'Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities'.

© 2011 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Superstitions as weapons, 1950

from BoingBoing
Over at Mark Pilkington's Mirage Men blog, named after his excellent book, he reads through this delightfully named 1950 report from the RAND Corporation: "The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare." From the Mirage Men blog:
‘It seems likely that superstitions flourish in an atmosphere of tension and insecurity’, writes its author, Jean Hungerford, and her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The paper was published for the US Air Force on 14 April 1950, just as Cold War tensions were first reaching levels of serious discomfort. In the previous six months, the Soviets had detonated their first atom bomb, China and the USSR had signed a pact of allegiance and Los Alamos physicist Klaus Fuchs had confessed to passing atom bomb secrets to the Soviets...
The paper discusses PSYOPS missions that successfully exploited local superstitions; for example in the 1920s on Afghanistan’s Northwest Frontier, the British planted loudspeakers in planes warning tribal peoples that God was angry with them for breaking the peace with India, while in World War II the Germans projected imagery (though it doesn’t say what) onto ‘drifting clouds’. Hungerford goes into some detail on the use of chain letters to clog up enemy communications networks... and the use of bogus fortune-tellers and false astrological data to dampen morale amongst both civilians and their leaders, a technique used extensively by both Allied and Axis powers during WWII.

Hungerford also references the activities of Captain Neville Maskelyne, the wartime illusionist most famous for his inflatable tanks and making the port of Alexandria ‘invisible’ to German bombers. In his 1949 book Magic Top Secret, Maskelyne gleefully describes other devilish antics that he and his team got up to:

“Our men…were able to use illusions of an amusing nature in the Italian mountains, especially when operating in small groups as advance patrols scouting out the way for our general moves forward. In one area, in particular, they used a device which was little more than a gigantic scarecrow, about twelve feet high, and able to stagger forward under its own power and emit frightful flashes and bangs. This thing scared several Italian Sicilian villages appearing in the dawn thumping its deafening way down their streets with great electric blue sparks jumping from it; and the inhabitants, who were mostly illiterate peasants, simply took to their heels for the next village, swearing that the Devil was marching ahead of the invading English. Like all tales spread among uneducated folk (and helped, no doubt, by our agents), this story assumed almost unimaginable proportions.”
"RAND, Superstition and Psychological Warfare" (Mirage Men)
"The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare" (PDF at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Nukes Is Good Nukes: The Intrinsic Problems With Nuclear Power

By Robert Scheer, from Truthdig via AlterNet

When it comes to the safety of nuclear power plants, I am biased. And I’ll bet that if President Barack Obama had been with me on that trip to Chernobyl 24 years ago he wouldn’t be as sanguine about the future of nuclear power as he was Tuesday in an interview with a Pittsburgh television station: “Obviously, all energy sources have their downside. I mean, we saw that with the Gulf spill last summer.”

Sorry, Mr. President, but there is a dimension of fear properly associated with the word nuclear that is not matched by any oil spill.

Even 11 months after what has become known simply as “Chernobyl” I sensed a terror of the darkest unknown as I donned the requisite protective gear and checked Geiger counter readings before entering the surviving turbine room adjoining plant No. 4, where the explosion had occurred.

It was a terror reinforced by the uncertainty of the scientists who accompanied me as to the ultimate consequences for the health of the region’s population, even after 135,000 people had been evacuated. As I wrote at the time, “particularly disturbing was the sight of a collective farm complete with all the requirements of living: white farm houses with blue trim, tractors and other farm implements, clothing hanging on a line and some children’s playthings. All the requirements except people.”

Back then, working for the Los Angeles Times, I had been covering the nuclear arms race, and my invitation to be the first American newspaper reporter to visit Chernobyl came from one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s top science advisers, Yevgeny P. Velikhov, whom I had interviewed on arms control issues.

Velikhov had led the effort to contain the damage at Chernobyl, risking his health in the immediate days after the incident by flying low over the contaminated reactor site in a helicopter, as well as by scaling the sidewall of the damaged reactor to more accurately evaluate the situation.

His point in arranging my visit was to demonstrate the terrifying consequence of a “peaceful” nuclear explosion, let alone one resulting from a weapon designed to inflict mass destruction. It was an argument he advanced with the military in his own country about the folly of nuclear war-fighting scenarios: “After two weeks of discussion with the army corps, I asked how you wish to survive a nuclear war if you have no possibility to clean this small piece of nuclear garbage.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Harvard physicist Richard Wilson, who also made that Chernobyl trip, and who pointed out that with nuclear weapons “one is dealing with a technology designed to explode that is also under the control of human beings.”

An important lesson that should be reinforced by the ongoing disaster in Japan is to worry more about the elimination of those nuclear weapons designed to explode, and another is to be concerned about the prospect of sabotage of nuclear power plants. This last is a reason to rely less on nuclear power in a world made volatile not only by natural disasters but through the concerted efforts of those who can fly airplanes into targets of their choice. At the very least, the expense of properly maintaining the internal safety and external security of power plants should be considered in any cost-benefit analysis of their usefulness as an alternative source of energy.

I know there will be an attempt to sell us the argument that the odds of a catastrophic earthquake and a catastrophic tsunami occurring together in an area containing a nuclear power facility are incredibly low, that the Japanese plants in question were of inadequate design and, as in the case of Chernobyl, that “human error” was at fault. Despite the earlier accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, there was a strong tendency to present the Chernobyl disaster as a warning sign not about nuclear power in general but rather the particular failures of a rotting Soviet economy.

After the Japanese experience, such cavalier dismissal of the intrinsic problems of nuclear power is no longer plausible. Recall that it was Obama himself who in October 2009 celebrated Japan as the model for nuclear power expansion: “There is no reason why, technologically, we can’t employ nuclear energy in a safe and effective way. Japan does it and France does it, and it doesn’t have greenhouse gas emissions. …”

As journalist Kate Sheppard points out in Mother Jones online: “Nuclear power is part of the `clean energy standard’ that Obama outlined in the State of the Union speech in January. And in the 2011 budget the administration called for a three-fold increase in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, from the $18.5 billion that Congress has already approved to $54.5 billion. `We are aggressively pursuing nuclear energy,’ said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in February 2010 as he unveiled the budget. … In Monday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said that nuclear energy `remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan.’ ”

Trust me, this is not the way we want to go.

Robert Scheer is Editor in Chief of Truthdig, where he publishes a weekly column, and author of a new book, The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.

© 2011 Truthdig All rights reserved.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Get Up, Stand Up": Do Americans Have What It Takes to Stand Up to Corporate Power and Does Wisconsin Offer Hope?

from AlterNet:
Bruce Levine discusses his upcoming book "Get Up, Stand Up," which analyzes why Americans have been crushed into inaction and how recent events in Wisc. offer hope for change.
In December 2009, Bruce Levine penned a provocative article on AlterNet entitled “Are Americans a Broken People?” The piece touched a nerve among those who identify themselves as progressive, libertarian, or populist and quickly went viral across the Web. Many respondents and media members who later interviewed Levine wondered why so many Americans have remained passive in the face of attacks on their liberties and their economic well-being. In his latest book, Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite (Chelsea Green, 2011), Levine has delved deeper into the cultural forces that have created a politically passive U.S. population. He questions whether “learned helplessness” has taken hold, keeping many Americans locked into an abuse syndrome of sorts. And most importantly, he suggests what can be done to turn this demoralization around. We chatted about his book and some recent efforts by Americans to in fact “get up and stand up.”

Susan Warner: If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are so unpopular, why aren’t people protesting more?

Bruce Levine: Most Americans feel they have no power over whether or not the U.S. invades another nation or for how long it will be occupied. Many Americans know that their government is run by “corporate collaborators” who don’t pay attention to their opinions on wars and other big-money issues that large corporations care about. So although polls show the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have become increasingly unpopular—a clear majority of Americans now oppose them—fewer people are protesting against them.

Actually, more protests occurred against these wars when they were more popular. Remember back in February 2003, when many Americans still believed the U.S. government’s “weapons of mass destruction” rationale for the invasion of Iraq? Even though the invasion was a more popular idea back then, there were many large demonstrations against the then-imminent war, including 500,000 protesting in New York City. Even larger protests took place in Europe, with a London protest of more than 2 million, the largest demonstration ever there. But Americans’ voices and the voices of the people of Great Britain, our junior partner in the Iraq invasion, were of little concern to politicians.

Americans got the message. Their opinion may matter on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage or other issues that the corporate-government partnership—or the “corporatocracy”—doesn't care about, but their opinion is ignored when it comes to issues where real money is involved, such as wars and the Wall Street bailout.

SW: What can you say to frustrated anti-war activists?

BL: Anti-war activists—and other activists—routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization, and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But as a psychologist who has worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it does not surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we gradually lose our self-respect to the point that we become psychologically too weak to take action.

Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, understood this reality, and so did Bob Marley, who is sort of the poet laureate of oppressed people of the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley calls “mental slavery.” But unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse.” In Get Up, Stand Up I explain how this can be done, including how people let go of the fear of resistance.

SW: You note in your book that even within this widespread passivity, there are instances of Americans “getting up and standing up.” What’s your take on recent events in Wisconsin?

As I make clear in the book, especially for critically thinking pessimists who have given up hope, history teaches us that you never know—until the moment it happens—when the right historical variables will come together to encourage people to let go of their fear and gain the energy to resist.

So in Wisconsin occurred, if not a perfect storm, about as good of a storm as I’ve seen in many years. State employees had actually agreed to eat considerable crap, agreeing to accept a major increase in what they pay toward their pensions and healthcare benefits, but even those major concessions were not good enough for Governor Walker, who continued to demand the elimination of collective bargaining in key areas. Telling a union that they have no collective bargaining rights on health insurance, pension, and work safety is a blatant effort to try to completely crush it. By this “union death threat,” Walker put workers and union leaders in a position of having virtually nothing left to lose in terms of having a union—and when people lose their fear, watch out!

Arrogance by oppressive authorities makes them miscalculate the fear and greed variables, important ones in keeping people passive. In the case of Mubarak, his greed and arrogance resulted in him not spreading enough of his loot around with enough thugs, so not enough of them cared about his fall from power. Once Egyptians lost fear and took action, they found even more courage. And, as I discuss in Get Up, Stand Up, the arrogance of oppressive forces makes them a lot more fragile than they appear.

SW: Tell us more about the “corporatocracy,” a term you use in Get Up, Stand Up. What is its role in keeping Americans quiescent?

BL: The corporatocracy is a corporate-government partnership that governs society. In a corporatocracy, while there are elections, the reality is that corporations and the wealthy elite rule in a way to satisfy their own self-interest. Most Americans “get it” that they are not living in a democracy where they have direct power, or in a republic where they have representatives who actually represent them. Most Americans understand that giant corporations and the wealthy rule, and so people feel powerless. And this sense of powerless ultimately results in passivity.

The corporatocracy, through its huge financial resources and control of the corporate media, ensures that only Democratic or Republican candidates have a chance of winning elections. It then buys off those candidates in both parties via campaign contributions, revolving doors of employment, and other bribes in the various industrial complexes. So, people have a sort of "learned helplessness" when it comes to elections—no matter who they vote for they get unnecessary wars, Wall Street bailouts, and so forth. And those few who continue to rebel against the corporatocracy become politically and/or economically marginalized, and that further frightens people into compliance and passivity.

SW: What are other forces that you think are keeping Americans downcast?

BL: As Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.” Increasingly, much of our culture and major institutions are only about making money and controlling the population, not about creating critically thinking people who reject authoritarianism. In Get Up, Stand Up, I have a large section called “Understanding How the People Learned Powerlessness,” in which I describe how people are broken by a culture and institutions created by the corporatocracy. Besides a pseudo-democratic election system that creates helplessness, Americans are broken by increasing domination of “fundamentalist consumerism” and “money-centrism” at the expense of all other aspects of their humanity—this breaks our integrity and weakens us. We are also broken by increasing social isolation, bureaucratization, surveillance, the corporate media, and by other public institutions.

SW: What about young people, who are traditionally quick to protest against authority. Why aren’t they out on the streets?

BL: They’re much less apt to protest because the primary socialization forces for young people pacify, zombify, and weaken them. For example, our standard schools teach compliance and following orders far more than how to think critically and resist authoritarianism. And television is such a superb pacifying force that America’s for-profit prisons uses more TVs instead of hiring more prison guards, and nowadays, kids are actually watching more television than ever, with more screens than just a television set. And for many kids I talk to, their only experience of potency is a virtual one, for example, winning a video game.

For those kids who do rebel cognitively or behaviorally, and who don’t mindlessly comply with any and all authorities, there is an increasing presence of my business – the mental health profession – in their lives, with increasing medication for so-called disruptive disorders such as “oppositional defiance disorder.” And it is getting even worse for young people. Nowadays student-loan debt—more than two-thirds of college graduates are carrying student-loan debt, often huge amounts–crushes their ability to even consider resisting unjust authority.

SW: What do you think has led to the rise of the Tea Party movement and its subsequent power?

BL: Certainly, a sense of powerlessness and anger has fueled the Tea Party movement, which is made up of many different kinds of people, and has now been exploited and co-opted by the Republican party. It is a mistake to focus only on the bigots in this movement and to focus only on the fat-cat financers such as the Koch brothers and to focus only on Republican politician opportunists such as Sarah Palin who are exploiting this anger.

The Tea Party movement includes many grassroots members who have a genuine belief in liberty and freedom but, as with any movement, it also includes bigots and opportunists. Following the financial crisis of 2008 and losses—sometimes catastrophic—of homes, savings, or jobs for many, and following the controversial Republican-Democratic bipartisan Wall Street bailout, it would be expected that some kind of angry political movement would form. The corporate elite on Wall Street must have breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing how timid American reaction has been. The corporate elite must be especially delighted that of all the very tame reactions that have occurred, the largest—the Tea Party movement—has not been directed against Wall Street but at its junior partner, the federal government.

SW: How would you compare Tea Party activists and those movements on the Left?

BL: When it comes to cultural issues, there are major differences between those who attend Tea Party demonstrations and those who identify themselves as leftist populists; however, many people in both groups believe that elite forces who rule them do not care about ordinary people. Both left populists and Tea Partiers opposed the Wall Street bailout, and many grassroots Tea Partiers, like left populists, are opposed to the kind of corporate globalization measures—such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) —that have resulted in the outsourcing of U.S. jobs overseas. Like left populists, many grassroots Tea Partiers actually oppose America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its longtime war against drugs. Many in both groups oppose the civil liberties abuses of the Patriot Act. At the grass roots, many Tea Partiers hold anger for both Democrats and Republicans, with some grassroots Tea Partiers having even more contempt for Republicans, whom they view as more hypocritical.

SW: What are some of the major activist movements you examine in your book?

BL: In Get Up, Stand Up I describe all kinds of modern examples, such as the worker and producer cooperatives, as well as historical examples, such as the successes of the agrarian rebels in the Great Populist revolt, successful labor strikes even in the midst of the Great Depression, such as the General Motors sit-down strike in Flint, the Abolitionist movement, and so forth.

However – and this is a big however – a major point of Get Up, Stand Up is that many people today lack the morale and energy to enact time-honored solutions, strategies, and tactics of defeating the elite. And so we must acknowledge this. That’s why I spend a large section in Get Up, Stand Up describing how we regain the “energy to do battle.” We must first regain self-respect and collective confidence that we can succeed.

SW: Can you give some details of successful recent activism that you detail in Get Up, Stand Up, and how progressives of all stripes can use these examples to re-energize themselves?

BL: First off, I don’t particularly like the term “progressive.” The corporate media routinely divides Americans as “liberals,” “conservatives,” and “moderates”—a useful division for the corporatocracy because no matter which of these groups is the current electoral winner, the corporatocracy retains power. In order to defeat the corporatocracy, it’s more useful to divide people in terms of “elitism” and “anti-authoritarianism,” or to divide them as “pro-corporatists” and “anti-corporatists.”

There are many kinds of successful activism against corporations. City Life/Vida Urbana, for example, has won victories over some of America’s largest banks, including the Bank of America, and prevented many foreclosures and evictions. I detail this and other successful anti-corporatist efforts in Get Up, Stand Up. But I am realistic enough to know these are a drop in the societal bucket, and I totally understand why people can move into hopelessness and defeatism.

SW: You mentioned worker and producer cooperatives. What exactly are they, and can you give me modern examples of them?

BL: While certainly a strong union gives workers more power than if workers have no union, real worker power only comes when they own and control the business they work in. A worker cooperative is a business entity that is owned and controlled by the people who work in it. A worker coop is the opposite of what occurs in the corporatocracy, since worker coops empower people to have actual control over their economic lives. One current example is Union Cab Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in 1979 by a group of drivers, dispatchers, and mechanics. It operates as a truly democratic workplace with one member/one vote. In these worker coops, workers collectively own the business. Worker-owned and controlled businesses—whether the business is a mom-and-pop independent, or Union Cab, or even larger worker coops such as Alvarado Street Bakery (with over a 100 workers and over $20 million in annual revenue)—are the antithesis of the corporatocracy.

There also continues to be producer cooperatives in the spirit of the late nineteenth-century Populist agrarian revolt. By banding together, producer cooperatives are not at the mercy of giant corporations. One modern example is the organic farming cooperative called the Coulee Region Organic Produce Pool, or CROPP. In 1988, with increasing numbers of family farms folding and others being threatened with extinction because of the low prices farmers were receiving for their goods, seven Wisconsin farmers created CROPP. It started with organic vegetables but soon moved into organic dairy products. Eventually, the CROPP cooperative developed its own brand name, Organic Valley, and has become the largest source of organic milk in the United States. CROPP has grown to approximately fourteen hundred farmers.

SW: Earlier you mentioned “battered People’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” – how do individuals begin healing from these, and how can we find the courage to stand up and fight in their own lives (such as within schools and in the workplace)?

BL: Many battlefields for democracy occur in the normal course of our daily lives, and many paths can lead to regaining morale, energy, and strength. History tells us that we can extricate ourselves from fatalistic vicious cycles in which the less we do, the more we are oppressed, and the more defeatist we become.

To start, we must maintain our sense of humor. Historically, people caught up in these syndromes have learned that humor can turn pain into energy. But we must be honest with ourselves and forgive ourselves—and each other—for succumbing to this corporatocracy abuse syndrome. Beating ourselves up for having succumbed is a waste of our precious energy that would be better spent redefining ourselves as human beings who have beliefs and values that define us more than our fears and greed. And we need to redefine ourselves as worthy of respect and capable of effecting change. And then we can use our energy to provide respect and create confidence in others, which will produce even more energy for ourselves in battling the corporatocracy.

In other subjugated societies, people have learned to develop what’s been called “critical consciousness” to identify both external and self-imposed forms of oppression and then begin to free themselves. By making changes in our self-imposed slavery, we can start to take actions to change our external world, and we replace a vicious cycle with an empowering one. This is part of “liberation psychology,” in which critically thinking people can regain morale, discover the various ways people are energized, learn how to combat social isolation and build community, and understand how we can forge alliances among populists—Get Up, Stand Up talks about how to accomplish this. There’s a lot more to “liberation psychology” and a lot more to the book, but hopefully this gives you a taste of it.

Support AlterNet by purchasing your copy of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite through our partner, Powell's, an independent bookstore.

Susan Warner is Senior Editor at Chelsea Green Publishing.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and his latest book is Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007). His Web site is

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Portraits Of Criminals From Australia 1920

These portraits of criminals taken in the 1920s come from the archives of the Sydney Police.

Check out a bunch more HERE.

Thanks, Presurfer

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Morgan Spurlock Sells Out at SXSW

from DangerousMinds

Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a riotously funny, dead serious look at product placement, advertising and marketing in entertainment and the world around us and how it literally fucks with our heads. The entire movie was funded by the companies whose products are blatantly featured throughout the film. The movie exists thanks to the cash that Spurlock managed to extract from the very system he is critiquing. Exploiting components of the $412 billion marketing industry, Spurlock has created the cinematic equivalent of a virus devouring its host. It’s an ingenious bit of guerrilla theater that makes its frightening points while being highly entertaining.

Spurlock describes the concept behind The Greatest Movie Ever Sold:
Brands are everywhere these days. It seems like I can‘t go to any event these days without someone ―sponsoring it. Sporting events, concerts, anything. So, why not a movie? Better yet, why not a movie that examines the whole phenomenon that is actually paid for by the companies themselves. That was the jumping off point.
The movie documents both the absurdity and pervasiveness of product placement in our daily lives and I saw my role on this film as both a filmmaker and an anthropologist.”
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold was funded by Hyatt, POM Wonderful, Sheetz, Jet Blue, Mini Cooper, Ban deodorant and half a dozen other brands. The product placement and commercials that occupy virtually every frame of the movie have made the $1.5 million documentary profitable before it even opens in theaters on April 22.

Here’s the Q&A with Morgan after the screening of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold at SXSW on March 13. This footage was shot on a Sony HD camcorder by Dangerous Minds’ Marc Campbell who was wearing Levi jeans and Converse sneakers while sucking on an Altoid mint.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It would surely ruin everyone's day if Nuclear Boy pooped

This is incredible.

thanks BoingBoing


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nasa scientist claims evidence of extraterrestrial life

Scientists claim to have found evidence of life from beyond Earth within freshly-cleaved surfaces of rare meteorites. Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Fossils of algae-like beings in meteorites reported by astrobiologist Richard Hoover in Journal of Cosmology

A Nasa scientist has stirred up fresh debate over life elsewhere in the cosmos after claiming to have found tiny fossils of alien bugs inside meteorites that landed on Earth.

Richard Hoover, an astrobiologist at the US space agency's Marshall space flight centre in Alabama, said filaments and other structures in rare meteorites appear to be microscopic fossils of extraterrestrial beings that resemble algae known as cyanobacteria.

Some of the features look similar to a giant bacterium called Titanospirillum velox, which has been collected from the Ebro delta waterway in Spain, according to a report on the findings.

Laboratory tests on the rocky filaments found no evidence to suggest they were remnants of Earth-based organisms that contaminated the meteorites after they landed, Hoover said. He discovered the features after inspecting the freshly cleaved surfaces of three meteorites that are believed to be among the oldest in the solar system.

Hoover, an expert on life in extreme environments, has reported similar structures in meteorites several times before. So far, none has been confirmed as the ancient remains of alien life.

But writing in the Journal of Cosmology, Hoover claims that the lack of nitrogen in the samples, which is essential for life on Earth, indicates they are "the remains of extraterrestrial life forms that grew on the parent bodies of the meteorites when liquid water was present, long before the meteorites entered the Earth's atmosphere."

Rudy Schild, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics and editor of the journal, said: "The implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets."

In a note posted alongside the paper, Schild said he had invited 100 scientists to comment on the research. Their responses will be published on the journal's website from Monday. "In this way, the paper will have received a thorough vetting, and all points of view can be presented," Schild wrote.

Proof that alien microbes hitched across the cosmos inside meteors, or by clinging to their surfaces, would bolster a theory known as panspermia, in which life is spread from planet to planet by hurtling space rocks. To many scientists, Hoover's work recalls the adage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Hoover is not the only researcher to claim a discovery of alien life inside meteorites. In 1996, David McKay, another Nasa researcher, said he had found what appeared to be traces of Martian life inside a meteorite recovered from Allan Hills in Antarctica in 1984.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Amen To That: Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

From Richard Metzger at DangerousMinds

This article was co-authored by Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA and Dan Cady, an assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno. He publishes on the history of the American West, music, and religion. Since Huffington Post didn’t pay them for this, I hope they won’t mind if I post it here in full, it’s quite a good read and so eloquently put.

What is addressed here should be examined in every church in America:
The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor—especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training—anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What’s the deal?

Before attempting an answer, allow a quick clarification. Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus—as we’ve provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them. Through his magical grace, and by shedding his precious blood, Jesus saves Evangelicals from everlasting torture in hell, and guarantees them a premium, luxury villa in heaven. For this, and this only, they love him. They can’t stop thanking him. And yet, as for Jesus himself—his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill—most Evangelicals seem to have nothing but disdain.

And this is nothing new. At the end of World War I, the more rabid, and often less educated Evangelicals decried the influence of the Social Gospel amongst liberal churches. According to these self-proclaimed torch-bearers of a religion born in the Middle East, progressive church-goers had been infected by foreign ideas such as German Rationalism, Soviet-style Communism, and, of course, atheistic Darwinism. In the 1950s, the anti-Social Gospel message piggybacked the rhetoric of anti-communism, which slashed and burned its way through the Old South and onward through the Sunbelt, turning liberal churches into vacant lots along the way. It was here that the spirit and the body collided, leaving us with a prototypical Christian nationalist, hell-bent on prosperity. Charity was thus rebranded as collectivism and self-denial gave way to the gospel of accumulation. Church-to-church, sermon-to-sermon, evangelical preachers grew less comfortable with the fish and loaves Jesus who lived on earth, and more committed to the angry Jesus of the future. By the 1990s, this divine Terminator gained “most-favored Jesus status” among America’s mega churches; and with that, even the mention of the former “social justice” Messiah drove the socially conscious from their larger, meaner flock.

In addition to such historical developments, there may very well simply be an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process at root, one that probably plays itself out among all religious individuals: they see in their religion what they want to see, and deny or despise the rest. That is, religion is one big Rorschach test. People look at the content of their religious tradition—its teachings, its creeds, its prophet’s proclamations—and they basically pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook. They see in their faith what they want to see as they live their daily lives, and simultaneously ignore the rest. And as is the case for most White Evangelical Christians, what they are ignoring is actually the very heart and soul of Jesus’s message—a message that emphasizes sharing, not greed. Peace-making, not war-mongering. Love, not violence.

Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc.—it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow “Christian.” They aren’t.