Blogs

'Cinema of Truth' Was Born in 1960's 'Primary': NPR on the Invention of Cinema Verite

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:53 PM EST

and why we journalists deserve all the credit. Who knew documentaries sucked before us ink-stained wretches?

From NPR today:

'Cinema of Truth' Was Born in 1960's 'Primary'
by Mike Pesca, NPR

All Things Considered, February 19, 2008 · In 1960, a team of documentary filmmakers descended on the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary in order to record the campaigning between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey. Politically, the results propelled Kennedy to the nomination. Artistically, the documentarians invented a new form.
Using technology that made cameras lighter and sound equipment more portable, the documentarians took a "fly-on-the-wall approach" in a style that would come to be called cinema verite.
We use the occasion of the current Wisconsin primary to talk about D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Robert Drew and their 1960 collaboration Primary.

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An-My Le: War on American Soil

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:50 PM EST

small%20wars%20200.jpgYesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, throngs of school vacationers made a beeline for the much-hyped Olafur Eliasson exhibit. I didn't quite have the wherewithal to spend 20 minutes on line waiting to see trippy mirrors or whatever, so instead I left the under-10s behind and headed downstairs, where I was happy to find myself in a room with, like, four decidedly sedate adults. This was a good room for me not only because of my misanthropic tendencies, but also because of the photography series I found there: An-My Lê's "Small Wars" and "29 Palms."

Both series are about something we're not used to seeing—war in an American landscape. Not real combat, but rather reenactment and rehearsal: "Small Wars" (1999-2002) chronicles Vietnam war reenactors' staged battles in Virginia, while "29 Palms" (2003-present) focuses on soldiers training for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Twentynine Palms military base in California. On a purely technical level, this is impressive work. The black-and-white photographs are full of texture and nuance, and the composition—from vast landscapes to detailed tableaus—is impeccable.

(Not So) New Music: Plastilina Mosh

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:46 PM EST

mojo-photo-pmosh.jpgGreetings from Puebla, Mexico, where I just finished the Cinco Tacos special: only 25 pesos for five crazy good tacos al pastor. Insert Homer Simpson blissful gargle noise here. I'm in Mexico this week to do a couple DJ gigs at "warm-up parties" for the MX Beat Soundfest music festival, and while its prominent Marlboro sponsorship gave me pause (I'm an American Spirit smoker!), I guess commercial tie-ins are kind of typical south of the border, and the lineup is reassuringly fantastic, including both international artists like the Beastie Boys and M.I.A. as well as Mexican artists like Los Dynamite and Instituto Mexicano del Sonido. Headlining the event here in Puebla on Saturday is Plastilina Mosh, a Monterrey duo who have a reputation for enthusiastic eclecticism. Their latest single, last year's "Millionaire," connects the dots between loping reggaeton, glitchy Aphex Twin, and, well, Ace of Base, and happily switches between Spanish and English. I haven't been able to get it out of my head all week:

Innovation from the Left

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:30 PM EST

From the Washington Post: Common Cause, Washington Monthly Explore a Common Future

Two of the capital's most venerable institutions -- the lobby group Common Cause and the scrappy magazine Washington Monthly -- are in serious talks about merging.

A decision could come in May, when the Common Cause board plans to discuss the combination.

Officials of both groups said they have not decided how closely they might tie themselves together. It could be a partnership of some kind, or the Monthly could be folded into Common Cause.

What is certain is that conversations have been going on for months and that each side thinks there are good reasons to blend their efforts.

"We all like each other," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "We are now doing our due diligence."

Common Cause has been working to revive itself after several years of flagging finances and effectiveness, and sees adding a magazine as a good way to bolster its reputation. The Washington Monthly, while influential among an elite audience, has long searched for a financially stable partner, especially one with lots of members (and potential subscribers) such as Common Cause.

But how, you might ask, can a lobby group and a magazine merge? It sounds pretty strange.

Read the entire piece to learn how feisty the thinking left is and how determined to stay alive. (Full disclosure: a bunch of my journalism homies are at the Monthly)

Castro Says Goodbye; Will the U.S. Say Hello?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 2:00 PM EST

castro.jpg

With the ailing Fidel Castro having finally announced a formal end to his 49 years at the helm of communist Cuba, a would-be workers' utopia of his own imagining, "the ball is in the U.S. court right now," said Congressman Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaking earlier today on a conference call of Cuba experts, organized by the New America Foundation. "If we want things to change in Cuba, then we have to change." To that end, McGovern and 103 other members of the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, sent an open letter to Condoleezza Rice, requesting "a tough-minded review of U.S. policy." (The letter notably lacks signatures from any Florida representatives.) It reads:

President Castro has departed form office voluntarily. An orderly succession has occurred in Cuba, without violence or upheaval. The Cuban government, under a new leadership, is reportedly already considering changes in the economic arrangements on the island to give the Cuban people a long-sought improvement in their living standards.
For five decades, U.S. policy has tried economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to force changes in Cuba's government. These developments demonstrate that the policy has not worked. Allies and adversaries alike have rejected our approach and instead engage the Cuban government directly on diplomatic issues and make billions of dollars in economic investments on the island, making it even less likely that our sanctions will ever achieve their stated purpose.

Dissecting HRC's New Attacks on BHO

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 12:34 PM EST

clinton_obama_profile.jpg The Clinton camp has unveiled two new attacks on Barack Obama: (1) He plagiarized a handful of lines in one of his speeches from Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts and a prominent Obama supporter, and (2) he once promised to accept federal funds in the general election if the GOP candidate agreed to do the same, in a move that would honor and preserve the campaign finance system in this country, but has abandoned that pledge as greenbacks have flowed in by the tens of millions.

The first observation is that both of these attacks are substantively correct. The second observation is that they are both pretty weak tea.

Let's tackle the plagiarism first. As you can see at this site, there is indisputable video evidence that Obama used about 30 seconds of Patrick's speech without crediting him. The problem, and you can see this at the link above, is that Patrick himself told Obama to use the content because the attacks Obama is facing in this campaign about substituting style/words/speechifying for substance are attacks Patrick faced when he ran for Governor of Massachusetts. Does this make the plagiarism okay? No. But does it basically make the story a non-issue? That's for the voter to decide. I suspect so.

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No Fond Farewells for Fidel, Who Leaves Behind a Repressive and Impoverished State

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 12:17 PM EST

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Please, no tears for Comrade Castro, as he finally gives up power in Cuba. It's a good thing he's going. But his departure has taken far too long (in fact, decades too long) and, alas, in all that time he did little to ease the transition to the free society that Cuba will eventually be. His exit leaves Cuba a repressive state and a nation not prepared for the future. The gains of his revolution—such as the decent universal health care system—are imperiled by the changes that will sooner or later hit Cuba. Rather than manage a transformation from one-party (one-man!) communism to a more open system, Castro has set up Cuba for a possible cataclysmic counterrevolution that may not benefit the people of Cuba.

I've often wondered why some American leftists have been soft on Castro. How could anyone who gives a damn about human rights and freedom root for Castro in his face-off with the Yanquis of the North? As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted last August,

With 24 independent journalists in prison, Cuba continues to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Twenty-two of these journalists were jailed in a March 2003 crackdown.

Late last week, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced that Cuba would release two of those journalists. That would leave Cuba with 22 reporters behind bars and still in second-place globally as a jailer of journalists. (Iran, as of December, had 12 imprisoned journalists.) As CPJ has described the obvious, there is no freedom of expression in Cuba: "The government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other organizations controlled by the government."

What's so revolutionary about denying citizens access to the Internet?

A Nation is Born: The Long, Bitter Path to Kosovo's Independence

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 11:38 AM EST

When, waving Kosovar and American flags, Kosovo Albanians spontaneously took to the streets of their capital Pristina Saturday night to celebrate in anticipation of the province's unilateral declaration of independence on Sunday, I was flooded with memories of some two years spent chronicling the Kosovars' brutal last years under Serbian rule, the staggering exodus of tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fleeing from Serbian paramilitaries during Nato's 1999 air war against Serbia, and the messy beginnings of their limbo status under NATO-led protection. It was only then, after the Serbian occupation had been driven out, that I learned an ugly lesson: that sometimes when the oppressed are liberated, they act with the brutality of their former tormenters. In the aftermath of the 1999 Nato intervention in Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing continued, only this time the majority of the atrocities being meted out were by the majority Albanians against the province's minority Serbs, Roma, and Turks. It was a phenomenon witnessed later in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Like almost everything else, Kosovo's independence divided its historic peoples. While the messages coming from Kosovar Albanian friends over the weekend, replete with photos of fireworks and youtube tributes to America (President Bush immediately recognized Kosovo's independence Sunday, followed by Britain and France), were filled with joy ("...At the moment the Kosovar prime minister declared Kosovo as a democratic and an independent state, I started crying," one friend wrote), the messages from friends and associates in the Serbian capital Belgrade simply stopped. As one who spent much of four years chronicling the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia from post-conflict to conflict, I felt a sense of ambivalence, as well as resignation that Kosovo's break with Serbia, while problematic, was also probably inevitable.

That's in part because of the level of brutality -- sometimes casual, sometimes extreme -- that I had witnessed the Kosovars enduring under Serbian occupation. Among those searing experiences, after touring the site of a massacre of a Kosovar Albanian extended family, 53 members in all, in Drenica in 1998, being asked by a young Kosovo Albanian mother in hiding from Serb forces in the hills to please take her baby, who was ill, and she didn't think the baby would survive in the unheated make-shift lean-to she was hiding in in the woody hills. (We took her, terrified, and hardly able to communicate with our group of Russian and American journalists, and her baby in our rental car to a relative in a town to seek medical help). And witnessing the tens of thousands of refugees crossing the border into Macedonia a year later after Nato air strikes had begun.

From one of my dispatches at the time:

Clinton Seeks to Flip Pledged Delegates?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 10:35 AM EST

Politico's Roger Simon is reporting that the Clinton campaign will try to get pledged delegates that Obama has won in primaries and caucuses to abandon their commitment to Obama and vote for Clinton at the convention. This is primarily done, one suspects, by promising delegates tons of goodies in the upcoming administration.

On its face, this seems like an insane idea. People are already freaked about the possibility of superdelegates reversing a narrow pledged delegate lead, and thus taking the Democratic nomination out of the hands of the people and putting it in the hands of party insiders. The anger and resentment at Clinton would be far greater if she promised a few unscrupulous delegates some sweet Clinton Administration jobs and subverted the decisions of the people. This win-at-all-costs strategy is self-defeating, because it would undermine the Democratic Party's excitement about their nominee in the general election.

But how much credibility can we assign to the report? Simon cites a single, unnamed source. The only quote from that source is this:

"I swear it is not happening now, but as we get closer to the convention, if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody's delegates... All the rules will be going out the window."

That doesn't necessarily mean there will be a coordinated strategy to pursue pledged delegates. Maybe Simon was told more but didn't think he needed to include additional quotes. I wish he had. We'll see how the Clinton campaign's responds.

But will going after pledged delegates even matter? Let's say the pledged delegate count is within a couple hundred (or less!) going into the convention, and Clinton gets a couple to flip. Let's go so far as to say she gets a couple dozen to flip. Isn't the difference between herself and Obama still within that "superdelegate buffer" that ensures the margin of victory of the 795 superdelegates by one of the two candidates will determine the nomination?

Update: Clinton campaign issues a strong denial.

Time To Ban Beef From School Lunch

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 9:28 AM EST

Yesterday, news broke that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was recalling a record-breaking 143 million pounds of beef from a California meat packer. The Humane Society had caught employees at the Hallmark/Westland Meat company last month on video using a forklift to prop up sick "downer" cows long enough to pass inspection, in violation of a host of federal regs. The USDA hasn't exactly snapped into action on this one. Eating meat from sick cows can spread mad cow disease, yet most of the beef suspected of being contaminated had already been consumed by the time USDA announced the recall. And you know who ate it? Little kids.

A big chunk of the nation's poorest quality beef is routinely dumped on federally subsidized school lunch programs. Not surprisingly, beef in school lunch has caused a fair amount of food poisoning. No one knows how the mad cow problem will play out, since it takes years for the disease to show up in humans. But one thing is certain: As the Humane Society's video reaffirmed, USDA seems largely incapable of guaranteeing the safety of beef in this country. (The USDA tests fewer than 1 percent of all slaughtered cows for mad cow disease, and Bush administration, in fact, went to court to prevent one beef producer from voluntarily testing all his cattle for mad cow disease because it would make all the other companies look bad.)

Given that little kids are far more vulnerable to the effects of food poisoning than adults are, it seems to me that it's time to simply ban beef from the school lunch program. It's not like kids will suffer much. Most of them spend plenty of time at McDonalds. In fact, in light of the current obesity epidemic, there's a strong argument for banning beef solely based on its fat content. But putting school children at risk of illness and death from dangerous beef to subsidize ranchers and shoddy meat companies is criminal. Let the kids eat garbanzo beans and force the meat companies to find somewhere else to peddle their sick cows.