Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mid West Music Fest in Winona this Weekend

Mid West Music Fest will be held in Winona, MN from July 30th - 31st. Over eighty music groups from the region will be participating, playing at various venues in the Winona area.

Fish Frye, the official band of Sounds of Cinema, will be playing on Saturday, July 31st on the Winona State University grounds at 4:30pm.

You can find out more about the Mid West Music Fest, including schedule and ticket information, here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Take on Shirley Sherrod-gate

Last week, the political news scene had one of its regular (and increasingly frequent) nervous breakdowns over the Shirley Sherrod non-scandal scandal. It was another example of news media not doing its homework and politicians and pundits racing to judgement without the facts in an effort to beat the pace of the news cycle.

For those not paying attention, video surfaced of this African American woman, currently an employee of the USDA, speaking at an NAACP function and her remarks were excerpted by right wing media hacks to make it appear that years ago she had denied aid to a Caucasian farmer based on racial tension between them. After the excerpt went public, Sherrod was immediately forced to resign but within days the full tape aired, showing that she did in fact help the farmer and in her speech she was using her own feelings of racial resentment as an example of what not to do. Her acceptance of a new position is still pending.

There is a lot to get upset about in this debacle, but Melissa Harris-Lacewell has written this piece for The Nation about it, finding the optimistic side of  the story. Harris-Lacewell writes:
Do not miss this: when Shirley Sherrod's video clip was first released to the mainstream press, the NAACP denounced her; the USDA, with complicity of the White House, fired her; the white farm family against whom she had supposedly discriminated jumped to her immediate and vigorous defense. These white farmers were the first to speak on her behalf. While others were saying she should be ashamed of herself, they loudly declared her an ally and a friend for life. The defense of Mrs. Sherrod came most effectively and fully from the white farming community. She had been their ally for years. They did not hesitate to return the favor. 
The roller coaster of this story and the sentiments it has stirred provoked my own sense of the rut that race relations and popular racial discourse have become trapped within.

America has moved very far in a few decades. To put it in some perspective, when my parents were born (in the post-war years), whites and blacks could not drink at the same water-fountains and lynchings still occurred. Now we have an African American president and interracial relationships have been largely normalized. That isn't to say that racism is gone but rather to say that the bell curve has shifted; the kinds of hideous racism that were normalized into the everyday have been largely driven to the margins of society.

This ought to give us a sense of pride, and rightly so. But the civil rights movement that had burned so bright and hot in the 1960s was largely diminished by the end of the 1970s. Important and permanent changes had been made, and although they had provided the basics (voting rights, equal protection under the law, etc.) the long term work of deconstructing institutional racism was left. And that is pretty much where we've stayed ever since.

Racism is America's most sensitive issue, the source of some of the ugliest moments of our national history, complicated by America's sense of being a "city on the hill." It is hard to square those two things together and our attempts to do so (especially in national and popular media) often succumb to an either-or fallacy in which America is either a hypocritical nation of false hopes or it is the beacon of national and cultural perfection. Of course neither of those is true and the absurd absolutes polarize people into ideological camps, unable to communicate.

What Harris-Lacewell's remarks point to are the positive: that among Americans there is generally a good will and a desire for reconciliation. But in order to get there, we're going to have to face some of the ugliness and we're going to have to give up this unattainable illusion of perfection, either for some post-racial utopia or of a nation without a blemish in its character or its history.

Maddow Responds to O'Reilly

Watch Rachel Maddow respond to Bill O'Reilly's criticism. A couple of days earlier, Maddow ran a story examining how Fox News manipulates coverage to conform to political agendas. O'Reilly responded by impugning MSNBC's ratings, as though that matters or is in any way pertinent to the argument.

Here is the money quote from Maddow's response:
You can insult us all you want about television ratings, Mr. O'Reilly, and you'll be right that yours are bigger for now and maybe forever. You are the undisputed champion. But even if no one watches us at all, except for my mom and my girlfriend and people who forgot to turn off the TV after Keith [Olbermann], you are still wrong on what really matters and that would be the facts, your highness.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Identity politcs divides us, fiction connects." - Elif Shafak

Here is the Ted Talk by writer Elif Shafak, author of The Bastard of Istanbul, in which she talks about the way stories can overcome national and ethnic divisions and how identity politics shapes the way we perceive stories:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Your Tin Foil is Showing

Conservative group Minnesota Majority has put out a "study" claiming that felons voted in the 2008 election and their ballots put Al Franken in the U.S. Senate.

Except they didn't.

According to this article at Salon, Minnesota Majority "could only identify hypothetical felons on voter rolls by name and year of birth. Half of Minnesotans are named Peterson, Johnson, or Olson. There are plenty of Minnesotans with the same name, born in the same year. And Minnesota Majority didn't have access to changes in sentencing, meaning some of the people they correctly identified as felons could've had their probation reduced, at which point they would've become legal voters again."

And further, "270 of Minnesota Majority's 475 supposed examples of felons voting "were just not accurate." Which leaves 205 possibly illegal votes. Franken won by 312."

So members of a special interest group did not do their homework and manipulated their findings to adhere to a preconceived narrative. No surprise there.

But what's more important is looking at this claim in the context of the birther movement (claiming Obama is not a U.S. citizen and therefore ineligible to be president), the "take our country back" slogans of the Tea Party, spurious accusations that the Gulf Coast oil spill was an inside job, and general animosity toward anything suspected of being "socialist."

This adds up to a view that the federal government of the United States, and specifically this administration, is somehow illegitimate. And while a lot of us look at Glenn Beck and the Tea Party and all of their shouting and tears as infantile and detached from reality, it's important to remember that they are serious and in all likely hood believe what they are saying.

During the Cold War, McCarthyism swept the culture and for years people's lives were destroyed just on the accusation that they were a communist or had communist ties. In the Middle Ages, the Inquisition tortured and executed people suspected of witchcraft; an accusation alone could be enough to get someone killed.

It is important to remember that anti-communists and inquisitors believed what they were saying, even if those beliefs had no basis in fact. Instead, reality itself was molded by authority and propaganda and what was a delusion shared by a few became a fact of life for everyone else. And when the leaders of those movements found themselves in positions of power, they were able to administer a reign of terror that was far worse than anything they were afraid of.

This hysteria over the legitimacy of our own government has the potential to be Red Scare 2.0. It isn't yet because the loudest advocates of it are limited to television shows, talk radio, and blogs. Although these media figures hold a significant sway on some segment of the population, they don't have legal authority. Should the upcoming elections in 2010 and 2012 turn out in favor of these new inquisitors, that bottle could be opened and there is no telling when or if we will get the cap on it again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Wisdom of Matt Taibbi

Rolling Stone editorial writer Matt Taibbi has recently written two complementary pieces attacking the journalism establishment.

The first, "Lara Logan, You Suck," is a retort to Logan's appearance on CNN's program "Reliable Sources" in which she made accusations and insinuations against Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone article on General Stanley McChrystal. Logan's comments came as a disappointment to me; she has done some stellar reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq and has even made her own harsh criticisms of mainstream news. But her rant on "Reliable Sources" tasted like sour grapes.

Taibbi replied to Logan, saying:
Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn't mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here's CBS's chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that's killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag.
Taibbi then elaborates on the Pentagon's enormous public relations wing; according to Taibbi, it spent $4.7 billion in 2009 and employs 27,000 people. But despite the size of that impressive spin machine, the Pentagon has also brought most major media sources under its wing, granting them access in exchange for favorable treatment. The same holds true of political campaigns and coverage of corporate news. Speaking directly to the reporters in mainstream news organizations, Taibbi writes:
They don't need your help, and you're giving it to them anyway, because you just want to be part of the club so so badly. . . . Meanwhile, the people who don't have the resources to find out the truth and get it out in front of the public's eyes, your readers/viewers, you're supposed to be working for them — and they're not getting your help.
Taibbi's more recent piece, "The Five Funniest Things About the 'LeBron James: Global Superdouche' Broadcast," is related to his Lara Logan takedown. Taibbi reviews ESPN's special on James' decision to go to the Miami Heat and links the coverage of this sports story to broader news coverage. Taibbi observes that ESPN was paid by LeBron for the coverage (making this an infomercial disguised as sports news) and Jim Gray was selected as the host "because he has a 'special sales relationship' with one of the sponsors, the University of Phoenix."

ESPN's public immolation of its integrity for the sake of ratings, publicity, and star fucking is really not all that different from what "hard news" sources have been doing for decades by softening the impact of political and military stories and allowing outside or parent corporations to dictate the terms of news coverage. It's not doing a service to anyone and it's only bound to get worse. Taibbi concludes:
It's the prototype for all future news coverage-- one or two dominant news networks pushing sensational fairy-tale versions of reality in a race for ad revenue, competing with a few scattered hacks on the internet covering the much less important parallel "real story," i.e. the truth. In order for the networks to push their version most effectively, they have to genuinely believe that what they're spinning is real. Which is why you see them starting to mistake fake drama for real drama from time to time -- they're beginning to drown in their own bullshit.
And old media hounds are still surprised and confounded when newspaper subscriptions plummet, network news viewership dries up, and The Daily Show and Rolling Stone outmaneuver them.