Full Moon Fever

Sublime Reflections

The “Battle in Seattle” and Beyond

How do we create meaningful protest?

By Stuart Townsend*, AlterNet, September 18, 2008

What does it take to create real and meaningful change in the 21st century? We hear an awful lot about it. The political conventions from which I and so many others are still recovering from were chock full of promises that being an optimist, I am inclined to believe. Is it sheer numbers, rhetoric, commitment or is it simply the case of an idea whose time has come that is the real catalyst for change? I have spent the better part of the last decade and the entirety of the last two weeks asking myself that question.

In 1999 fifty thousand people, mostly Americans, from all walks of life, marched on the streets of Seattle protesting the policies of the World Trade Organization. The event was dubbed the “Battle in Seattle” and its organizers were clear in their mission — to shut the talks down and focus the world’s attention on policies that were in fact harming the poor, the sick, and the environment. After the world’s attention shifted, I felt there was still more of a story to tell. How did David truly slay Goliath?

The hierarchical top-down nature of the Seattle administration was defeated from the start by a decentralized bottom-up foe, which had spent six months organizing using a variety of tools including the relatively new Internet. After the riot-dust had settled, the Rand Corporation, a conservative Think Tank, was commissioned to do a tactical study of how the police were outsmarted. The book was known as Networks and Netwars and gave me, as a filmmaker, an insight into a Mayor, a police chief, and a Governor who were supremely ambushed by the leaderless consensus-based decision making of the activists, and then took a large shovel and began to dig themselves further into a nice giant hole.

In Denver and Minneapolis I watched as a coalition of veterans, students, activists and others stage a pair of anti-war rallies. In both cities, there were spirited speeches, and an energy in the air. It felt good to be participating and witnessing passionate activism but when I looked around and saw the concrete barriers that hemmed the protesters in and the hundreds of riot police caressing their non-lethal weapons I had to wonder if we were shouting a slogan or asking a serious, legitimate question, without knowing it. Once at the convention center, the demonstrators gave more impassioned speeches, and then it was over. “Mission accomplished” as the President would say.

But I was left with that big gaping question: what was the point?! Was anyone listening?

In Seattle as you see in my film, there was a clear tactical objective to shut something down. There was an inside/outside strategy that achieved its goal and crippled the talks by the end of the week. Organizers agitated from inside the talks while the demonstrators outside brought the corporate-led agenda of the WTO to the world’s attention. Meanwhile tens of thousands of labor union marchers disobeyed orders to follow their designated march route and joined the action downtown causing even more unexpected headaches for authorities.

What is the meaning of protest besides using your voice to draw attention to an issue — or is it simply to do just that? Does protest now need to move to the next level to be more effective, like police tactics have, while still maintaining a non-violent approach? Should protest only be about highlighting an issue or should it be about forcing an issue?

Seattle was the first major mass mobilization on the streets of America since the democratic convention riots of 1968. But since those pre-millennium days in ’99, demonstrations have increased dramatically worldwide.

On the night of John Mc Cain’s speech an Iraq War Veteran managed to sneak inside the convention center and display a sign that said “McCain Votes Against Vets”. All Republican eyes were drawn to this single voice of dissent, and most media outlets played the clip of the veteran holding up his sign and McCain appearing flustered for a moment. The crowd began chanting “USA, USA” to drown out this singular voice in the stands, who ironically had done more for the USA than most. McCain then regained his footing by joking with the crowd to ignore the static. But by that stage the point was made.

One individual took the spotlight for a moment at an event where the world was watching. He did it because he was tactical about his protest, deciding to infiltrate and subvert a carefully coordinated speech.

With an overwhelming police force ready to crush dissent at a moment’s notice it may be time for new strategies to unfold where protesters issues are forced to be acknowledged by those that have the power to make the necessary changes.

One simple thing everyone can do to take action in the next few months would be to vote for an administration that might begin to listen to its citizens. The first thing it should do to make sure those voices are heard is to focus on dismantling the rampant media consolidation where four corporations own fifty percent of U.S. media. Maybe then the news might begin to cover the issues in depth and begin asking the questions that need to be so urgently answered.

*Stuart Townsend is the writer and director of Battle in Seattle.

Further Resources:

Click to watch the official trailer of the film (YouTube video).

Visit the official website of Battle in Seattle.

The Seattle WTO People’s History Project

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October 27, 2008 Posted by | Democracy, Film, Memory, Social Movements | , | Leave a comment

The Briefing

Arundhati Roy’s first work of fiction since The God of Small Things in 1997 is an allegory, a powerful fable about Climate Change, the War on Terror and Corporate Raj.

Outlook, July 28, 2008

The fort that has never been attacked. Built by the Hapsburgs in 1833, it is believed the Nazis hid the gold they looted during World War II here. Photo: AP

 

My greetings. I’m sorry I’m not here with you today but perhaps it’s just as well. In times such as these, it’s best not to reveal ourselves completely, not even to each other.

If you step over the line and into the circle, you may be able to hear better. Mind the chalk on your shoes.

I know many of you have travelled great distances to be here. Have you seen all there is to see? The pillbox batteries, the ovens, the ammunition depots with cavity floors? Did you visit the workers’ mass grave? Have you studied the plans carefully? Would you say that it’s beautiful, this fort? They say it sits astride the mountains like a defiant lion.

I confess I’ve never seen it. The guidebook says it

wasn’t built for beauty. But beauty can arrive uninvited, can it not? It can fall upon things unexpectedly, like sunlight stealing through a chink in the curtains. Ah, but then this is the fort with no chinks in its curtains, the fort that has never been attacked. Does this mean its forbidding walls have thwarted even Beauty and sent it on its way?

Beauty. We could go on about it all day and all night long. What is it? What is it not? Who has the right to decide? Who are the world’s real curators, or should we say the real world’s curators? What is the real world? Are things we cannot imagine, measure, analyse, represent and reproduce real? Do they exist? Do they live in the recesses of our minds in a fort that has never been attacked? When our imaginations fail, will the world fail too? How will we ever know?

How big is it, this fort that may or may not be beautiful? They say it is the biggest fort ever built in the high mountains.

Gigantic, you say? Gigantic makes things a little difficult for us. Shall we begin by mapping its vulnerabilities? Even though it has never been attacked (or so they say), think of how its creators must have lived and relived the idea of being attacked. They must have waited to be attacked. They must have dreamt of being attacked.

They must have placed themselves in the minds and hearts of their enemies until they could barely tell themselves apart from those they feared so deeply. Until they no longer knew the difference between terror and desire. And then, from that knothole of tormented love, they must have imagined attacks from every conceivable direction with such precision and cunning as to render them almost real. How else could they have built a fortification like this? Fear must have shaped it; dread must be embedded in its very grain. Is that what this fort really is? A fragile testament to trepidation, to apprehension, to an imagination under siege?

It was built-and I quote its chief chronicler-to store everything that ought to be defended at all costs. Unquote. That’s saying something. What did they store here comrades? What did they defend?

Weapons. Gold. Civilisation itself. Or so the guidebook says.

And now, in Europe’s time of peace and plenty, it is being used to showcase the transcendent purpose, or, if you wish, the sublime purposelessness, of civilisation’s highest aspiration: Art. These days, I’m told, Art is Gold.

I hope you have bought the catalogue. You must. For appearances’ sake at least.

As you know, the chances are that there’s gold in this Fort. Real gold. Hidden gold. Most of it has been removed, some of it stolen, but a good amount is said to still remain. Everyone’s looking for it, knocking on walls, digging up graves. Their urgency must be palpable to you.

They know there’s gold in the fort. They also know there’s no snow on the mountains. They want the gold to buy some snow.

Those of you who are from here-you must know about the Snow Wars.

Those of you who aren’t, listen carefully. It is vital that you understand the texture and fabric of the place you have chosen for your mission.

Since the winters have grown warmer here, there are fewer ‘snowmaking’ days and as a result there’s not enough snow to cover the ski slopes. Most ski slopes can no longer be classified as ‘snow-reliable’. At a recent press conference-perhaps you’ve read the reports-Werner Voltron, president of the Association of Ski Instructors, said, “The future, I think is black. Completely black.” (Scattered applause that sounds as though it’s coming from the back of the audience. Barely discernible murmurs of Bravo! Viva! Wah, Wah! Yeah Brother!) No no no…comrades, comrades…you misunderstand. Mr Voltron was not referring to the Rise of the Black Nation. By Black he meant ominous, ruinous, hopeless, catastrophic, and bleak. He said that every one degree celsius increase in winter temperatures spells doom for almost one hundred ski resorts. That, as you can imagine, is a lot of jobs and money.

Not everybody is as pessimistic as Mr Voltron. Take the example of Guenther Holzhausen, CEO of MountainWhite, a new branded snow product, popularly known as Hot Snow (because it can be manufactured at two to three degrees celsius above the normal temperature). Mr Holzhausen said-and I’ll read this out to you-“The changing climate is a great opportunity for the Alps. The extremely high temperatures and rising sea levels brought about by global warming will be bad for seaside tourism. Ten years from now people usually headed for the Mediterranean will be coming to the comparatively cooler Alps for skiing holidays. It is our responsibility; indeed our duty to guarantee snow of the highest quality. MountainWhite guarantees dense, evenly spread snow which skiers will find is far superior to natural snow.” Unquote.

MountainWhite snow, comrades, like most artificial snows, is made from a protein located in the membrane of a bacterium called Pseudomonas syringae. What sets it apart from other snows is that in order to prevent the spread of disease and other pathogenic hazards, MountainWhite guarantees that the water it uses to generate snow for skiing is of the highest quality, sourced directly from drinking water networks. “You can bottle our ski slopes and drink them!” Guenther Holzhausen is known to have once boasted. (Some restless angry murmuring on the soundtrack.) I understand… But calm your anger. It will only blur your vision and blunt your purpose.

To generate artificial snow, nucleated, treated water is shot out of high-pressure power-intensive snow cannons at high speed. When the snow is ready, it is stacked in mounds called whales. The snow whales are groomed, tilled and fluffed before the snow is evenly spread on slopes that have been shaved of imperfections and natural rock formations. The soil is covered with a thick layer of fertiliser to keep the soil cool and insulate it from the warmth generated by Hot Snow. Most ski resorts use artificial snow now. Almost every resort has a cannon. Every cannon has a brand. Every brand is at war. Every war is an opportunity.

If you want to ski on-or at least see-natural snow, you’ll have to go further, up to the glaciers that are wrapped in giant sheets of plastic foil to protect them from the summer heat and prevent them from shrinking. I don’t know how natural that is though-a glacier wrapped in foil. You might feel as though you’re skiing on an old sandwich. Worth a try I suppose. I wouldn’t know, I don’t ski. The Foil Wars are a form of high-altitude combat-not the kind that some of you are trained for (chuckles). They are separate, though not entirely unconnected to the Snow Wars.

In the Snow Wars, MountainWhite’s only serious adversary is Scent n’ Sparkle, a new product introduced by Peter Holzhausen, who, if you will pardon me for gossiping, is Guenther Holzhausen’s brother.

Real brother. Their wives are sisters. (A murmur) What’s that? Yes…real brothers married to real sisters. The families are both from Salzburg.

In addition to all the advantages of MountainWhite, Scent n’ Sparkle promises whiter, brighter snow with a fragrance. At a price of course. Scent n’ Sparkle comes in three aromas-Vanilla, Pine and Evergreen. It promises to satisfy tourists’ nostalgic yearning for old-fashioned holidays. Scent n’ Sparkle is a boutique product poised to storm the mass market, or so the pundits say, because it is a product with vision, and an eye to the future. Scented snow anticipates the effects that the global migration of trees and forests will have on the tourism industry. (Murmur) Yes. I did say tree migration.

Did any of you read Macbeth in school? Do you remember what the witches on the heath said to him? “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Burnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him?” 

Do you remember what he said to them?

(A voice from the audience somewhere at the back says, “That will never be. Who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earthbound root?”)

Ha! Excellent. But Macbeth was dead wrong. Trees have unfixed their earthbound roots and are on the move. They’re migrating from their devastated homes in the hope of a better life. Like people. Tropical palms are moving up into the Lower Alps. Evergreens are climbing to higher altitudes in search of a colder climate. On the ski slopes, under the damp carpets of Hot Snow, in the warm, fertiliser-coated soil, stowaway seeds of new hothouse plants are germinating. Perhaps soon there’ll be fruit trees and vineyards and olive groves in the high mountains.

When the trees migrate, birds and insects, wasps, bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators will have to move with them. Will they be able to adapt to their new surrounding? Robins have already arrived in Alaska. Alaskan caribou plagued by mosquitoes are moving to higher altitudes where they don’t have enough food to eat. Mosquitoes carrying malaria are sweeping through the Lower Alps.

I wonder how this fort that was built to withstand heavy artillery fire will mount a defence against an army of mosquitoes.

The Snow Wars have spread to the plains. MountainWhite now dominates the snow market in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. It is lobbying in India and China, with some success, for dam construction projects dedicated entirely to snow cannons for all-season ski resorts. It has entered the Dutch market for dyke reinforcement and for sea homes built on floating raft foundations, so that when the sea levels rise and the dykes are finally breached and Holland drifts into the ocean, MountainWhite can harness the rising tide and turn it into gold. Never fear, MountainWhite is here! works just as well in the flatlands. Scent n’ Sparkle has diversified too. It owns a popular TV channel and controlling shares in a company that makes-as well as defuses-landmines. Perhaps their new batch will be scented-strawberry, cranberry, jojoba-in order to attract animals and birds as well as children. Other than snow and landmines, Scent n’ Sparkle also retails mass market, battery-operated, prosthetic limbs in standard sizes for Central Asia and Africa. It is at the forefront of the campaign for Corporate Social Responsibility and is funding a chain of excellently appointed corporate orphanages and ngos in Afghanistan which some of you are familiar with. Recently it has put in a tender for the dredging and cleaning of lakes and rivers in Austria and Italy that have once again grown toxic from the residue of fertiliser and artificial snowmelt.

Even here, at the top of the world, residue is no longer the past.It is the future. At least some of us have learned over the years to live like rats in the ruins of other people’s greed. We have learned to fashion weapons from nothing at all. We know how to use them. These are our combat skills.

Comrades, the stone lion in the mountains has begun to weaken. The Fort that has never been attacked has laid siege to itself. It is time for us to make our move. Time to replace the noisy, undirected spray of machinegun fire with the cold precision of an assassin’s bullet. Choose your targets carefully.

When the stone lion’s stone bones have been interred in this, our wounded, poisoned earth, when the Fort That Has Never Been Attacked has been reduced to rubble and when the dust from the rubble has settled, who knows, perhaps it will snow again.

That is all I have to say. You may disperse now. Commit your instructions to memory. Go well, comrades, leave no footprints. Until we meet again, godspeed, khuda hafiz and keep your powder dry.

(Shuffle of footsteps leaving. Fading away.)

 


 

 

First published in: Adam Budak, Anselm Franke/Hila Peleg, Raqs Media Collective (Eds.): Manifesta7. Scenarios, Milan (Silvana Editoriale) 2008.

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Arundhati Roy, Climate Change, Corporation, Fiction, Short Story, War on Terror | | Leave a comment

Adiga speaks of Booker win

BBC, October 14, 2008

Aravind Adiga, 33, has spoken of winning the Man Booker prize for his first novel The White Tiger.

Further Resource:

Find The White Tiger on Amazon.com

News report: First-time novelist wins Booker (BBC)

At-a-glance: Booker nominees

Wikipedia entry on Aravind Adiga

The official website of Aravind Adiga

Read an interview

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Aravind Adiga, Booker Prize, Conversation, Fiction and Novel, New Book, News and Update, Video | Leave a comment

Quit Facebook

Carmen Joy King, Adbusters, October 2008

The decision to destroy my carefully built-up virtual image came as a result of wanting to enhance my profile.

In march, at the peak of Facebook popularity, I quit. with four swift clicks of the mouse, I canceled my account. Gone was the entire online persona I had created for myself – profile pictures, interests and activities, work history, friends acquired – all carefully thought out to showcase to the world the very best version of me, all now deleted.

Ironically, the decision to destroy my carefully built-up virtual image came as a result of wanting to enhance my profile. All that particular week I’d been hungry for new quotes on my page, something to reflect the week I’d been having: something introspective. I perused a quotes website and found this one attributed to Aristotle:

“We are what we repeatedly do.”

I became despondent. What, then, was I? If my time was spent changing my profile picture on Facebook, thinking of a clever status update for Facebook, checking my profile again to see if anyone had commented on my page, Is this what I am? A person who re-visits her own thoughts and images for hours each day? And so what do I amount to? An egotist? A voyeur?

Whatever the label, I was unhappy and feeling empty. The amount of time I spent on Facebook had pushed me into an existential crisis. It wasn’t the time-wasting, per se, that bothered me. It was the nature of the obsession – namely self-obsession. Enough was enough. I left Facebook.

In the past, my feelings toward Facebook and similar social networking sites had swung between a genuine sense of connection and community to the uncomfortable awareness that what all of our blogs, online journals and personal profiles really amounted to was serious narcissism. As my feelings of over-exposure continued to mount, the obvious solution would have been to set limits on my Facebook time – yet I still found myself sucked in for longer periods every time I visited. In part, it was the hundreds of little links to and hints about other people’s lives that kept me coming back. But even more addicting were the never-ending possibilities to introduce, enhance and reveal more of myself.

The baby-boomers were at one time thought to be the most self-absorbed generation in American history and carried the label of the Me Generation. In recent years this title has been appropriated, twisted and reassigned to the babies of those same boomers – born in the 80s and 90s – now called Generation Me or the Look at Me Generation. Author Jean Twenge, an Associate Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and herself a member of Generation Me – spent ten years doing research on this group’s sense of entitlement and self-absorption. She attributed it to the radical individualism that was engendered by baby-boomer parents and educators focused on instilling self-esteem in children beginning in the 1970s. American and Canadian youth were raised on aphorisms such as “express yourself” and “just be yourself.”

To further illustrate her point, Twenge also found a large increase in self-reference words like “I,” “me,” “mine” and “myself” in news stories published in the 80s and 90s. These words replaced collective words such as “we,” “us,” “humanity,” “country” or “crowd” found in the stories of a similar nature in the 50s and 60s. This generation might be the least thoughtful, community-oriented and conscientious one in North American history.

In the end, what does all this online, arms-length self-promotion ultimately provide? Perhaps it’s merely one component of the pursuit to alleviate some of the blackness encountered in the existential vacuum of modern life. As Schopenhauer once projected, modern humans may be doomed to eternally vacillate between distress and boredom. For the vast majority of people experiencing the fragmented, fast-paced modern world of 2008, a Sunday pause at the end of a hectic week may cause them to become all too aware of the lack of content in their lives. So we update our online profiles and tell ourselves that we are reaching out.

And yet, the time we waste on Facebook only makes our search for comfort and community more elusive. Online networking sites are marketed as facilitators of community-orientation but when I think about the millions of people – myself included – who spend large portions of their waking lives feeding off an exchange of thousands of computerized, fragmented images, it doesn’t add up to community-engagement. These images have no meaning beyond “I look pretty from this angle” or “I’m wasted” or “look who my new boyfriend is.” And as we continue to chase even harder – accessing Facebook at work, uploading images from our cell phones – we spend our money on constantly upgraded electronic gadgets marketed to our tendency to self-obsess and present particularly uninteresting and repetitive images of ourselves. There’s got to be more than this.

And so I quit…

After I left Facebook, I wondered what all my friends, family and acquaintances were going to think when they noticed I’d disappeared off the Facebook earth. So some of my Facebook narcissism – am I being noticed, am I being missed – remains. But I’m also asking myself some new questions. How do I find balance between my online life and my “real” life? How much exposure is healthy? How do I act responsibly for myself and engage with those I love? These are still “me” thoughts but they feel different than before. As I sit here, keyboard under palm, eyes on screen, I try to remind myself that my hands and eyes need to venture out into the community and look and touch the truly tangible that lies just beyond that other big screen: my window.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Cyber culture, Facebook, Internet, Online Social Networking | Leave a comment

Author Le Clezio wins Nobel prize

BBC, October 9, 2008

French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

The 68-year-old has been honoured with the 10m kronor (£820,810) award for his distinguished life’s work.

The Swedish Academy describes him as “an author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy.”

It goes on to call him “an explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilisation.” British author Doris Lessing won last year’s prize.

Le Clezio’s breakthrough as a novelist came in 1980 with Desert, a work the Swedish academy praised for its “magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert.”

Philosopher

His most recent works include 2007’s Ballaciner, a work the academy called a “deeply personal essay about the history of the art of film”.

The author has also included several books for children, among them Lullaby in 1980 and Balaabilou in 1985.

He has won a number of literary honours in his native France, among them the Prix Larbaud in 1972 and the Grand Prix Jean Giono in 1997.Born in Nice in 1940, Le Clezio spent two years as a child in Nigeria and has taught in universities in Bangkok, Boston and Mexico City.

He will receive his prize medal alongside this year’s other Nobel Laureates at a ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.

Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature traditionally deliver a lecture in the Swedish city before accepting their award.

The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded in 1901 to the French poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme.

Writers recognised in recent years include V S Naipaul in 2001, J M Coetzee in 2003 and Harold Pinter in 2005.

Further Resources:

Wikipedia page on Le Clezio

Read an interview with Le Clezio

Interview with Le Clezio (in French)

Biography 

Find Le Clezio’s books on Amazon.Com

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Nobel Prize | Leave a comment