Cover story: Avon Buys
International Women's Day
Autonomy in Action: First-Hand Account from Chiapas
Give Us a Break
No Child Left Unharmed/ No Public School Left Standing
Just Because I’m Paranoid Doesn’t Mean The Corporations Aren’t Trying to Manipulate All Life on the Planet
Queers Fight Gentrification in Oakland
Transitory Art Forms: The Story of the Albany Landfill
Tali Fahima, Patrick O'Connor and Me
The MOCHA Column
Dateline-Washington D.C., Avon, the nation’s favorite door to door cosmetics firm, announced today that it has bought International Women’s Day. After years of success with their AvonWalk for Breast CancerÔ, and the Avon Breast Cancer CrusadeÔ, the company decided to give a much needed make-over to this frumpy feminist fringe festival.
The new name Avon Global Girl’s DayÔ has a “youthful kick and honors American gals serving from Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib,” said company chairgirl Barb E.
Avon, the company for Women, has chosen Bush administration spokesmodel/Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice as its woman of the year. “Dr. Rice is proof that any girl can grow up to be secretary of the office or of the state! All it takes is a good cover-up,” said pal & concealer fan Mary Cheney in a statement released from under her closet door.
A small unkempt group named LAGAI (Lesbians and Gays Aging Instantly) opposes Avon’s vision of female empowerment. “It is merely cosmetic and lacks a solid foundation,” said Tory, (who clearly forgets Dianne Feinstein’s use of the product). However LAGAI “cautiously endorsed” Avon’s postion against the standardized testing of animals.
Avon does not spend its own money on the breast cancer walk, and it will continue this tradition with Global Girl’s DayÔ.
Be My Palestine
Valentine’s Day Extravaganza
1:00 p.m. Union Square (Stockton/Geary steps)
2:00 p.m. Macy’s (Stockton/O’Farrell)
Appropriate Attire (cosmetologist drag, hearts, bows and plastic flowers recommended)
BYOD (Bring Your Own Doily)
For info: QUIT! 510-434-1304 email@example.com
6th GLOBAL WOMEN'S STRIKE
International Women's Day, March 8, 2005
March on the San Francisco County Jail to demand:
Living Wage for All our Work &
Pay Equity in the Global Market
End Poverty and War! Invest in Caring Not Killing!
meetings every Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
333 Valencia St, Room 350
For info: 415-626-4114, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chiapas is in the southeast corner of Mexico. Chiapas, full of natural resources which global imperialists plan to exploit by constructing dams, highways, developing ecotourism, and relocating the indigenous people. The only role for indigenous people is supposed to be smiling in native dress by the side of the road selling crafts for tourists or working in maquiladoras. The zapatistas have a different vision of indigenous people organizing to improve their lives through autonomous control.
Autonomy was the essence of the San Andres Accords negotiated with the Mexican government years ago who never put it into law. The zapatistas have moved on their own to implement the Accords. In August 2003, the zapatistas announced a new organization of their territory that now comprises a significant portion of the state of Chiapas. The 5 regions called "Caracoles", are self-governing and make laws based on the customs of the peoples in its area. (The zapatistas are Mayan peoples of a number of different ethnic groups, each with their own language)
I had the pleasure of visiting two of these Caracoles this November with a delegation of the Chiapas Support Committee from Oakland, CA. We then spent several days with the Consejo/Council of our sister municipio/county, San Manuel. The companer@s broke down how their new government works.
Each Caracol is run by a Junta de Buen Govierno ("good government Junta" to contrast with the mal govierno or Mexican government). The Junta is responsible for setting priorities, distributing resources, approving projects, and resolving disputes. The Junta is composed of 1-2 members from each of its municipios. The members of the Junta receive no salary. No one can leave home for very long, as they have to work on the milpa/garden that grows their family's food. The solution is for the Junta members to rotate in and out of their positions every 8-15 days. You take your turn every couple of months, then go home to care for your family, work on your land, and do your community work in health, education, or whatever. Every 2-3 years the entire Junta changes; and new people are elected. This system prevents corruption and allows many people a chance to participate in the government.
These companer@s have lots of experience working in their own communities, but little formal education. We could see the learning process going on. We arrived in Caracol La Garrucha the week after a new group had come in to office. One person was the secretary, laboriously taking notes in long hand, and all were trying to figure out how to deal with this strange group of foreigners. They would stop and talk among themselves in their language, come to an agreement, and then speak to us again in Spanish. For complicated matters, they would adjourn to another room or consider matters overnight. The Council on the regional level was similarly run.
The Junta is open and available to the community 7 days/ week, never closed. Members said they often worked until 9 or 10 p.m. Dispute resolution is probably the major activity at the moment. Zapatistas and non-zapatistas come voluntarily. People appreciate that they can speak in their indigenous language (and so can understand what is happening) and will get a fair decision which is not based on how big a bribe you can pay- all in sharp contrast to the Mexican courts.
The zapatistas are rightfully proud of their new government. There are more zapatista communities being created, and the percentage of zapatistas in other communities is growing. Reclaimed land has improved living conditions. Community programs for prevention of health problems have supported the building of latrines along with other measures to decrease malaria and cholera. The Juntas have prioritized health and education. There are trainings so every community can send members to become local health and education promotoras. Everywhere there are new projects, buildings, and trainings. People are BUSY day and night.
In the La Garrucha Caracol health care suffered a serious setback when the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders pulled out in the last year to go to Iraq. They had staffed and supplied clinics throughout the region for years. Now there are no medicines; I visited several clinics where the shelves were bare. Although I had raised $100's for medicines before we went down, it was obvious that would not go far. One of the projects we have been asked to finance is a regional pharmacy. This would allow people to get medicines and herbs at a very low cost without making the dangerous, long trip to a city hours away. (Military bases dot the region, and the paramilitary is still active.) The pharmacy will need to be built and stocked with an initial supply of medicines, but would then be self-supporting.
For more information or to make donations for the pharmacy, please contact the Chiapas Support Committee; PO Box 3421; Oakland, CA 94609 or email email@example.com
From Chiapas to California...One World Where
Many Worlds Fit
February 4 - 11th, 2005
The Chiapas Support Committee is pleased to
announce a California tour with:
Ramon Peñate Díaz,
La Red de Defensores Comunitarios por los Derechos Humanos (the Network of Community Defenders for Human Rights), Chiapas, Mexico
Center for Economic and Political Research for Community Action (CIEPAC), Chiapas, Mexico
Tuesday, February 8th
The Women's Building
3543 18th Street (between Valencia and Guerrero), San Francisco, 7pm - 9pm
$7-10 sliding scale
With special guest Betita Martinez
Co-Sponsored by the Mexico Solidarity Network
Wednesday, February 9th
La Peña Cultural Center
3105 Shattuck Ave. (at Woolsey)
7:30pm - 9:30pm
$5-10 sliding scale
including poetry and spoken word by:
Arnoldo Garcia and Ananda Esteva
Thursday, February 10th
Santa Rosa Peace and Justice Center, 467 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa, 7:30 pm
Friday, February 11th
Humboldt State University Campus, Kate Buchanan Room of the Student Union, Arcata
6:30pm 9:00pm, free, Sponsored by Accion Zapatista
The state will be holding hearings this month to determine whether workers should be able to have a lunch break. According to chamber of commerce spokeswoman julianne broyles, the changes “would let employees eat when they're hungry, not when a state bureaucracy tells them to.”
This change was first proposed in December as an “emergency” regulation, which means that there wouldn’t be public comment on it. The emergency appeared to be that Wal-Mart was being sued on behalf of 200,000 employees for failure to provide the required breaks. Public pressure and ridicule eventually cause the labor and workforce development agency (LWDA) to withdraw the emergency proposal. They are moving forward with permanent rulemaking, including hearings in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The proposal would “permit” employees working less than a 10 hour shift to “waive” their meal break. Of course, this would be a completely free and voluntary waiving. The proposal would also allow employers to work employees up to five hours without providing a lunch break at all, as compared to the current regulation that requires a meal break after four hours. Finally, the proposal would limit workers’ legal claims for pay for missed meal breaks to the previous year, rather than the current four-year limit. Which means that it will be less likely that a lawyer would take the case because the potential amount of recovery wouldn’t justify their time.
Labor groups are preparing for hearings on this proposal on February 4 in LA, on February 8, in San Francisco at the state building, at 455 Golden Gate Ave. and on March 2 at the Fresno state building, 2550 Mariposa Mall, room 1036. All hearings start at 9 a.m. Written comments can also be submitted, for more info go to www.dir.ca.gov.
Meanwhile, the governor has submitted his scheme for reorganizing state government to the legislature. Coincidentally, it is almost identical to the chamber of commerce’s wish list, proving that at least some people get what they pay for. Among his proposals are the elimination of 80 or so commissions and boards that provide some independence for environmental and consumer regulations. This is because schwarzenegger is the “environmental governor” like bush is the education president. He is proposing to eliminate the occupational safety and health appeals board, the workers compensation appeals board, and the california unemployment insurance appeals boards, consolidating them into one office under the secretary of the labor and workforce development agency. The current boards are supposed to include balanced membership (labor, public, management) and serve fixed terms, and are therefore supposed to be more insulated from political pressures. Schwarzenegger proposes to eliminate the building standards commission (which adopts the building code) and the contractor’s licensing board, the medical and registererd nursing board. He proposes to eliminate the commission on health and safety and workers compensation (CHSWC). Certainly, this proposal is completely unrelated to the CHSWC research that showed that pharmaceutical companies were gouging the workers comp system, and the $367,000 pharmaceutical companies have given to schwarzenneger.
The “people’s governor” is proposing consolidating different environmental agencies, and moving workplace protection further down in the bureaucracy. The incredibly shrinking Cal/OSHA, for example, would be a back-water subdivision of the division of workplace protection, of the department of industrial relations, of the labor and workforce development agency, whose very first priority is to protect workers from lunch breaks, overtime pay, and other infringements on their liberties.
All of these restructuring proposals are currently being considered by the “Little Hoover Commission” of the legislature, which will make a recommendation that the legislature will either vote up or down. The governor says if he doesn’t get his way, he will take it to the people as an initiative. This is good news for television stations, who are in great need of advertising revenues.
Meanwhile, going almost unnoticed, the governor is proposing legislative redistricting to take place early enough to assure him a few additional republican seats for his next budget round. Normally, redistricting takes place after the 10-year census, so it wouldn’t be due till after 2010.
The business model views teachers as robots and students as widgets, with effectiveness as the goal and standardized tests as the sole measure of student and school achievement.
by Deni and Laurie
Just when things looked like they couldn’t get much worse for public education, along come federal, state, and local “reforms” that threaten to put the nail in the coffin. The federal government’s “no child left behind” (NCLB) law, schwarzenegger’s recent budget proposals, and san francisco unified school district’s “dream schools” each claim to improve educational opportunities for children, particularly low-income children and children of color, when, in fact, they are having the opposite result. Whether the intent of these measures is seriously misguided or intentionally destructive, they must be resisted and replaced by educational policies that are developed locally by the communities they serve.
Passed into law in 2002 with bipartisan support, NCLB was sculpted to suit the bush administration’s larger agenda of privatization and the continual redistribution of wealth upward. Bush’s education team has cleverly designed a process that, if strictly adhered to, will successfully discredit public education, paving the way for school take-overs by for-profit education companies and expansion of the voucher system which funds religious schools with public money.
NCLB mandates that by the year 2014 all children will be proficient in reading, math, and science as measured solely by standardized tests. The only disagreement many educators have about this statistical impossibility is just how ridiculous it is. Additionally, schools are required to show “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) or face harsh sanctions, including transfer of students to higher performing schools (though there is not enough room for the number of transfers), mandated adherence to scripted “scientifically based” curricula, and, ultimately, school closure or take-over.
The law states that school data must be disaggregated by various student categories such as English language learners, and students with special needs (California schools have 46 such sub-groups). If any school fails to show AYP for 95% of students in every sub-group, that school moves to the next level of sanctions. It is estimated that by the year 2014, 90% of all California schools will be designated as failing. Pretty cool trick, huh?
And just in case any school imagines they could reach the NCLB standards, they better be prepared to do it without any federal money, since funding for NCLB has been about $26 billion below originally promised levels while total u.s. school spending is increased by a whopping 1%. In a friendly gesture towards the states, the law says in section 9527 that “ nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize…the federal government to…mandate a state or any subdivision thereof to spend ANY FUNDS (caps ours) or incur ANY COSTS not paid for under this act”, so don’t go looking for state money either.
In the mean time, faced with these mounting pressures, students in schools that have already failed to make AYP (where the student body is primarily low-income, of color, and speak languages other than English as their first language) increasingly spend their days being drilled on test items in tested subject areas only and coached on test taking strategies by teachers who are trying to remain calm in the face of this travesty. Students in schools that have high test scores (where the student body is primarily white and middle to upper class) continue receiving rich (how fitting) curriculum. It should be noted that, despite the unrelenting pressure to raise test scores, many teachers serving low-income children and children of color are working doubly hard to continue providing creative and challenging learning opportunities for their students.
As schools across the nation receive nothing but punishment for failing to make progress, NCLB is on the job, making businesses wealthier. From the manufacturers of testing materials and curriculum, to the private tutoring firms that are designated providers for students identified as needing extra support, to educational consulting firms that offer solutions for raising sagging test scores, businesses couldn’t be happier. The wall street journal gave NCLB a rousing endorsement in a news story that began “Teachers, parents, and principals may have their doubts about No Child Left Behind. But business loves it… Kaplan [a major corporation that designs and scores standardized tests] says revenue for its elementary and secondary school division has doubled since No Child Left Behind passed.”
Thankfully, nationwide resistance is growing against this pernicious law. For analysis, alternative visions for public education, and opportunities to voice your opposition visit the following websites: www.rethinkingschools.org , nochildleft.com, and www.fairtest.org.
Not surprisingly, corporate interests and values heavily influence federal and state educational policy. (For a frightening, yet enlightening, read see Emery and Ohanian’s Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools.) This business model views teachers as robots and students as widgets, with effectiveness as the goal and standardized tests as the sole measure of student and school achievement. Most educators agree that using these tests exclusively is unreliable. We think standardized tests themselves are odious, especially the “high stakes” ones which attach serious consequences (i.e. grade retention, graduation requirement) to a single test score.
It’s hard to know where to start with how awful standardized tests are. I (Deni) think I’ll start with a story about a student. I’ll call her Tamisha; she was an incredibly sweet kid. When she entered my class in 3rd grade, her academic skills were very low, not surprising since she’d barely attended school the year before. But Tamisha, her aunt and I really got together about her learning and established expectations and goals. Tamisha worked incredibly hard; it was difficult for her since there was so much she was trying to learn and catch up on. She made much progress, though, and by testing time, was able to read at a much higher level than when the year started, as well as compute in math and do independent writing. Her self-confidence was stronger; she could tell her hard work was helping her gain access to knowledge and the fun of learning. I knew, however, that she was nowhere near the “grade level” she’d be testing in. This was a school that took testing extremely seriously and we’d done lots of “test prep” practice. Still, when testing time came and Tamisha opened her test booklet, she spent 5 minutes trying to read it, put her head down on her desk, and began to cry softly. I comforted her and encouraged her to do as much as she could, but you could tell what she was realizing: that her hard work meant nothing in this important situation, that she had fooled herself into thinking she was doing better and had learned and it was obviously a lie. I realized that since she’d missed most of 2nd grade, this was her first standardized test, and she’d had no chance to develop the defense skills so many kids were using by then: fill in anything, act like you don’t care, act like you know what you’re doing as you stare down the page. I wanted to take her test and tear it up, sit down with her and read a book we could enjoy. But what would that have measured about her learning? Someone somewhere felt there was value in finding out how much she didn’t know, but didn’t give a damn about what she’d learned.
Standardized testing does not improve teaching and learning. It doesn’t encourage or allow for creative or collaborative thinking, or for analyzing and questioning the assumptions and oddities of the test itself. Of course, that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to sort and rank students by class, race, and language, to legitimize biased right-wing ideologies, and to promote “standards” that are developmentally inappropriate. [Of course, sometimes the tests are just sublimely idiotic. A favorite test question asks students to identify the drawing that shows what each dog would get when two dogs equally divide 5 dog biscuits. Excuse me? If you said 2 ½, you’ve been too well trained in test taking and have never had a dog.]
Even if you were to very narrowly define learning as the discreet skills evaluated on a multiple choice test, pointing to higher test scores as evidence of more learning is bogus. Teachers throughout the country, states, and cities – feeling the pressure of upping their students’ test scores – bend the “testing guidelines” in any number of ways: reading portions aloud that students are supposed to read, giving more time than the test specifies, encouraging students to “look at that one again.” And administrators tape test pencil erasers and then sit in back rooms late into the night and “clean up stray marks.”
Assessment itself is not a bad thing. When assessment works well, it serves student learning by helping show what students have understood and synthesized and where teachers need to focus to further develop understanding. And students, teachers, and communities have a right to these kinds of effective assessments so they can evaluate how well kids are learning and being served by their schools. But these kinds of assessments are a far cry from standardized testing, and require time, collaborative work, and thoughtful analysis, which weren’t allotted for in the budget last time I checked. So instead, we get more and more testing, used in more and more destructive ways, damaging and destroying school communities across the state and here in the Bay Area.
California schools have had time to get used to the tactics employed by NCLB because our state legislature passed “accountability” legislation in the late 1990’s. Since that time, we have been using standardized test scores to determine school “achievement”, throwing around acronyms like API (which stands for Academic Performance Index but more accurately measures Annual Parental Income), jumping through hoops, and getting used to the idea that people who know nothing about education get to tell us what to do in our classrooms.
As a teacher in what was originally designated by the state to be an “under-performing” school (later changed to “star” school), I (Laurie) can attest to the ineffective and ultimately devastating nature of this process first hand. At first, the state just gave us money, which was nice. We bought books for reading instruction and did school-wide professional development on teaching strategies. But when our test scores did not reflect quickly enough the actual reading improvement we were seeing in our classroom, they stepped up the pressure by forcing us to abandon our balanced literacy program, replacing it with a scripted, phonics based curriculum that is so boring even the teachers fall asleep during class.
Finally after three years of steadily raising test scores, but not quite enough, representatives from the district appeared at our staff meeting with a pathetic computer- printed banner (which fell down half way through their disorganized presentation) that said “welcome to the dream school family”, and, worse yet, one large, cold pizza. We were becoming a dream school, we were informed, because we had failed to make our AYP for all our sub-groups for three years in a row.
Dream school sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to go to, or work in, a dream school? Come to think of it, every school should be a dream school! Problem is, like many families, the dream school family is dysfunctional. It is long on hype and short on substance. Expansion of the model is rash; the three schools currently operating as dream schools show no evidence of educational improvement. Claims of community involvement are overstated; in fact, many families and school staff concerns are ignored or minimized. Dream school designation disrupts school communities, which may have very little going for them except for the consistent and caring relationships that exist there, replacing long term teachers with mainly new teachers from out of town who are willing to accept the education as transmission of information to be spit back out on standardized tests model.
Many families and workers in schools in low-income communities are painfully aware of the problems that exist, and are eager to explore ways to address them. But schools don’t exist in a vacuum; they both reflect and replicate society’s growing inequities. Reducing children to test score data will not improve education. Until educational improvements are understood and designed within a broader social context, schools will continue failing poor children and children of color.
SFUSD has a choice to make. It can continue buying into the corporate, top-down model of education, which sacrifices children for economic gain, or it can do the courageous and intelligent thing, which is to build a grassroots movement that confronts the absurdities of the test and punish model of educational “reform”, offering instead an alternative vision and plan of action that advocates for the resources necessary for educating all children in engaging and powerful ways.
Meanwhile, schwarzenegger is doing his part to gut public education. After decades of under-funding, which began with the passage of prop.13 in 1978, money is sorely needed in California schools. California is near the bottom in the country in per-pupil spending rates. But instead of providing more funds, the governor is snatching the money that was designated for schools from prop. 98. So long as schwarzenegger holds to his “no tax” pledge and refuses to discuss repeal of prop 13, schools will be forced to cut librarians, speech teachers, sports, arts, and after-school programs. Chronic under-funding of schools is the major contributor to the ever-widening resource gap that exists among schools, as parents of wealthy children fundraise huge amounts of money to maintain programs that they see as essential to their children’s education, while schools in low-income communities cut, cut, and cut some more. As far as the governor’s proposal to jump on the merit-pay bandwagon, we suggest he go first. How bout if we pay him when he provides quality healthcare, education, and housing for all Californians?
I was not surprised by last week’s announcement that Monsanto will buy vegetable and fruit seed company, Seminis, making it one of the largest seed companies in the world (Monsanto already controls an estimated 14 percent of the U.S. corn seed market and through licensing arrangements its influence extends into about one-third of the U.S. market). Monsanto is one of the biggest promoters of genetically engineered crops (“GE crops”) and other genetically modified organisms (“GMOs”). Maybe I’m not surprised because I listen to and read far too much lefty media (including seeing the excellent documentary “the future of food” which made me completely paranoid about eating non-organic popcorn). Nonetheless, the fact that Monsanto and a few other chem-agri-pharm-companies (for example, Dow Agrosciences) are trying to monopolize all food production on the planet scares me. Not only because they lobby politicians, obtain patents on heirloom seeds, produce suspect science, quash legitimate scientific critiques, hide information as “trade secrets” or “confidential business information,” and when all else fails, use bribery to get what they want, but also because they are once again engaged in indiscriminate pollution. Back when Monsanto was only in the chemical business it was notorious for PCB pollution in the Hudson River, Alabama, and around the country. Now it is spreading genetic pollution throughout the world. For example, it is well documented that heirloom corn/maize varieties in Mexico have been contaminated by genetically engineered corn. As many of you know, corn/maize is native to the western hemisphere and is an integral part of both the diet and culture of many indigenous peoples here.
Monsanto has been very aggressive in prosecuting farmers whose fields are contaminated for infringing on Monsanto’s patent. They have tried to frame the issue ass-backwards because they don’t want to be held liable for contamination. Luckily some people are fighting back passing ordinances against planting GM crops and imposing penalties for contamination (in our favorite state Vermont, as well as Mendocino County, Marin County, and Trinity County so far). One critic of the industry UC Berkeley’s own Dr. Ignacio Chapela, helped document the maize/corn contamination in Mexico. Dr. Chapela was recruited to study the impacts of GE plants but then was marginalized. As he put it in a January 19, 2005 interview with The Guardian, “... I was asked to be part of a National Academy of Science [equivalent of a Royal Society] committee supposedly looking at the scientific foundation for the regulatory status of GM. We were being asked, I realised, to give a scientific excuse for deregulation. . . . ‘I have two questions,’ I said. The first was about substantial equivalence [when a new food or food component is found to be substantially equivalent to an existing food or food component]; the second was whether we could review what happens if we lost control of the GM through, say, cross-pollination. For both, we had a big thumb's down from the top. We were told ‘thou shalt not ask that’. A reasonable scientist should always react with suspicion to suppression." Dr. Chapela was recently denied tenure.
Back to this week’s primary paranoia, genetically modified crops and trees. Just a few of the reasons that genetically engineered food crops and trees are a bad idea include that:
- They can contaminate other crops by cross pollination or open pollination, including documented pollution of organic fields (GE papaya trees in Hawaii have already contaminated other crops including organics) and heirloom maize;
- Those crops, including corn, soybeans and trees, engineered for pesticide and herbicide tolerance, promote the use on more deadly poisons on the fields which can lead to the die off of insects and soil organisms (including beneficial insects like the monarch butterfly), and evolution of pesticide resistant insects and viruses;
- Trees engineered for lower lignan content (so that making paper and tissue will be easier) will be weak and prone to rot (sequestering less carbon and releasing it more quickly);
- Trees engineered to grow quickly will use more resources including water and soil nutrients;
- Crops engineered to be sterile may contaminate other crops and native/heirloom species rendering them sterile as well;
- field tests of new experimental GE crops are done in proximity to other crops and without any independent monitoring;
- once the crops are harvested, products such as corn and tobacco which are engineered to produce pharmaceuticals, are sometimes allowed to contaminate food crops;
- no testing has been done on the effects of consuming these crops or breathing genetically modified pollen, or on ecosystem-wide impacts;
- the resulting products are un-labeled robbing consumers of choice (except for organics!), and undermining reporting of health impacts.
Call me old fashioned, or conservative, or (gasp!) a nature loving hippie-pagan, but I am quite sure that messing with genetic material without testing, monitoring, or labeling fits the definition of stupid—repeating the same mistakes but expecting a different outcome. Trusting the same corporations who have been polluting for decades with this kind of technology is mind numbing.
For more information you can sign up for updates from www.gmwatch.org which also has archives. Also check out information on GE trees and the use of GE trees in carbon trading at www.globaljusticeecology.org. For a critique of carbon trading as an antidote to global warming check out the Durban Declaration at www.sinkswatch.org.
Our seattle-based lesbian collective moved to Oakland in 1978. The ace advance team of Chaya and Laurie had found jobs and rented a house at 8th Ave. and East 22nd street, in a low-income/low rent/higher crime area, where a lot of other lesbians were living at the time.
Now that area, renamed “Eastlake” by realtors, is one of the areas where housing costs are soaring. In the past several years a lot of Asian families have found homes in this historically racially and ethnically mixed neighborhood, and a lot of Vietnamese restaurants have opened, causing it also to be called “New Chinatown” in realtor-speak.
Last year, city councilmember Danny Wan proposed that the city encourage the development of “LGBT-oriented business district,” to include cafes, theaters and bookshops (not bookstores) near 18th and Park, also known as the Parkway district (after the Parkway theater). Apparently queers, unlike other residents, don’t need businesses like auto parts stores, supermarkets, and drugstores. The Oakland community development and gentrification agency has posted this proposal on their website. They don’t explain how they plan to sort businesses for their queer orientation.
Now, there are a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer identifying people living in Oakland, and there always have been. Wan cited census statistics showing that Oakland had the third-highest concentration of gays and lesbians among the 50 largest u.s. cities, behind san francisco and seattle. An Urban Institute analysis of census data found that Oakland households are 2.94 times as likely to be same-sex couples than households in amerikkka as a whole. But it is unclear why Wan chose this neighborhood, since there are several neighborhoods like the Laurel which already contain more upscale queers, and where the realtors refer to the business district as “restaurant row”
Although Wan’s proposal would make it appear that queers are the leading edge of gentrification, in my humble view, from the neighboring area that realtors call the San Antonio, the housing pressure isn’t particularly coming from queers, it’s coming from a whole lot of different people trying to find affordable housing. And it’s above all coming from real estate speculators, who, with the city of Oakland’s official encouragement, see Oakland as an up-and-coming bedroom for San Francisco, which nobody can afford. Even before “gentrification-jerry” brown, low-income housing in downtown was torn down to build office buildings and a “convention center.” When brown took over as the mayor of Oakland he set a goal of building 10,000 units of “market-rate” housing in and around downtown Oakland. You can see the resulting fortress-condos (with no exterior doors) along the Oakland side of the Estuary, and in West Oakland bordering downtown. Meanwhile Emeryville, previously comprised mainly of warehousing, light industry, and card clubs, has been building condos and big box stores for almost 30 years, turning it into concord-by-the-bay. Now, the Oakland/Emeryville border is sporting condos and coffee shops.
Back in the 70's there was an anti-gentrification campaign in San Francisco that has been criticized for its homophobia, because it identified gay men as the source of the problem. In Oakland, a group has formed, Queers and Friends Against Gentrification, led by young queers and queers of color. They are taking on the Wan proposal, and challenging the association of queers with gentrification.
Meanwhile Danny Wan has resigned his council seat to take a job paying twice as much with the port of Oakland, who has a lot of the money in Oakland and isn’t going to part with any dollars to pay for city services, thank you very much. Despite the fact that the city maintains the roads and other services for the port, and that city residents are daily sickened by the diesel exhaust and other pollution from port operations.
For the first time in eight years there is going to be a contest for Wan’s seat, in a special election to be held in March and April. Pamela Moore, a progressive African-American lesbian and community activist, is one of many candidates vying for the seat. (Wan had been appointed by brown to fill John Russo’s seat, and then ran unopposed in the general election).
For more information on the QFAG, which was organized by Anarchist People of Color, Gay Shame, Just Cause Oakland, and several other groups and individuals, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In these fascist bush times the capitalists are trying to take away all that is fun, compelling beautiful and imaginative. For those profit obsessed capitalists there are just never enough malls, parking lots, and chain- repetitive- bad food serving restaurants. They hunt down the free feral cats at the Oakland army base. Dogs can’t run off leashes. That nasty governor wants to pay teachers according to how well the students conform their brains to standardized tests. They close crucial one-of-a-kind immigrant-serving county clinics in Oakland, while the Highland ER is over run with people without heath insurance. The state executes people. Politicians want to build a brand new double size death row. They go to war destroying whole countries, incarcerate people in inhumane capricious prisons, hound immigrants, and take away precious civil rights.
If you think an activity you are enjoying is against the law, it usually is.
The Albany landfill found at the foot of Buchanan street next to the old raceway, is the antidote to what ails us all in these repressive times: a bit of uncontrolled fuck-you land, just defying all the rules. It is a peninsula jutting out into the bay, a gorgeous prominence, a veritable gibbosity. In contrast to its current rough, wild beauty, it was unnaturally formed as a result of a contract between the city of Albany and the Santa Fe railroad company, in opposition to community protest, as a giant dump for construction and freeway materials. For years construction junk, rubble, rebar, cement debris, and strange non-native plants were piled up with no thought for pollution or the area community. Finally in 1987 the dumping stopped, a result of lawsuits brought by an angry community against the landfill operator. The land was designated to be turned over to the East Bay Regional parks. The fabricated man-made land then was left to return to a kind of rumpled urban wildness. Out of character palm trees grew. Old wild roses sprung up between the chunks of cement. Fennel grew everywhere, scenting the air. Birds landed on the shore. Nature took over this unnatural land. Layers upon layers of transitory art unfolded.
People made their way to this strange and lovely city wilderness, full of the raw material for art and living. There are several strands of the tapestry story of the Albany landfill, threads unified by the interesting expression of chaotic alternative art. I first learned of the landfill from a man who was friends, and part of the community, with the people living on “the bulb,” as it is known. He told wonderful stories of the old days living on Telegraph avenue and the friends he made. In the 1990's some of his friends moved down on the railroad tracks in Berkeley and Albany. They were often rousted and harassed by the police. In time people moved out on the Albany landfill. They were encouraged by “authorities” to go there, pushed out of sight of the proper citizens of the mainstream. The people made a community and a life, honoring each other’s eccentricities and differences. Tents and houses were created. People started using the plethora of art media found in the ground. Mad Mark built a castle working only in the night on the furthest point. It is painted blue and white stripes and has a turret, a circular staircase, wonderful approaching paths, all made from blocks of cement unearthed from the landfill. It is from Rocky and Bullwinkle in the Fractured fairytales and remains today an odd combination of sculpture and house. Some sixty people or so made their home and community there with various animal companions, a refuge away from the roughness of street life. There was even a healing woman named Sarah who kept a store of medicinal campbells soups with which she healed the people and the animals
The Albany bulb has a way of making artists. “Bum’s Paradise” is a sparkling documentary narrated and written by Rabbit the philosopher of the landfill and directed by Thomas McCabe. It creates a portrait of the different people living there and how they in turn became artists . Mad Mark speaks profoundly about creating his castle. Sparky, or Mike Picasso, made rock paintings signing his art “Picasso”. Jimbow the hard hitting street poet recites rhyming soliloquies. Ashby is the articulate speaker of political truth.
In 1999 the city of Albany sheriffs cleared the community off the landfill dispersing and dragging them from creative lives of mutual support in a funky paradise. Well meaning yet insidious people tried to place the people in temporary, ugly mobile units to talk to social workers and be consoled with “Operation dignity” of veterans administration fame. This landfill ironically once only a place to dispose of corporate waste, has become coveted by the developers the people in suits, the mainstream with baby carriages who want a tamed park with paved paths and bathrooms and ball courts, monitored by east bay regional parks. Osha Neumann the peoples lawyer and muralist for La Pena, tried to advocate to prevent the disruption, but the encampment was destroyed. The law descended, enveloped the people. But it didn’t end there.
When a person first walks on the bulb, awareness of an outdoor extravaganza of art slowly permeates the consciousness. First one sees a sculpture made of rebar, but it could be a trick of landfill nature. But then one notices an unmistakable painting on a rock. By then your eyes start searching for things in the bushes or among the cement boulders. You see portraits of Emma Goldman and Malcolm X silk screened on to slabs as you look out over the sparkling bay. Small metal graphic pictures of strange mythical creatures appear, riveted to cement, signed enigmatically SNIFF. As you explore further you find a whole gallery of paintings done on wooden plywood canvasses along the shore. The paintings are of magical beings of circus people, a whole painting of different kinds of workers. There is a magical gothic-like amphitheater of found object sculptures. Soon you realize art is everywhere. As you walk down to the shore gallery of paintings you are welcomed, greeted and drawn in by tall, thick, dramatic sculpture of an African American woman with her arms out stretched made of pontoon orange styrofoam washed up on the shore. She has dreads. Her dress is blue, and she is beautiful, a goddess presiding over the landfill. Every time you visit something is different, intriguing, captivating, teaching always to embrace and love the frightening world of transition and change.
I knew that Osha Neumann was an artist and did work out on the landfill. He is a curious man with white/grey hair and beard, quite thin, with hands that float in the air as he talks his incongruously tough, rational talk. He is well known in the activist community involved in many issues, from Palestine to housing rights. In an interview with me he talked about the evolution of SNIFF and his connection to them. He first heard of them while defending the people living on the landfill. At the time of their hostile eviction, the sheriffs began cataloging the art giving it numbers dictating its removal. Osha finally met the four men Scott Euel, David Ryan, Bruce Rayburn and Scott Meadows who work collectively as SNIFF, trundling their paints over the paths in shopping carts to get to the shore. They come on the weekends with their children, dogs and friends, and work together on their art projects. The first thing that was built was a fanciful boat with the SNIFF flag flying from the mast. They painted on cement blocks and then moved on to the people/creature populated murals on plywood scavenged from the old sites of the encampments. Osha began working alone along side the SNIFF collective making the beautiful sculptures, the welcoming woman.
I asked Osha how he views the art at the bulb. He said “ people love the art it is more fun, better than a museum. People are thrilled by it. The SNIFF art is funny, sexual, wild, strange, eccentric, well- painted, audacious”. He also likes the anonymity. The artwork is not signed by particular people, only occasionally signed by SNIFF. The art is in an environment that people like, a place that is wild, unexpected and unplanned. He said that the art is built with rebar and rubble all discarded. The people who lived there were discarded. The vegetation that grows there is stigmatized as non-native invasive and exotic. The SNIFF art is dangerous in a way that public art is not supposed to be. What does SNIFF mean ? I ask. Oh, dogs sniff.
Are any queer people doing art at the landfill? Osha said that there were queer people living on the bulb, but were mostly not out about it, because living on the street makes it hard to increase one’s vulnerability.
He talked about other people who came to the bulb, art students who worked on the amphitheater of found art, a man who created a hogan-like structure, built entirely of fennel some years back. Somebody brought in weird whirly-gig sculptures made somewhere else and deposited them on the water-front. Osha was vaguely disproving of this transported art. He was bothered but philosophical about the occasional vandal who messes with his sculptures. “I put them back up”. The recent storm had knocked over the welcome woman. He hadn’t been out to the land fill to see if she could be repaired
The people who made their homes on the bulb fought to stay with lawyers agitation some media, but ultimately lost and were summarily removed. But the fight to keep the landfill out of the clutches of developers and suit people remains.
While walking my dog, Cadeaux, one day at the landfill, noticing that the no dogs off leash signs had all been defaced or taken down, we found a flier from the LET IT BE coalition to attend a meeting at the Albany City hall for the “waterfront committee agenda” The LET IT BE coalition according to Osha Neumann brings together the people who want dogs off leash and free art on the bulb and people who just want the landfill to stay as it is. This coalition has tried to have a voice in the planning of Eastshore State Park, the area that includes the Albany bulb. The city first dragged the people off and now would like to get rid of the dogs and the rampant mushrooming free art. The race track has been bought up and is just ripe for upscale housing by the bay. They can’t have found art sculptures rugged fennel undergrowth, and dogs running amok. They want neat paths and grassy sports fields.
About 40 activists arrived to the December 2 meeting in Albany. Osha sat in the middle of the room taking notes, flanked by the LE IT BE activists. The committee was discussing how to implement a plan that had been approved two years ago. Agenda items included “removal of art materials, control of invasive plant species, homeless issues, off leash dogs”. Albany still owns the bulb, but the state parks regulate it putting up no dogs off leash signs endlessly. The sierra club has been pushing to get rid of non-native species (not to mention trying to keep immigrants out of california). The activists pointed out that this is just plain silly since it is a landfill full of concrete and rebar and there is nothing natural or native about it. In times past there have been plans floated to cap (pour concrete or dirt) the entire bulb, one way to get rid of artists squatters, dogs and non-native species. The committee, composed of good citizens of Albany, was trying to get a commitment from the state parks and the east bay regional park district (two very uptight suit men) about when they were going to start all this regulating. It was clear from the hemming and hawing that due the state budget collapse there was absolutely no money for any of it; no manicured paths and no police monitoring. The activists spoke eloquently. Osha pointed out in an ever so rational but stern voice that didn’t they see that the people wanted the landfill the way it was and that it would just be too hard for them to keep fighting the will of the people. “What are you going to to do? Put up NO ART signs?” For now its seems that the transitory art will go on changing. There are rumors that people are moving back on the bulb.
Go see if you can find them, or at least, appreciate the art.
LAGAI– Queer Insurrection joins the prison activist community in mourning the recent death of Judy Ricci. Last June, friends and family had gathered to welcome her home after her release from the Central California Women’s Facility where she worked tirelessly as an advocate for women with serious and life-threatening illnesses. She died in December. Please see the article in Out of Time* for more information on her life.
Read a letter that Judy wrote in 1999 at http://www.thebody.com/wa/summer99/cathy.html.
*Out of Time is the newsletter of Out of Control -
Lesbian Committee to Support Women Political Prisoners. It is published as
the centerfold of UltraViolet and also mailed separately to almost 1,000 people.
It is not online right now, but you can request to get it in the mail, by
contacting them at:
3543 - 18th Street, Box 30
San Francisco, CA, 94110.
It is worth it, it is one of the few sources of information about U.S. political prisoners.
In Israel, Tali Fahima is a household name.
Fahima, a 28-year-old former legal secretary from the working-class Israeli town of Qiryat Gat, was arrested on August 8 and held by the israeli secret police, the SHEBAK, for interrogation for 28 days. During her interrogation, she was subjected to torture, including hours of painful handcuffing, blindfolding, and sleep deprivation. She later told a judge that she was sexually harassed by the interrogators and threatened with rape, accusations which elicited such lovely responses in the israeli press such as, "I wouldn't touch her with a stick," and "She should be glad someone wants to touch her." She exercised her right to remain silent during the interrogation, and the SHEBAK found no other evidence to charge her with anything, but they got the israeli high court to agree to send her to prison for four months of "administrative detention." It is almost unheard of for Israeli citizens to be held in administrative detention. On December 26, she was indicted for "aiding the enemy in a time of war, interfering with IDF counter-terrorism operations and membership in a terrorist organization," charges that add up to treason and could have carried a death sentence. However, the prosecution generously declined to seek the death penalty.
The persecution of Fahima is based on her friendship with Zakaria Zubeide, the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade in Jenin. According to the story she tells, Fahima read an interview with Zubeide in a newspaper, was curious to meet him and asked the reporter for his phone number. She called, they talked for hours, and she decided to go to Jenin to meet him. The Israeli press was quick to term the relationship romantic but Fahima denies any romantic involvement, pointing out that she stayed in his home with his wife and children, including many times when he was not in town. I found the story difficult to believe, but an israeli friend told me that Zubeide is famous for being accessible both to media and the general public. He is about the same age as Tali, and has hosted columnist Gideon Levy and other Israelis in his home as well.
Tali has become a bit of everything to everyone. She is officially known as the Israeli Mata Hari, more sympathetic press labels her a naïve victim, the left media emphasize her Moroccan Jewish ancestry, saying that an israeli of European descent would not have been treated the same way, other commentators make her a superhero who was trying to save the children of Jenin. The exact story of what she was doing there remains a little shaky: one article said she was setting up a computer center for kids, another that she was trying to resurrect the theater begun by Israeli actress Arna Mer and Zakaria's mother (subject of the movie, "Arna's Children," in which Zakaria appears). Other stories say she was staying in Zakaria's house as a human shield, since he is a prime target for assassination by the israeli army. Some activists speculate that she is really a SHEBAK agent, that she is not really in prison at all, that she is being used to try to lure Zubeide out of hiding. He did send a letter to a recent court hearing, offering to testify in her behalf if he received a guarantee that he wouldn't be arrested or assassinated. I don't see how he could ever trust such a guarantee.
An interview in HaIr (The City) magazine calls her "an extreme individualist," and that is definitely true. I met her once at a checkpoint, where she was being detained. She told me her name and said, "You probably heard of me." I said, "Oh, are you Tali from Taayush?" Taayush is one of the main organizations that brings Israelis into the Occupied Territories for demonstrations and solidarity activities. She said, "No, I don't work with Taayush or any other group." I said, "Well, then I never heard of you then." She lost interest in the conversation. Every article about her mentions that she voted for Sharon in the last election. I get the feeling she wouldn't do it now, but she seems proud of it.
None of that is a crime, however. An article in the mainstream liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz points out that the grounds for her imprisonment have shifted radically since she was first imprisoned. According to the article, “Judge Uri Goren, who authorized her arrest without being charged, said: 'I have reached the conclusion that Tali Fahima is determined to perpetrate a terrorist attack against Israeli targets and to obtain combat material from Palestinian terror activists.' It was then reported that she was linked to the bomb that went off at the Qalandiyah checkpoint.”
The article concludes, "Fahima was indicted this week and the charge sheet does not contain any mention of those accusations. It turns out that she did not engage in terrorism, did not transfer combat material and did not plan a terrorist attack – and no one is claiming any longer that she endangered human life.¼ [B]ut the less serious the suspicions became, the graver the counts in the indictment."
Selecting Tali as a test case to scare leftists out of going to the Occupied Territories was a smart strategy on the part of the government. Because she was not part of a movement, because of her right-wing and working class background, and because she is a little strange, the left did not immediately mobilize to support her, though they have now. (My friend tells me that the tide of public opinion seems to be swinging, and that even reader comments on the right-wing media sites are largely in her favor at this point.)
A lot of israeli leftists were already paranoid, and with good reason: their movements are carefully tracked, they are routinely called in for questioning by the secret police, and abducted from the street if they do not respond to the summons. Since Tali's arrest, people are afraid to talk to other activists they have known for years. Some people have stopped being involved in organized protest. A friend who went with me to visit people I knew in Bethlehem expressed uncertainty about maintaining the contacts, saying she did not want to end up like Tali Fahima. I said that there is a difference between the families I know and Zakaria Zubeide, and she said, "Well, how do I know there is no one in the family who is connected with Hamas?" It is a good question. It is impossible to know that.
The israeli government is on a huge campaign to get rid of israeli and international witnesses to their crimes in Palestine. Now that they have resumed construction of the Segregation Wall, in violation of the International Court of Justice's order to take it down, any time israelis come to participate in a demonstration, the army immediately declares a Closed Military Zone. A closed military zone is anywhere the army wants it to be, whether it's a house, a village or an entire region. It can be a closed military zone just for one person, it can be closed to israelis but not Palestinians or internationals, or vice versa. Several israeli friends of mine are on trial for several counts of being in closed military zones, and if they are convicted, they could go to prison for up to two years on each charge.
I recently spent a month in israeli immigration prison, and was then deported, on the grounds of having been in a closed military zone (actually, two CMZs, one this year and one last). Of 200 or so people at the demonstration, I was the only one charged with the closed military zone violation (another u.s. citizen, my friend Kelly, was also imprisoned and deported, but mysteriously on other grounds). I intended to challenge the deportation in court, arguing that I should not be expelled for trying to stop the state of israel from violating international laws. The government conveniently scheduled the hearing for the day after my visa expired. I petitioned to have the hearing moved up, and that petition was denied. Then when I got to court, they said I could not appeal because my visa was expired, so the appeal was irrelevant. They said it had been a "mistake" to deny my motion to move the hearing, but there was nothing they could (would) do about that now.
My friend Patrick O'Connor, who has also spent a lot of time in Palestine, was recently arrested following a tree-planting in the village of Biddu, on land threatened by the Wall in Jerusalem. The SHEBAK sent agents to set up a temporary checkpoint and pull over two buses, just to find Pat, whom they took on the trumped up charge of having a fake Irish passport. Now they admit that his passport is not fake, but they are still holding him in Masyahu immigration prison, looking to deport him on the grounds of "secret evidence" they unearthed about him two years ago. Secret evidence is another great construct of the israeli police state. The secret police give the judge a file on you and the judge decides if it's good enough to deport you, or deny you entry to the country or maybe even put you in jail, and even your lawyer doesn't get to find out what it is. This secret evidence has been used to exclude several activists from Palestine, including Bay Area Jewish activist Jamie Spector who tried to visit last summer.
As the israeli government gets more effective in eliminating long-term international volunteers in Palestine, and intimidating israeli participants (though they have a long way to go), projects like www.balatacamp.net and www.imemc.org, which train young Palestinian journalists to produce their own media, become more important. Check them out on the web, as well www.aljazeera.net, www.palsolidarity.org (the website of the International Solidarity Movement), and www.iwps.info, where you will also find the complete journal I wrote in prison, if you are interested.
Boycott World Pride 2005 in Jerusalem. QUIT! is calling for an international boycott on travel to World Pride Jerusalem this summer. Join the call! Occupation Is Not Liberation!
Join the Justice In Palestine Coalition
Q&A, get plugged into Bay Area solidarity work including:
“Made in Palestine” art exhibit
Justice In Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee
educational events, street demonstrations and theater, plus more
Sunday, February 13, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
522 Valencia, San Francisco
JIP includes American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee-SF, Al Awda Right of Return Coalition, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, Jews for a Free Palestine, Middle East Children’s Alliance, SUSTAIN, and more
Benefit Concert for the Freedom Radio Project:
Supporting the Youth Voice in Palestine
by Chaya, Deni and barks from Mocha
Ray (Reviewed by Deni)
Good music in this biopic and an excellent portrayal of Ray Charles by Jamie Foxx (was it great acting or great impersonation?). But “Ray” is a formulaic, Hollywood film, which often went from one over-dramatized episode to the next. The movie did show Ray finally taking a righteous stand during the civil rights movement, but neglected to mention that he broke the cultural boycott of South Africa by performing there during the struggle against apartheid. As a result he faced pickets there and in many cities in North America. He refused to apologize for that performance, and later went on to play at Reagan’s 2nd inaugural bash (yech). A somewhat entertaining film with some affecting parts (the sexism was not among them), but not a must see.
Vera Drake (Reviewed by Deni)
Tremendous acting by Imelda Staunton in this Mike Leigh movie about women’s lack of reproductive rights in London in the 1950s. Vera Drake is a “good as gold” woman who “helps out” by providing abortions when women are “in trouble.” The film shows the meager options women had with a nod to the impact of class on their choices. When Vera was prosecuted for her “crimes ”as a victim of state and social forces, she faced this travesty in complete isolation. Weren’t there any other individuals or groups fighting for women’s reproductive rights at that time in England? [I did a perfunctory search about this online but with the word “abortion” in the search you end up in some scary places.] Ok, the movie was not intended as a polemic about abortion; in fact many reviewers liked the fact that they felt it took no position on it. Still, I would’ve liked some info in the movie about how this issue was being addressed by progressives in England, even if Vera Drake herself wasn’t connected to that larger struggle. The movie was depressing and has chilling implications for today. See it anyway.
Finding Neverland (Reviewed by Chaya and Deni)
Chaya: I didn’t know that the inspiration for Peter Pan was the 4 young sons of an English widow that Scot James M. Barrie befriended in Edwardian London. I liked the movie, with an excellent cast of Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. If the writing had been better or the characters more developed, it would have had more depth or oomph or something. It did have a good dog role (the inspiration for Nana), well played by an uncredited dog actor. And it certainly could have minimized the racist parts in Peter Pan (about Indians), instead of choosing to maximize them. It wasn’t great, but it was good and I’m glad I saw it.
Deni: I found it long and “precious” with some of Johnny Depp’s least noteworthy acting. It was trite and predictable, and I was annoyed that I saw it.
Million Dollar Baby (Reviewed by Chaya and Deni)
Chaya: Clint Eastwood’s valentine to boxing has a great cast (Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman & Clint) and Clint has improved as a director since Mystic River. Hilary Swank immediately drew me in and took me along as the story unfolded, and then the very unexpected happens (which we can’t mention or it’ll ruin the movie if you haven’t seen it). Unfortunately the movie chose to portray Swank’s “white trash” family in the most stereotypical way. It has a lot going for it otherwise: a feisty, determined woman; nice use of humor throughout; a lot of nose-thumbing at the Catholic church; and a lot of interesting issues, many of which remain unresolved. I knew dykes who liked Clint way back when because he was cool and tough. These days he’s older, much more reflective, uses his money and power to do more interesting projects, and he’s more of a libertarian and less of a conservative.
Deni: I felt a lot of the roles in this movie approached caricatures: salt-of-the-earth African American man, spunky poor white girl, tough wizened cynical Clint, and I was bothered by the racist demonization of Swank’s major fight opponent. I felt ripped-off by the “surprise twist.” I love watching Hillary Swank and hearing Morgan Freeman’s voice, but the movie didn’t make it for me.
Hotel Rwanda (Reviewed by Deni)
Fantastic acting by Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina who saved over 1200 lives in the genocidal Hutu-Tutsi conflict in 1994. It was a nuanced performance that took you into the depths of this awful time. The movie was gripping yet left me wanting more historical analysis of how imperialism and neo-colonialism in Africa (by such countries as Belgium, US, France) had shaped this crisis and allowed it to go on. Scenes and remarks pointed to some culpability and responsibility by these countries, but without a more thorough geo-political framing of the situation, I was left with the “crazy horror of evil that men can do,” as an innate flaw of humanity which makes it hard to feel like one can do anything that will change the course of events. Don Cheadle has recently spoken out for world action in the Sudan and Congo where similar acts of genocide have been going on. [See his Boston Globe op-ed piece of 1/8/05.] Why wasn’t this put onto the screen at the end of the movie with phone numbers and websites? It’s not enough to bemoan the horror, feel good about the people that got saved, and hope no one gets “that crazy” again. See the movie, and check out these websites. http://ga0.org/campaign/SC_Darfur http://www.zmag.org/RaceWatch/africawatch.cfm
House of Flying Daggers (Reviewed by Chaya)
This movie stars a woman (Zhang Ziyi, trained as a dancer) who is an accomplished warrior in China in 859AD. Her sleeve dance was one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. Though the plot is weak and at times overblown and silly, she has terrific moves and wears great outfits. The cinematography of the land (bamboo and deciduous forests, plains, lakes, mountains) was beautiful and nature was often connected to the special effects martial arts scenes, which contained magical elements. Director Zhang Yimou’s vision of color and fluid movement is not a perfect movie by any means but captivating and dazzling.
Bad Education (Reviewed by Deni)
Ok, can I remain a UV film critic and admit this was my first Almodovar film? It was an intentionally challenging movie to follow, with many sexual, gender, and plot twists and turns. Gael Garcia Bernal (of Motorcycle Diaries) was beautiful in and out of heels, and gave an excellent performance. The movie was clever and suspenseful and highlighted some important questions. I liked it but I wonder if on some level it couldn’t have gone deeper and if the film’s many layers didn’t distract more than add. I definitely recommend it, though.
BITS AND PIECES
Outing SpongeBob SquarePants: Did you wonder why Dr. James Dobson, evangelical founder of Focus on the Family, thinks SpongeBob SquarePants is gay? Worried you need your gaydar tuned up? Rest assured, it’s not you. SpongeBob, Barney, Arthur, Big Bird, Clifford, Pooh, the Muppets and 100 other children’s characters have united to re-record the song “We Are Family” in a music video to promote tolerance, diversity and unity to America’s children. The video and accompanying curriculum, produced by the We Are Family Foundation, will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools on March 11 to celebrate National We Are Family Day. According to Dobson, “the We Are Family Foundation has very strong homosexual advocacy roots and biases.” We’ve always suspected Barney, maybe Pooh, and Big Bird is a little out there too . . . but Kermit? He’s been in love with Miss Piggy for decades! Unless you think Miss Piggy. . . .
Dobson is especially peeved at the secularism that prohibits or limits the expression of Christmas. “Earth Day can be observed . . . "Father God" is out and "Mother Earth" is in, Dobson explained, “and in the midst of all this secularism, some schools that are having a hard time teaching kids to read, write and compute are giving precious classroom time to homosexual propaganda.” As much time as we can, Dobson.
And yet another children’s cartoon character is suspect: “Postcards from Buster” is a show about cultural diversity that stars Arthur’s best friend Buster, an animated bunny, who travels with his father to different places in each episode and meets new people. WGBH has produced an episode that’s hot hot hot. When Buster and his father go to Vermont to learn about farming and maple syrup, they meet lesbian families (we’re NOT making this up!). Bushie’s new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, denounced PBS for producing it with public funding. ''Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," Spellings spewed. (What’s her concern about maple syrup?) She must be feeling good about PBS, which bowed to the pressure and won’t distribute the episode. But Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords said: ''Of all the challenges we face in education, Buster Bunny's visit to Vermont is not one of them.” In a rare showing of moral fiber, San Francisco’s KQED will broadcast it March 23. We can’t wait to see it to find out if the lesbians are bunnies, too.
It’s been a long time since our last household hint. We’re excited to bring you this one from LAGAI’s own Lisa, who has this important message: “If you vacuum, you will just have to vacuum again.” The implications are clear. This must be why so many vacuums have joined home exercise equipment as excellent places to drape your clothes. Thank you, Lisa.
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF