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Short Bus on Maximum Rock N Roll

By Jessica Mills
Maximum Rock N Roll

Losing sleep over not being able to put down a totally engaging book happens from time to time.  But then continuing to lose sleep because what you’ve just read is swirling around in your head and making pictures behind your eyelids?  Doesn’t happen so often.  However, that was exactly my experience when reading My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities.

Edited by Yantra Bertelli, Jennifer Silverman, and Sarah Talbot, this collection of voices from the fringe of the fringe tells the subjective stories of non-conformist parents raising differently-abled children.   Parenting itself can be an incredibly isolating experience for many reasons, but more so when coming from what the mainstream considers counter-culture or alternative.  Add to the isolation stew parenting a disabled kid and things grow exponentially more complicated. 

It was out of this isolation that the three editors found each other’s company on an online community bulletin board for “alternative” parents.  A few years later, at the 2004 conference, they offered a workshop on disabilities and parenting.  Feeling they’d moved from object to subject, they decided to put out a zine from which this book was eventually born.

The book’s contributors cover a lot of territory here, all gathered from their personal experiences.  With an Introduction by Lisa Carver, its six chapter topics include diagnosis, navigating the system, advocating for their kids, being seen, heard, respected, and believed, respite, community support, and transitions, families, and last, an impressive resources section. 

Conspicuously, there is an overwhelming female voice throughout the book.  No matter how wide the submissions call is cast, it makes statistical sense that it’s mostly female.  Studies have shown that women take on higher levels of responsibility in caring for their disabled children than men.   It also makes sense that most of the voices here are working-class to middle-class because those who are parenting in poverty have much less time and space to write. 

The editors went out of their way to include as diverse a body of contributors as possible.  Them doing so makes perfect, expected sense, right?  Who else would go out of their way, extending the call for submissions twice, to include such an array of voices?  Those who’ve been sidelined by disability, their children’s and sometimes, their own!  The disabled, and therefore their caregivers too, are among, if not the most, invisible and excluded segment of society.

Yet the tone throughout the book is not angry.  Instead, it’s full of compassion, hope and above all, love.  These smart, strong, tender, scared, victorious, sleep deprived, dedicated parents, whether by birth or adoption, will make you cry with laughter, empathy and solidarity.  With them, you will ride their ups and downs.  You will accompany them to IEP meetings and diagnosis appointments.  They will bring you into their homes and daily lives.  Overall, you will appreciate the book’s genuineness as a partial antidote to the mainstream’s misrepresented, ridiculing and objectifying stories about disabled kids and their parents.

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Paper Politics in Maximum Rock N Roll

By Jessica Mills
Maximum Rock N Roll

    Carrying on the work of artists creating art for more than art’s sake, instead using social justice and global equity-themed art as a vehicle to engage community in political conversation, Paper Politics started out as an exhibition first hung in Chicago in 2004 in the offices of In These Times magazine.  This book showcases what became a travelling exhibit (hosted in 11 different cities from 2004-2009) of politically and socially engaged print art. 

Though traditional printmaking techniques were used for all the original work, what’s been created and collected here is cutting-edge contemporary. Though the art was created by artist hands and the exhibitions organized and shows hung by collective labors of love with the purpose of building community, mass-production printing was indeed used to create the book. 

While the exhibit boasts a cumulative crowd of thousands, the exhibit in book form becomes more portable, practical and accessible.   This obviously creates a contradictory question.  Traditionally created printmaking stands out from the digital age pack of billboards and bus ads, but can only be printed in small batches by hand.  Josh MacPhee asks in his introduction, “If the goal of printmaking is communicating ideas, and we want those ideas to reach as many people as possible, does it really make sense to be printing seventy handmade posters in the age of mass production?” 

Following MacPhee’s introduction are two essays and four sections or reproduced prints.  The first is Repression – imprisonment, eviction, torture, surveillance, media control, privatization, apartheid, suppression.  Repression is followed by Aggression – war, bombing, colonization, invasion, murder, extinction, genocide, rape.  Third up is Resistance – liberation, solidarity, organizing, occupation, direct action, uprising, disobedience, struggle.  And last but not least, Existence – identity, awareness, movement, communication, creation, transportation, perseverance, joy.  Each section showcases about 40 reprints; in total, included are nearly 200 artists and artist collectives from over a dozen countries and over seventy-five cities, suburbs and small towns.  The art here is alive with color, style, unity and diversity - from stencil art spray painted on old dumpstered blueprints to precise and fine art intaglios on Arches paper.  Each section is interspersed with artist commentary explaining why they print by hand, what they hope to gain and to whom they hope to speak. 

The first essay is “Political Art and Printmaking: A Brief and Partial History” by Deborah Caplow.  Caplow credits the beginnings of political printmaking to Francisco Goya in the beginning of the nineteenth century and reminds us that political art has earned many an artist hefty jail terms for having had the audacity to oppose injustice, war and corruption.  Caplow also explains why the printmaking medium, say instead of painting or sculpture, lends itself supremely to messages of political opposition; it’s reproducible, has low cost and holds great potential for graphic expressiveness.  The essay suggests that graphic political art has never been more popular as the evidence can be found in the form of posters, flyers and stencils on the walls, streets, newspapers and magazines all over the world. 

The second essay, “All the Instruments Agree,” by Eric Triantafillou, is an extremely thoughtful and well-written piece on the intersection of art and politics.  Starting with vivid description and sharply deconstructed political analysis of the Wheat paste wall on Valencia Street in San Francisco, the essay suggests that ultimately, single-issue political images have the effect of reducing the larger political context in which the image is based down to an oversimplified “us” vs. “them” or “evil” vs. “good” message.  They confound the broader message that needs to be communicated in order for the art as political tool to be successful.  Triantafillou ends with a call to all fellow left printmakers to unify their politics into a set of shared goals “based on an intransigent desire for total social freedom.” 

Paper Politics is for those who recognize that both art and politics are about communication and also about community.  As much as it is a collection of individual artists’ prints, the project has proven itself to be a successful exercise in large scale organization.  Josh MacPhee writes about the project’s intent, “…a community of printmakers and a more specific audience for our work than the existing ‘anyone that happens to see it on the street’.”  Proof of that intent’s success is that a couple dozen of the artists involved with the exhibits went on to become members of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, an artist-owned and –run collective and online gallery.  Over the years of the traveling exhibit, artists and audiences have met face to face and wound up building more long-term relationships than a passing glimpse of a wheat pasted poster on the street could ever provide.

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RAOUL VANEIGEM: still the most inspirational man alive

Posted on Arthur Magazine
By Jay Babcock
Hans Ulrich Obrist: In Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem (2009)
Translated from the French by Eric Anglès
Excerpts from

First, some biographical notes courtesy of Vaneigem’s American publisher, PM Press:

Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934) is a native of Lessines (Hainaut), Belgium, a small town whose traditional claim to fame was the production of paving stones but which in the twentieth century also produced the Surrealist painter René Magritte and the Surrealist poet Louis Scutenaire. Vaneigem grew up in the wake of World War II in a working-class, socialist and anticlerical milieu. He studied Romance philology at the Free University of Brussels and embarked on a teaching career that he later abandoned in favor of writing.


Situationist International bongo session, November 1962: from left—unknown woman, J.V. Martin, Raoul Vaneigem and Guy Debord

In late 1960 Vaneigem was introduced to Guy Debord by Henri Lefebvre, and soon after he joined the Situationist International, which Debord and his comrades-in-arms had founded not long before, and he remained in the group throughout the decade of the 1960s. There is a grain of truth in the stereotypical view that Debord and Vaneigem, as two leading lights of the SI, stood for two opposite poles of the movement: the objective Debord versus the subjective Vaneigem: Marxism versus anarchism: icy cerebrality versus sensualism: and, of course, The Society of the Spectacle versus The Revolution of Everyday Life—the two major programmatic books of the SI, written by the two men without consultation, both published in 1967, each serving in its own way to kindle and color the May 1968 uprisings in France.

Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life offered a lyrical and aphoristic critique of the “society of the spectacle” from the point of view of individual experience. Whereas Debord’s masterful analysis of the new historical conditions that triggered the uprisings of the 1960s armed the revolutionaries of the time with theory, Vaneigem’s book described their feelings of desperation directly, and armed them with “formulations capable of firing point-blank on our enemies.”

“I realise,” writes Vaneigem in his introduction, “that I have given subjective will an easy time in this book, but let no one reproach me for this without first considering the extent to which the objective conditions of the contemporary world advance the cause of subjectivity day after day.”

Vaneigem names and defines the alienating features of everyday life in consumer society: survival rather than life, the call to sacrifice, the cultivation of false needs, the dictatorship of the commodity, subjection to social roles, and above all the replacement of God by the Economy. And in the second part of his book, “Reversal of Perspective,” he explores the countervailing impulses that, in true dialectical fashion, persist within the deepest alienation: creativity, spontaneity, poetry, and the path from isolation to communication and participation.

For “To desire a different life is already that life in the making.” And “fulfillment is expressed in the singular but conjugated in the plural.”

Other works by Raoul Vaneigem already published in English translation include The Totality for Kids (London: Christoper Gray/Situationist International, 1966 ["Banalités de Base", 1962-63]); Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle (London: Bratach Dubh, 1981 [De la grève sauvage à l'autogestion généralisée, 1974]); The Book of Pleasures (London: Pending Press, 1983 [1979]) The Movement of the Free Spirit (New York: Zone Books, 1994 [1986]); A Cavalier History of Surrealism (San Francisco: AK Press, 1999 [1977]); and A Declaration of the Rights of Human Beings (London: Pluto, 2003 [2001])

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I just visited Edouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, who have written an appeal to Barack Obama. What would your appeal and/or advice be to Obama?

Raoul Vaneigem: I refuse to cultivate any relationship whatsoever with people of power. I agree with the Zapatistas from Chiapas who want nothing to do with either the state or its masters, the multinational mafias. I call for civil disobedience so that local communities can form, coordinate, and begin self-producing natural power, a more natural form of farming, and public services that are finally liberated from the scams of government by the Left or the Right. On the other hand, I welcome the appeal by Chamoiseau, Glissant, and their friends for the creation of an existence in which the poetry of a life rediscovered will put an end to the deadly stranglehold of the commodity.

HUO: Could we talk about your beginnings? How did your participation in situationism begin, and what was your fundamental contribution? At the outset of your relationship with the Situationist International, there was the figure of Henri Lefebvre. What did he mean to you at the time? Why did you decide to send him poetic essays?

RV: I would first like to clarify that situationism is an ideology that the situationists were unanimous in rejecting. The term “situationist” was ever only a token of identification. Its particularity kept us from being mistaken for the throngs of ideologues. I have nothing in common with the spectacular recuperation of a project that, in my case, has remained revolutionary throughout. My participation in a group that has now disappeared was an important moment in my personal evolution, an evolution I have personally pressed on with in the spirit of the situationist project at its most revolutionary. My own radicality absolves me from any label.I grew up in an environment in which our fighting spirit was fueled by working class consciousness and a rather festive conception of existence. I found Lefebvre’s Critique of Everyday Life captivating. When La Somme et le reste [The Sum and the Remainder] was published, I sent him an essay of sorts on “poetry and revolution” that was an attempt to unify radical concepts, Lettrist language, music, and film imagery by crediting them all with the common virtue of making the people’s blood boil. Lefebvre kindly responded by putting me in touch with Guy Debord who immediately invited me to Paris. The two of us had very different temperaments, but we would agree over a period of nearly ten years on the need to bring consumer society to an end and to found a new society on the principle of self-management, where life supersedes survival and the existential angst that it generates.

HUO: Which situationist projects remain unrealized?

RV: Psychogeography, the construction of situations, the superseding of predatory behavior. The radicality, which, notwithstanding some lapses, never ceased to motivate us, remains a source of inspiration to this day. Its effects are just beginning to manifest themselves in the autonomous groups that are now coming to grips with the collapse of financial capitalism.

HUO: The Situationist International defined the situationist as someone who commits her- or himself to the construction of situations. What were those situations for you, concretely? How would you define the situationist project in 2009?

RV: By its very style of living and thinking, our group was already sketching out a situation, like a beachhead active within enemy territory. The military metaphor is questionable, but it does convey our will to liberate daily life from the control and stranglehold of an economy based on the profitable exploitation of man. We formed a “group-at-risk” that was conscious of the hostility of the dominant world, of the need for radical rupture, and of the danger of giving in to the paranoia typical of minds under siege. By showing its limits and its weaknesses, the situationist experience can also be seen as a critical meditation on the new type of society sketched out by the Paris Commune, by the Makhnovist movement and the Republic of Councils wiped out by Lenin and Trotsky, by the libertarian communities in Spain later smashed by the Communist Party. The situationist project is not about what happens once consumer society is rejected and a genuinely human society has emerged. Rather, it illuminates now how lifestyle can supersede survival, predatory behavior, power, trade and the death-reflex.

HUO: You and Guy Debord are the main protagonists of the situationist movement. How do you see Debord’s role and your role?

RV: Not as roles. That is precisely what situationism in its most ridiculous version aims at: reducing us to cardboard cut-outs that it can then set up against one another according to the spectacle’s standard operating procedure. I am simply the spokesman, among others, of a radical consciousness. I just do what I can to see that resistance to market exploitation is transformed into an offensive of life, and that an art of living sweeps away the ruins of oppression.

HUO: You have written a lot on life, not survival. What is the difference?

RV: Survival is budgeted life. The system of exploitation of nature and man, starting in the Middle Neolithic with intensive farming, caused an involution in which creativity—a quality specific to humans—was supplanted by work, by the production of a covetous power. Creative life, as had begun to unfold during the Paleolithic, declined and gave way to a brutish struggle for subsistence. From then on, predation, which defines animal behavior, became the generator of all economic mechanisms.

HUO: Today, more than forty years after May ‘68, how do you feel life and society have evolved?

RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968.

HUO: Your new book takes us on a trip “between mourning the world and exuberant life.” You revisit May ‘68. What is left of May ‘68? Has it all been appropriated?

RV: Even if we are today seeing recycled ideologies and old religious infirmities being patched up in a hurry and tossed out to feed a general despair, which our ruling wheelers and dealers cash in on, they cannot conceal for long the shift in civilization revealed by May 1968. The break with patriarchal values is final. We are moving toward the end of the exploitation of nature, of work, of trade, of predation, of separation from the self, of sacrifice, of guilt, of the forsaking of happiness, of the fetishizing of money, of power, of hierarchy, of contempt for and fear of women, of the misleading of children, of intellectual dominion, of military and police despotism, of religions, of ideologies, of repression and the deadly resolutions of psychic tensions. This is not a fact I am describing, but an ongoing process that simply requires from us increased vigilance, awareness, and solidarity with life. We have to reground ourselves in order to rebuild—on human foundations—a world that has been ruined by the inhumanity of the cult of the commodity.

HUO: What do you think of the current moment, in 2009? Jean-Pierre Page has just published Penser l’après crise [Thinking the After-Crisis]. For him, everything must be reinvented. He says that a new world is emerging now in which the attempt to establish a US-led globalization has been aborted.

RV: The agrarian economy of the Ancien Régime was a fossilized form that was shattered by the emerging free-trade economy, from the 1789 revolution on. Similarly, the stock-dabbling speculative capitalism whose debacle we now witness is about to give way to a capitalism reenergized by the production of non-polluting natural power, the return to use value, organic farming, a hastily patched-up public sector, and a hypocritical moralization of trade. The future belongs to self-managed communities that produce indispensable goods and services for all (natural power, biodiversity, education, health centers, transport, metal and textile production . . .). The idea is to produce for us, for our own use—that is to say, no longer in order to sell them—goods that we are currently forced to buy at market prices even though they were conceived and manufactured by workers. It is time to break with the laws of a political racketeering that is designing, together with its own bankruptcy, that of our existence.

HUO: Is this a war of a new kind, as Page claims? An economic Third World War?

RV: We are at war, yes, but this is not an economic war. It is a world war against the economy. Against the economy that for thousands of years has been based on the exploitation of nature and man. And against a patched-up capitalism that will try to save its skin by investing in natural power and making us pay the high price for that which—once the new means of production are created—will be free as the wind, the sun, and the energy of plants and soil. If we do not exit economic reality and create a human reality in its place, we will once again allow market barbarism to live on.

HUO: In his book Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz argues for a reorganization of globalization along the lines of greater justice, in order to shrink global imbalances. What do you think of globalization? How does one get rid of profit as motive and pursue well-being instead? How does one escape from the growth imperative?

RV: The moralization of profit is an illusion and a fraud. There must be a decisive break with an economic system that has consistently spread ruin and destruction while pretending, amidst constant destitution, to deliver a most hypothetical well-being. Human relations must supersede and cancel out commercial relations. Civil disobedience means disregarding the decisions of a government that embezzles from its citizens to support the embezzlements of financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to the bankster-state, taxes vainly used to try to plug the sinkhole of corruption, when we could allocate them instead to the self-management of free power networks in every local community? The direct democracy of self-managed councils has every right to ignore the decrees of corrupt parliamentary democracy. Civil disobedience towards a state that is plundering us is a right. It is up to us to capitalize on this epochal shift to create communities where desire for life overwhelms the tyranny of money and power. We need concern ourselves neither with government debt, which covers up a massive defrauding of the public interest, nor with that contrivance of profit they call “growth.” From now on, the aim of local communities should be to produce for themselves and by themselves all goods of social value, meeting the needs of all—authentic needs, that is, not needs prefabricated by consumerist propaganda.

HUO: Edouard Glissant distinguishes between globality and globalization. Globalization eradicates differences and homogenizes, while globality is a global dialogue that produces differences. What do you think of his notion of globality?

RV: For me, it should mean acting locally and globally through a federation of communities in which our pork-barreling, corrupt parliamentary democracy is made obsolete by direct democracy. Local councils will be set up to take measures in favor of the environment and the daily lives of everyone. The situationists have called this “creating situations that rule out any backtracking.”

HUO: Might the current miscarriages of globalization have the same dangerous effects as the miscarriages of the previous globalization from the ‘30s? You have written that what was already intolerable in ‘68 when the economy was booming is even more intolerable today. Do you think the current economic despair might push the new generations to rebel?

RV: The crisis of the ‘30s was an economic crisis. What we are facing today is an implosion of the economy as a management system. It is the collapse of market civilization and the emergence of human civilization. The current turmoil signals a deep shift: the reference points of the old patriarchal world are vanishing. Percolating instead, still just barely and confusedly, are the early markers of a lifestyle that is genuinely human, an alliance with nature that puts an end to its exploitation, rape, and plundering. The worst would be the unawareness of life, the absence of sentient intelligence, violence without conscience. Nothing is more profitable to the racketeering mafias than chaos, despair, suicidal rebellion, and the nihilism that is spread by mercenary greed, in which money, even devalued in a panic, remains the only value.

HUO: In his book Utopistics, Immanuel Wallerstein claims that our world system is undergoing a structural crisis. He predicts it will take another twenty to fifty years for a more democratic and egalitarian system to replace it. He believes that the future belongs to “demarketized,” free-of-charge institutions (on the model, say, of public libraries). So we must oppose the marketization of water and air.1 What is your view?

RV: I do not know how long the current transformation will take (hopefully not too long, as I would like to witness it). But I have no doubt that this new alliance with the forces of life and nature will disseminate equality and freeness. We must go beyond our natural indignation at profit’s appropriation of our water, air, soil, environment, plants, animals. We must establish collectives that are capable of managing natural resources for the benefit of human interests, not market interests. This process of reappropriation that I foresee has a name: self-management, an experience attempted many times in hostile historical contexts. At this point, given the implosion of consumer society, it appears to be the only solution from both an individual and social point of view.

HUO: In your writing you have described the work imperative as an inhuman, almost animal condition. Do you consider market society to be a regression?

RV: As I mentioned above, evolution in the Paleolithic age meant the development of creativity—the distinctive trait of the human species as it breaks free from its original animality. But during the Neolithic, the osmotic relationship to nature loosened progressively, as intensive agriculture became based on looting and the exploitation of natural resources. It was also then that religion surfaced as an institution, society stratified, the reign of patriarchy began, of contempt for women, and of priests and kings with their stream of wars, destitution, and violence. Creation gave way to work, life to survival, jouissance to the animal predation that the appropriation economy confiscates, transcends, and spiritualizes. In this sense market civilization is indeed a regression in which technical progress supersedes human progress.

HUO: For you, what is a life in progress?

RV: Advancing from survival, the struggle for subsistence and predation to a new art of living, by recreating the world for the benefit of all.

HUO: In your view there is no such thing as urbanism?

RV: Urbanism is the ideological gridding and control of individuals and society by an economic system that exploits man and Earth and transforms life into a commodity. The danger in the self-built housing movement that is growing today would be to pay more attention to saving money than to the poetry of a new style of life.

HUO: Is Oarystis based on natural power, like the Metabolist cities? Rem Koolhaas and I are working on a book on the Japanese Metabolists. When I read your wonderful text on Oarystis, I was reminded of that movement from the 1960s, especially the floating cities, Kikutake’s water cities. Is Oarystis a Metabolist city?

RV: When Oarystis was published, the architect Philippe Rothier and Diane Hennebert, who ran Brussels’ Architecture Museum at the time, rightly criticized me for ignoring the imaginative projects of a new generation of builders. Now that the old world is collapsing, the fusion of free natural power, self-built housing techniques, and the reinvention of sensual form is going to be decisive. So it is useful to remember that technical inventiveness must stem from the reinvention of individual and collective life. That is to say, what allows for genuine rupture and ecstatic inventiveness is self-management: the management by individuals and councils of their own lives and environment through direct democracy. Let us entrust the boundless freedoms of the imaginary to childhood and the child within us.

HUO: How can the city of the future contribute to biodiversity?

RV: By drawing inspiration from Alphonse Allais, by encouraging the countryside to infiltrate the city. By creating zones of organic farming, gardens, vegetable plots, and farms inside urban space. After all, there are so many bureaucratic and parasitical buildings that can’t wait to give way to fertile, pleasant land that is useful to all. Architects and squatters, build us some hanging gardens where we can go for walks, eat, and live!

HUO: In 1991 I founded a Robert Walser museum, a strollological museum, in Switzerland. I have always been fascinated by your notion of the stroll. Could you say something about your urban strolls with and without Debord? What about Walser’s? Have other strollologists inspired you?

RV: I hold Robert Walser in high regard, as many do. His lucidity and sense of dérive enchanted Kafka. I have always been fascinated by the long journey Hölderlin undertook following his break-up with Diotima. I admire Chatwin’s Songlines, in which he somehow manages to turn the most innocuous of walks into an intonation of the paths of fate, as though we were in the heart of the Australian bush. And I appreciate the strolls of Léon-Paul Fargue and the learning of Héron de Villefosse. My psychogeographic dérives with Guy Debord in Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, Beersel, and Antwerp were exceptional moments, combining theoretical speculation, sentient intelligence, the critical analysis of beings and places, and the pleasure of cheerful drinking. Our homeports were pleasant bistros with a warm atmosphere, havens where one was oneself because one felt in the air something of the authentic life, however fragile and short-lived. It was an identical mood that guided our wanderings through the streets, the lanes and the alleys, through the meanderings of a pleasure that our every step helped us gauge in terms of what it might take to expand and refine it just a little further. I have a feeling that the neighborhoods destroyed by the likes of Haussmann, Pompidou, and the real estate barbarians will one day be rebuilt by their inhabitants in the spirit of the joy and the life they once harbored…

Read the complete interview at

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KidoInfo on Girls Are Not Chicks Coloring Book

By Katy Killilea
December 15, 2009

I have no daughters, but I’ve gathered that Bratz dolls and spangled Barbies are as inevitable as light sabers and Nerf gu—Nerf dart propelling devices are for boys. I grew up with loads of Barbies in the 1970s, and I remember my mom diligently balancing my Barbie lust with Free to Be You and Me (book and album) and a story book called Girls Can Do Anything. I remember my mom telling me, “You know you won’t look like Barbie when you grow up. You’ll probably look like me.” I was happy–what little girl doesn’t think her mom is the most beautiful woman in the world? Until…the disembodied Barbie head with makeup kit came on the market. That sealed it: I wanted makeup! Skimpy clothes! And to be an ice angel on Donnie and Marie!

For parents looking to balance out their home’s collection of–what precisely is the real offense?–slutty/pornographic/unrealistic body image-inducing/etc. toys, consider Girls Are Not Chicks. This is the coloring book with a Rapunzel who rescues herself, using duct tape and a Tina Turner album, and a Little Miss Muffet who matter-of-factly tells an encroaching spider, “I ain’t moving from this tuffet.” There are girls and boys–or girls with short hair. Or boys with long hair. Probably boys and girls. Without all of the stereotypical gender signifiers, it’s impossible to say–riding a school bus together to a place with lots of drums and co-ed ice hockey.

Quirky, smart, and funny? Yes. A coloring book? Ostensibly, but it’s even more fun to read and discuss: girls on tractors, girls covering the numbers on their scales with stickers, and girls with no hair ribbons or skirts, so maybe they’re boys. Look how sad Mrs. Peter Pumpkin Eater is living in that dank pumpkin! Even if it won’t inspire a girl to abandon her vixen dolls, it will add a little oomph to her collection.

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Audio of Robinson and Bisson SF Panel

SF in SF Panel Discussion Featuring Eric Simons, Kim Stanley Robinson and Terry Bisson on October 17, 2009
Agony Column Podcast

"That seems to me, totally wrong."
  Terry Bisson to Eric Simons

Yes, I have a lot of catching up to do. And so we forge forward, with this podcast of a fabulous panel from October's SF in SF, featuring Eric Simons, Kim Stanley Robinson and Terry Bisson. This was SF in SF's first experiment that I know featuring a non-fiction writer, and it is one I hope that they shall repeat.

You know that you’re going to have a lot of fun when you put Kim Stanley Robinson on a panel, because, he's well — known to be witty and funny and very insightful. Eric Simons was an unknown, until her read, at which point he was revealed to be a perfect match for Robinson. Add in the ever-sharp Terry Bisson, a smattering of house commenters and a great, controversial subject, that being Evolution and Charles "Changed the World" Darwin — and you are guaranteed a good time whether you're there (which is always better because you can sip fine whiskey while participating) or whether you’re listening on your way into work via this linked MP3 audio file.

More on Terry Bisson | More on Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson Reads Lucky Strike

Kim Stanley Robinson Reads at SF in SF on October 17, 2009 : "The Lucky Strike"
Agony Column Podcast

Once again, the pleasures of discovery; and not just those of the writer. Here we are at SF in SF on November 17, and not without some trepidation, about to be subjected to a literary experiment. SF in SF has, for all my experience, been a fiction-only operation. Not that this has seemed a dictate; it's just the way it's happened. Eric Simons changed all that, and in the best possible way. He was just remarkably entertaining. I'm guessing he sold a few books.

And with this reading from his novella, you get the best of both worlds. Robinson abridged his story while reading at SF in SF, off-the-cuff, so to speak, reading selections here and there that boil down the story and give a perfect verbal version of the much longer written version. What’s so nice is that when you listen to the reading, you can get the emotional and intellectual shock of Robinson's story. You'll feel the literal blast that he describes as he reads.

But because Robinson has read a self-abridged version of his longer story, you can still go out, but the book and read the story to get the fully fleshed-out as well as the live reading audio experience. This is a very clever move on his part, and not just because he sells you a book. No, it's much better than that. As a listener and a reader, you'll get to experience the same set events from two equally powerful perspectives; the reading experience will enhance the audio and vice versa, but in a different manner. It's a fascinating experiment for the writer and the reader. You can begin your experiment by following this link to the MP3 audio of the story.

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Resistance Behind Bars at the Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair

RBBcoverBy Scott Harris
Vue Weekly

October 1, 2009

The struggles of prisoners against unjust incarceration or inhumane treatment has a long history in the United States, from the national "Free Huey" movement which sought to have Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton released from prison in the late '60s to the 1971 Attica Prison uprising in New York to contemporary prison solidarity movements seeking the freedom of political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier.

But despite this long history, the specific struggles and realities of female prisoners has largely gone unrecognized, a fact that is all the more important given that while women make up less than 10 percent of the 2.3 million prisoners now in US jails, female rates of incarceration are increasing faster than their male counterparts, more than doubling in absolute numbers through the 1990s.

This oversight is one which Victoria Law, who will be visiting Edmonton as the keynote speaker at this weekend's Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair, aimed to remedy in her recently released book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 250 pp, $20). Part of the reason the prison activism of women has been ignored, Law explains, is because the specific issues faced by women in prison lead to different priorities and forms of struggle.

"When you consider that prisons were set up originally to incarcerate men, and this hasn't really changed in the past few centuries there are a lot of things that aren't specifically for women that are needed, like gynecological services or resources to deal with women who come in who are pregnant or who have a history of things like breast cancer or cervical cancer," Law explains over the phone from New York. "In addition, because of the way society is gendered when a mother goes to prison oftentimes there is not a male relative or somebody willing to step up and take care of her children, whereas when a father goes to prison oftentimes a female relative, like the biological mother of his children or his girlfriend or his wife or this mother or his sister will take care of his children. The majority of women who go to prison are mothers and the majority of those mothers have been single heads of households before going to prison, and again this is in large part because of the way society has gendered parenting."

The result of these gender-specific issues, she says, is a different form of prison-based struggle, one that is rarely recognized to the same extent as more straightforward prison issues.

"A lot of the resistance isn't looked at as quote-unquote resistance by people who are looking for things like organizing and activism. So if incarcerated women are organizing around access to their children this doesn't fall under the traditional idea of what we think of when we think of prison issues," she says. "So women at the maximum security prison of New York, Bedford Hills, formed a foster-care committee specifically to educate the incarcerated mothers there as to what their rights were when their children entered foster care. But because when we think of prison issues we think of male prison issues, we're not necessarily looking at things like parenting and access to children particularly as a prison issue. It's not a big glamourous thing, it's not a work strike, it's not a riot, nobody gets hurt and it's not something you can look at and see."

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The Real Cost of Prisons Comix on Book Bag

Real Cost of Prisons

Book Bag, Daily Hampshire Gazette
April 2009

This book is a collection of three comic books, including accompanying essays, that explore the social, emotional and financial cost the United States faces by keeping approximately 2.3 million people behind bars. The book also includes comments from community organizers around the country discussing how they have used the book in their work.

This country's imprisoned population is a number that has steadily grown. From the end of World War II to 1970, according to Ahrens, there were 200,000 people in prison. Though there are more than 2 million people jailed now, the nation's crime rate, she says, has changed little.

In a recent interview with the Gazette, Ahrens noted that Massachusetts currently spends a larger portion of its budget for prisons than for higher education. "Maybe people would rather pay for higher education than for prisons. Maybe the days of pure punitive policy are not something people still want to pay for, especially now." For change to occur, she said, "It's going to take people saying they think this is a bad idea - and they're tired of paying for it."

Ahrens, who lives in Northampton, edited the volume and is a contributing writer. Other writers include Ellen Miller-Mack, also of Northampton, along with Craig Gilmore, Susan Willmarth and Kevin Pyle. Illustrations are by Kevin Pyle, Sabrina Jones and Susan Willmarth, with an introduction by Craig Gilmore and Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Last month, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a private organization that defines its mission as working for responsive and effective criminal justice, juvenile justice and child welfare systems, named "The Real Cost of Prisons" one of nine winners in the literature category of a PASS award (Prevention for a Safer Society.) Awards were also given in the categories of film, magazine, newspaper, radio, television/video, and the Web.

The council says it grants the awards "in recognition of thoughtful and factual coverage of the issues."

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September 20, 2008

Maria’s Story (1990, Monona Wali & Pamela Cohen, 53 min.) is a documentary portrait of Maria Serrano, a 39-year-old woman who is a peasant, mother, and guerrilla leader who at the time the film was made, had spent over a decade of her life fighting in the hills of El Salvador. Some might condemn the film as agitprop, others would argue it provides an insightful point-of-view of the late-eighties struggle in El Salvador from a highly personal point-of-view. The film is also interesting and important because of the manner in which it was made. More on that later. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival, had a modest theatrical release, and was broadcast by PBS on P.O.V.

I would argue the film is not propaganda due to the fact the filmmakers focused on one woman’s story through which the filmmakers explored the injustice of the situation of El Salvador. Reminds me of the old film school adage, “show don’t tell.” The film was made in conjunction with CISPES (Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and was a very effective fundraising tool for them, definitely in part to film’s personal perspective. Viewers might disagree with Maria, her politics, her approach to the problems she faces, but they could not disagree with the reality of her life and the people around her. Not only is there no such thing as objectivity, the duplicitous “objectivity” of the mainstream media stifles real dialog, real debate, real understanding. I like my documentaries with a point-of-view from perspective of real people, and if the filmmaker has an agenda, so be it, as long as they are willing to go to bat for their facts and perspectives and the social reality they are depicting.

But I digress. This post is more about what makes this particular film interesting from the perspective of media technology history: the production of the film was made possible by the use of a new Sony Video8 camcorder that recorded high quality audio and introduced around the time the film started filming. This film was made at a watershed moment in documentary film history. The filmmakers have told the story (ref. Q&A session during a San Francisco screening of the film, circa 1991) of the first time they went down to El Salvador with their 16mm film camera, audio recording gear, and many cans of 16mm film. Maria’s response, in summary, was “with all that gear you can’t move fast, you’re going to get us killed” and the filmmakers returned to San Francisco and had to rethink how they were going to shoot the film.

Sony CCD-V200 Video 8 Camcorder with high quality audio recording

This was just around the time that Video8 (and soon after Hi8) were being discussed in documentary circles as viable alternatives to 16mm film and Betacam SP for shooting documentary films. There was lots of talk about whether PBS would accept Video8 (and later Hi8) documentaries and the video engineers and film snobs were out in full regalia for this debate. John Knoop, the cinematographer on the project, came up with a solution, using Sony’s new Video8 prosumer camcorder, a small shoulder mounted camera that had high-quality built in audio recording capabilities with real audio meters, and he fashioned some solar panel powered battery chargers for the camera batteries. The prosumer Video8 (and later Hi8) video cameras, were lighter and a tad smaller than most 16mm film cameras like the Aaton LTR popular at the time, but they required more electrical energy than their 16mm counterparts, so a methodology of charging the batteries in the jungle was critical.

With the new smaller gear and a way to charge their batteries far from the power grid, the filmmakers returned to El Salvador and this time Maria allowed them to follow her and her army of children and men as they travel through the hills to their campsites in preparation for what they hope will be their final offensive against the government. With very little resources and a small number of weapons, they are not the revolutionaries we see in movies but this film is about a social reality we often don’t see. Revolutionaries who are also mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, fighting for basic human rights. No stars or effects or steadicam or sweeping crane shots in this film. Just life as the filmmakers observe it day to day living under harsh conditions. The quality of the video image actually works in favor of this film, constantly reminding you this is a mediated experience, not a mimetic virtuality.

The film is also interesting because for the theatrical release the filmmakers had no choice but to produce a film print. This was at the time that a post firm in Los Angeles called Image Transform has perfected a video to film process that was helping filmmakers make film prints that looked good enough to entice some distributors and theaters to program films that had been shot in video. We don’t get hung up on shooting medium these days, but circa 1990 people sure did. The video vs. film as an acquisition medium debate was raging like a California wildfire.

The film is primarily a document of political struggle, but it’s also a turning point technologically because it was among the first films shot in Video8 that presented a compelling and important portrait that could not have been made with the analog photo-chemical film medium. The electronic Video8 format provided for a smaller camera, recording sound and picture in the same camera (16mm required the use of a separate Nagra 1/4″ tape recorder) which further reduced the technological overhead, making this film possible.

The use of a small video camera improves the filmmakers ability to record everyday life in a more intimate fashion. One of the more poignant scenes in the film is when Maria travels back to her home village, devastated by long years of fighting, and talks about the events that transformed her from a young girl into a guerrilla leader, and the story is all the more intense through the unvarnished video image with it’s matter-of-fact starkness, we observe how she’s become a hero to her people, inspiring her troops as they prepare to engage with the government.

There’s another scene I remember in the film when Maria, her soldiers, and the filmmakers are attacked by government troops. The filmmakers dive for cover. The camera, dropped to the ground, continues to record the skirmish, and while the picture from the camera laying on it’s side is not interesting, the soundtrack is about as real as you ca get and brings you there into the moment in a manner that post-production sound effects just can’t do, you know this soundtrack is real, it’s a part of Maria’s life. For this scene, the filmmakers take the actual audio footage of the attack and lay over it images they had shot at a different time. We’re a visual culture and we need images as a frame upon which to experience a film, even though sound carries most of the emotion. Some people complained that it was a re-creation. The documentary purists cried foul. But they did not understand the role of sound in conveying the so-called reality of the moment, and providing authenticity, but that’s a whole other discussion.

At their best, documentary films provide us with points-of-view we could not, or would not (possibly due to ideological bias), ever see on our own. They are extensions of our collective selves that allow us to share social reality with others, and the evolution of cameras from analog film, to analog video, and finally to digital video has made it possible to show so much more, to go places that we could not have gone before. Maria’s Story was made at a very important inflection point in this history, among the first films to show us a social reality we would not have been able to see here in the United States had it not been for the introduction of viable prosumer camcorder with decent image and audio quality from Sony.

I saw the film and heard the filmmakers talk seventeen years ago, so my memory might be sightly inaccurate here and there, but the gist is right. The film is currently distributed by Filmmakers Library and is available on DVD and VHS. A wonderfully effective example of intimate documentary filmmaking and making good use of new technology to produce a story that otherwise could not have been told.

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Paper Politics on ZNet

Interview with Josh MacPhee

Can you tell ZNet, please, what Paper Politics is about? What is it trying to communicate? 

Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today is a collection of 200 political prints from 200 international artists.

In addition it contains writing by fifteen of the artists, whose work is in the book, about the complex and contradictory nature of printmaking by hand in a digital world of unfettered capitalism and commodification.

It is the only large and diverse survey of the contemporary political print available. Paper Politics is both a sharing and celebration of politically-engaged artwork, and the beginnings of a look under the hood, an excavation of the labor and ideas that happen beneath the surface of an image.

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is? 

Paper Politics is the culmination of ten years of Do-It-Yourself organizing of an accompanying exhibition of prints.

Begun in 2004, the exhibition has always been a community building activity, both in terms of artists (starting with a couple dozen and quickly expanding to over 200), and audience, which has been growing with each exhibition and now the publication.

So, lots of years, organizing work, and printing has gone into it, lots of ink pushed through screens and rolled onto woodblocks.

What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

Art and culture are always tricky things.

While they have existed as the backbone of many social struggles throughout history, when you actually try to quantify their effects, they often slip through your hands.

I hope Paper Politics further convinces both artists/designers and political-engaged people that the space where these two worlds overlap is not a marginal one, but central to how we understand and interpret our world.

It is a space largely abandoned by the left, and is filled by advertisers and reality tv shows.

Success to me is further engagement in this space of art and politics.

The engagement might be awkward at first, we need to walk before we can run, but I believe long term consistent engagement could lead to the creation of a wider culture that encourages all of us to think deeper about our social conditions and act smarter on how to change them.

For excerpts from the book, click here

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