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Sober Living for the Revolution in Peace News

by Sareena Rai
Peace News
Page 22, June 2011

At first I thought that Sober Living for the Revolution was about historical, successful "sober" anarchist collectives and how they organized. The first part of the title misled me. Then I read the rest of the title, which went on as "Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics." Second thoughts: "Oh no! Interviews with a bunch of straight-edgers!" To be honest, being into hardcore punk, I never got into the whole straight edge scene in the same way that Ian Mackaye didn't (whose song the whole thing started from), because it always seemed like a macho, merchandised religious cult.

Thankfully, most of the people interviewed have distanced themselves from that particular self-righteous, conservative strand of being sober in the music/activism world and often stray from the straight edge question altogether, confessing that activism is more important than this personal issue—to the point where even Kuhn has to get his questions back to his title and say "Since this is a book about Straight Edge, we have to start talking about that..."

Nick Riotfag is the most coherent in the book and writes an excellent critique on how often social action groups can totally ignore the feelings of sober folks, and offers practical suggestions for safe organization. His was the only piece that came close to causing me to say to my partner: "See, you should quit drinking."

There is a strong theme that suggests less substance abuse equals less oppression, however one womyn states: "Some, like me, long ago stopped going to typical straightedge gigs since they had nothing to offer that one couldn't get from a violent mugging by an anti-abortionist."

Clearly, you can take the alcohol out of the man, but you can't take out "man," period.

Roughly 65 percent are male, hetero voices (the back photo is also misleading), however the need for more sober, all-age, non-sexist spaces in the scene is highlighted and this issue needs support! We need a queer, third world revival. Hey ho, let's go!

By Sareena, the boring punk womyn who doesn't get drunk.

P.S. For anyone who wants to use this book to tell their nearest and dearest: "See, you should quit drinking," or smoking, or whatever, this isn't the book to do so. That's going to take a revolution.

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Anarchy for Everyone on the PowellsBooks

by Chris Faatz

May 28th, 2011

Lots of anarchist writing is pretty thin going. The constant reiteration of the same mantra-like assertions, the same insights, and the same proposed solutions, all confined to a given community, a holding tank of acceptable ideas, with the whole dedicated to knocking down straw men of the polemicist's construction. Unceasingly. It gets old fast.

Imagine, then, how excited I was to find a book of essays that addresses subjects outside the narrow confines of accepted anarchist orthodoxy, a book that further investigates the work of major writers from a distinctly libertarian perspective and holds forth from an unfailingly utopian point of view on broad issues germane to the past 40 years, such as nuclear disarmament and the role of freedom of thought in a free society. Such a book is Nicolas Walter's Damned Fools in Utopia: And Other Writings on Anarchism and War Resistance.

Walter was a mainstay of the British anarchist movement for most of his life, and these beautifully crafted essays and reflections cover the years from about 1960 to 2000, when he died. The core of this book embraces the early years of his engagement and loosely focuses on the British movement for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Its radical wing, the Committee of 100 (of which Bertrand Russell was a member), garners special attention, with its decentralist and libertarian thrust.

The Committee's purpose was to sponsor acts of mass civil disobedience. What, though, did they stand for? Walter writes (in 1962):

Our end is familiar now. Most people who support the Committee of 100 also support the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, because the two wings of the unilateralist movement have no quarrel about ends, and in general we accept the decisions of CND annual conferences. We want Britain to ban the Bomb and leave NATO, to disengage from the Cold War and adopt positive neutralism, to reject colonialism abroad and racialism at home. Many of us go further than this. Because of our sympathy with friends in America we favor American as well as British unilateralism, and because of our left-wing political affiliations we favor radical or revolutionary solutions to the problems of our society.

This is a radical formulation designed to speak to a much broader audience than does a sectarian political polemic. It offers up a vision and a hope to motivate broad swathes of people and does so without putting one group or set of ideas forward as the one true path to freedom. How refreshing!

The mainstay of the book is the title essay, a history of war resistance and of radical and unequivocal pacifism and nonviolence in the face of the war-making state. It's a wonderful essay, full of stories, anecdotes, and quotes—from and about sources as diverse as Alex Comfort, George Fox, and Henry David Thoreau—and is divided into such sections as anti-militarism, conscientious objection, and satyagraha ("soul force," as developed by Mohandas Gandhi).

The gist of this essay—indeed, the gist of the whole collection—is that the only way to remain truly human in an age of mass conformity and brutal violence is to take a stand on the side of conscience, to refuse to be complicit in the brazen, insane, and ultimately dehumanizing thrust of the modern warfare state and its tendency to wriggle its tentacles into all spheres of our lives. There is an alternative, asserts Walter; there is another way of living and being that embraces our mutual humanness and raises high the banner of unqualified solidarity in confronting the agents of fear, oppression, and hatred in a world gone mad.

The sheer number of essays on literary, political, and publishing figures, both well- and unknown, makes this volume all the more compelling. A long essay on Orwell is here, examining him in connection with his relationship with the anarchist movement. Dorothy Day's here, too, the great Catholic anarchist of inner city New York, and her life of "poverty, chastity, and disobedience." Also represented are Herbert Read and author Allan Sillitoe (who Walter loved). Some of the most interesting pieces are those addressing the more bizarre and fringe activists in the British anarchist movement, such as Guy Aldred and C. W. Daniel. The Greek-French post-Marxist and libertarian socialist theorist Cornelius Castoriadis makes an appearance, as does Bertrand Russell and even Lady Di.

There's plenty here to feed the hunger of even the most committed student of sectarian minutiae, though I want to make it perfectly clear that Walter does not write primarily for that audience. His essays are brilliant and scintillating because they're crafted with skill and beauty and because they're sympathetic to the human reality that lies behind even the most bizarre, outre, or strange.

Interestingly enough, Walter was also a long-time habitue of the British Freethought and Humanist movements. I, personally, think it's a shame that there's virtually nothing in this collection that relates to his labors at those tasks, although the book does include a remarkably thoughtful short essay on "Anarchism and Religion."

Damned Fools in Utopia
is full of grand ideas and formulations. In the end, though, it's a book of vision, an assertion that another world is possible. Walter was pessimistic as to the probability of that world's coming about; he was, however, insistent on its necessity, on the obligation of its iteration. Damned fools in utopia: may we all have the courage to stand up and proclaim ourselves such.

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The Prose, Poetry, and Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin

by Alison Hallett
The Portland Mercury
May 12th, 2011

In 2002, Ursula K. Le Guin published the short story The Wild Girls, a brief, powerful parable about a city in which some people are born to be slaves, and others to be gods; in which certain social structures are so institutionalized that most slaves aren't capable of recognizing that there exists a "space in which there is room for justice." The Wild Girls won several awards—the Portland author and sci-fi legend has collected six Nebulas, five Hugos, a National Book Award, and plenty more honors during her lengthy, prolific career.

The Wild Girls is a slim volume published as part of PM Press' "Outspoken Authors" series, which offers a shorthand look at the breadth and depth of material Le Guin produced over the years. In addition to The Wild Girls, which opens the book, the volume collects "Staying Awake While We Read," a 2008 Harper's article about the state of the publishing industry; "The Conversation of the Modest," an original essay about the virtue of modesty in the age of advertising; a handful of poems; and a Q&A conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson.

Most relevant is the Harper's article, which challenges the idea that publishing can or should function as a growth-oriented industry. "I keep hoping that corporations will realize that publishing is not, in fact, a sane or normal business with a nice healthy relationship to capitalism," she writes. It's not idle musing: A basic skepticism of corporate motives was certainly a factor in Le Guin's recent, vocal opposition to the proposed Google Books settlement.

The only disappointment here is the Q&A that concludes the volume. Terry Bisson's questions are glib ("What have you got against Amazon?" "Have you ever been attacked by lions?") and most of Le Guin's answers are correspondingly terse. She does, however, deliver quite the stern rebuke to those "literary fiction" fans who laud her writing while snubbing genre fiction as a whole:

"The only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving toward genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write sci-fi it isn't sci-fi, but to tell them more or less patiently for 40 or 50 years that they are wrong to exclude sci-fi and fantasy from literature, and proving my argument by writing well." And that's why she's a legend.

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Kicker Conspiracy: How Football Fell Foul of the State

Freedom: Anarchist News and Views
April 23, 2011

Interview with anarchist footballer and author about the beautiful game: The Austrian-born anarchist author and former semi-professional football player, Gabriel Kuhn, recently released his newest book with PM Press, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. We talked to Kuhn about football, anarchism, and sports in a better world.

    •    Is there anything intrinsically ‘anarchistic’ about football?

I’m tempted to say that there isn’t anything intrinsically anarchistic about anything. If anarchy was that easy, we’d have more of it. However, I think that almost everything has anarchistic potential, and it is this potential that anarchists have to tease out. This is also true in football. If you are able to tame the game’s competitive character, football can be a wonderful exercise in community building. If you focus on football’s role as the game of the masses, it can serve as a vehicle to challenge the powerful. If you embrace the beauty and the joy of the game, you reject it as an industry. I would say that it is in this sense that Soccer vs. the State is trying to strengthen the radical—or anarchistic—dimensions of the sport.

    •    How was football received by anarchism? How could we characterize the relationship between the two historically?

Early on, there was a lot of scepticism within the anarchist movement. The opium-for-the-masses argument was strong, both in Europe and in Latin America. It remained that way well into the 1930s. There is a text in Soccer vs. the State that was published in the 1920s by German anarcho-syndicalists. It basically blames football for distracting the workers from political organizing. Things were never that clear-cut, though. One of the pioneers of soccer in the United States was a Dutch-born IWW activist by the name of Nicolaas Steelink. And during the Spanish Revolution, soccer games were regularly arranged by anarchists in Barcelona.

Today, soccer might still be eyed sceptically in some anarchist circles, but overall I think the reception has changed. Particularly in North America, soccer has become really popular among anarchists. I guess it is mainly the internationalism that is appealing. We must not forget that conservative U.S. talk show hosts like Glenn Beck still blasted soccer as un-American during the 2010 Men’s World Cup. Also in Europe and Latin America, increasing numbers of closet anarchist football fans have come out into the open. The FC St. Pauli phenomenon certainly had a huge impact. Since a bunch of squatting punks and anarchists took over the St. Pauli stands in the mid-1990s it has become significantly easier for anarchists worldwide to relate positively to the game. I welcome this development, of course. Football plays a huge role in communities across the world, and it’s important that anarchist voices have a presence.

    •    Where did the perception of football as twenty-two cretins chasing a lump of leather come from? Was it always thus? How did it become the preserve of the working class?

Since football has always been popular with the masses, it has always had to endure the ridicule of the cultural elite. This is true for every pop cultural phenomenon. There also exists an intellectual arrogance, often expressed in the form of a general disdain for physical exercise and play. Needless to say, such attitudes are rather silly. We must not let them bother us. Who cares what self-appointed cultural and intellectual elites think? The reason why football is so popular with the working class is probably simple.

Football is a straightforward game that doesn’t require much equipment. It can practically be played anywhere and under all circumstances. This also gives it a distinctively democratic character. For more than a hundred years, football has been one of the few social fields in which class differences haven’t necessarily translated into a disadvantage for the poor and underprivileged. The development of a football player is far less dependent on economic resources than the development of, say, a tennis player or a golfer. Nor does a lack of formal education give you less authority in discussing the line-up and the tactics of, say, the English national team. It is largely these aspects that give football its unrivalled global role as the people’s game.

    •    How did capitalism take over football…was it inevitable?

Perhaps it was inevitable in the sense that capitalism is taking over everything that promises profit. However, capitalism has never been completely distinguished from football. If we look at the origins of many of the leading clubs in the late nineteenth century, they were already exploited by companies and factory owners, at least for prestige. So the ever increasing commercialization we have witnessed in the twentieth century was not the result of an outside force but of an intrinsic logic, if you will.

Over the last twenty years, the commercialization has taken on a particular momentum. Football has turned into a spectacle that people could have hardly foreseen when World Cup Willie was sold as the first official World Cup mascot in England in 1966. Champions Leagues, a 32-team Men’s World Cup roster, multi-billion dollar TV contracts, celebrity players, and a ruthless merchandise industry that doesn’t even stop short of selling corporate-sponsored jerseys to the average football supporter are all expressions of this. Hardly any of it can be encouraging for a radical football fan.

For me, the response has to be two-fold. Within the professional game, we have to campaign against the exploitation of both spectators and players—and I’m not talking about the obscenely rich top 0.5% of professional players, but about the tens of thousands of football professionals who live under precarious conditions, particularly migrant players from Africa. Within the world of football in general, it is important to support grassroots initiatives that do not only promise all the fun in a politically sound and non-commercial environment but also create opportunities for effective community organizing and everyday political activism.

    •    Can you give examples?

I think you find one of the best in the UK with the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls Sports Club hailing from Bristol. The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls have managed to form local alliances that many political organizations can only dream of and to establish worldwide connections that translate directly into international solidarity work. There is an excellent article about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls included in Soccer vs. the State, written by Roger Wilson—I really encourage everyone to read it!

    •    Why did football become so macho . . . was it always so?

Especially in the UK, women’s football became really popular during World War I. In 1920, the best women’s team at the time, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, played their main rivals, St. Helen’s Ladies, at a legendary game at Liverpool’s Goodison Park in front of a crowd of 53,000. Soon after, the English FA officially banned women’s football. Many other national FA’s followed suit. A great number of these bans weren’t lifted before the 1970s. This halted the development of the women’s game for fifty years and effectively turned football into a men’s only affair. These bans marked perhaps the single most scandalous chapter of football history and reflected the deeply rooted patriarchal structures that have haunted the game from its beginnings. Luckily, things have changed in the last twenty years—slowly but steadily. There remains a lot to be done, though, both in strengthening the women’s game and in erasing sexist attitudes from the men’s game. In terms of heteronormativity, the struggle has only just begun. It will be a long but terribly important fight to rid football of homophobia!

    •    Where have the changes come from?

Social movements have been a big factor, as always. Groups that had long been excluded from football started demanding their place: women, people of color, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, and others. Another factor is that forms of oppression have become more flexible. Traditionally excluded social groups are increasingly wooed as consumers. The trend to turn football stadiums into shopping malls reflects this. It is a development that does have certain progressive dimensions as it allows a number of people to feel comfortable in a space that didn’t feel very welcoming before. However, these forms of increased inclusion are offset by new forms of exclusion, mainly economic ones. What we really need is social change apart from corporate interest.

    •    Are there any major ‘left-wing’ teams today?

The way professional football works today, I don’t think you can be major and left-wing at the same time. There are some big clubs—the FC Barcelona probably being the most prominent example—that stand for values such as independence, social awareness, and participatory democracy. However, the money and the power involved, the demands of success, the unsettling notions of loyalty and rivalry—none of this sits well with what I see as the core values of left-wing politics, namely justice and solidarity. But this doesn’t make the progressive elements less valuable, nor does it mean that anarchists can’t enjoy football on the highest level. The challenge is to bolster the left-wing dimensions that exist and to oppose those that reflect and perpetuate an unjust political and economic system.

    •    How can we as anarchists develop football?

On the professional level, we can campaign for more democracy within the football associations, for more supporter influence, for a more inclusive environment, for less corporate control, for players’ unions, and for a just division of resources, including equitable salaries. On the grassroots level, we can strengthen the communal aspect of the game, keep the competitiveness at bay, and meet all players with respect. At the risk of sounding moralistic, I also believe that notions of fair play are important: so-called tactical fouls, diving, trash talking, etc. have no place in radical football, no matter the level.

    •    Which team do you support? How do you justify it?

I guess I’m in the lucky position that the Nick Hornby model of never-ending devotion to your childhood team doesn’t apply to me. There really isn’t any particular team I support; it’s more of a game-to-game decision. This also means that I’m fairly flexible with my justifications. As for many people, rooting for the underdog is a common choice. Other choices are supporting a team that represents a community I sympathize with or that has players, managers, or fans I like. The only irrational obsessions I keep concern teams I have always disliked: Bayern Munich and the German national team. I seem to have a hard time getting over that.

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Sensation on Boing Boing

Sensation: Acerbic Novel about Pop Culture and Popular Madness as Functions of Parasitic Manipulation

By Cory Doctrow
Boing Boing
May 30th, 2011

Nick Mamatas's novel Sensation is the story of Julia Hernandez, a mild Brooklyn semi-hipster who is stung by a mutant wasp and colonized by its parasitic eggs, who warp her neurochemistry to turn her into a catalyst for chaotic destruction. Hernandez leaves her husband, Raymond, at gunpoint, and proceeds to assassinate a gentrifying real-estate baron. This turns her into a Brooklyn folk-hero, as blogging hipsters from the midwest found a kind of situationist political movement with no name (you discuss it by ironically waggling your hand back and forth).

The wasps who have taken over Julia have an ancient enemy: a race of spiders who are normally a prey animal for the wasps (the wasps lay their eggs in the spiders, who are then compelled to spin a kind of nursery for the larvae, who eat the spiders on the way out). These spiders are an ancient, collective intelligence, and they use their power to spin facsimile humans ("men of indeterminate ethnicity") who form a spy network that oversees the human race and invisibly fights off the wasps' influence, in an ancient battle that has been waged for the whole history of our three species.

Sensation is told from the spiders' collective point of view, as they attempt rescue Julia from the wasps' clutches and stash her in the Simulacrum, a network of places, retailers, and lifestyles that don't ever mesh with the real world. It recounts Raymond's fraught relationship with the movement and its non-founders who refuse to plan, or take on any sort of authority structure.

Mamatas is a powerfully acerbic writer, both in fiction and online. His acid wit is infamous, and it is on splendid display in Sensation, which is alive with scornful insight about pop culture, the net, and politics. Sensation is a kind of bastard love-child of GG Allin and Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction story that is funny but always discomfiting. I recommend it highly.

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For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

May 28th, 2011
New York Times
by Colin Moynihan and Scott Shane

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anticorporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time—Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on” —and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Tex., to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while thirty-six other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for twenty-four years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”

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Riding the Avalanche

By Ursula K. Le Guin
Northwest Booksellers Association
May 18th, 2011

Just a couple of years ago I wrote that I thought the next big step in publishing would be print-on-demand. My prophecy failure rate continues to be perfect. We’re going direct to e-publication. And we’re going there very fast, in great disorder, riding an electronic avalanche.

I thought p.o.d. would dominate, because e-reading devices didn’t seem to be making much headway. Some people do use p.o.d., some are willing to read on their computers, some even practice palm-reading with Blackberries and such, but the leap over p.o.d must be largely due to the fact that usable e-readers are at last being widely produced. Now they need to be improved in quality and to come way down in price.

I don’t think print on paper will vanish any more than the pencil vanished when we started typing. The physical document is irreplaceably useful and durable. To think electronic storage can replace it is mere techno-hubris. But it looks as if, within a few years, most popular and ephemeral works, maybe most books of all kinds, will be published electronically and not on paper.

My personal reactions to this prospect:

As a reader, anything longer than a letter or a poem is tiresome for me to read on the screen. I read fast, carelessly, superficially on the screen, and don’t enjoy it. I don’t know why. I’ve composed on the computer for years now; I can edit on it fine; I can write on it for pleasure. Why can’t I read on it for pleasure?

For one thing, I like to read lying down.

Maybe if I had a nice, light reader that didn’t have multiple functions for every button, didn’t do a damn thing but show me clear text on two facing full-sized pages, I’d soon be able to lie down with it and “sink into” it as I do into print on paper. We are an adaptable species, and habit changes everything.
But at this point, I’ll read what I can on paper, and make do with text on screen only if I have to.

As a professional writer making my living from my work, I’m a bit spooked. Once they saw faster profit in e-books than in print, big corporation-owned publishers started making grabs for e-rights, such as claiming that a book contract that didn’t explicitly mention rights for which the technology didn’t yet exist gave them, retrospectively, to the publisher. Now the contractual terms, advances, and royalties for e-books are all being worked out ad hoc and in a rush. At the moment, royalties, from the author point of view, look very good. But nobody seems entirely clear about how it will work. Publishers, agents, authors, we’re all riding the avalanche.

As for copyright, I am very worried. At this point the Web crawls with pirates offering copyrighted work for sale as e-publications, usually in badly degraded form; threatening them with copyright violation is just playing Whack-a-Mole, and nobody’s even trying to invoke the law on them.  The Copyright Office has a huge job just keeping up with paper publication, and no clout in Congress. We saw Google’s success in shortcircuiting copyright  (by getting some libraries to provide them copyrighted books to copy, by treating “orphaned” books as if they were books out of copyright, by claiming to release only “snippets,” a term even less definable than “fair use” is, and so on.)  Judge Chin’s ruling against the Google Settlement does not, I fear, keep Google from leading the pirate fleet. Does copyright law end where the Web begins? Who will enforce it? Or what will replace it, enabling writers to live by their work?

As an author sharing responsibility for the state of my art, I fear control of availability (and of course content) by the corporations. Amazon’s offering only Amazon-owned books for their Kindle reader was an example. Books are not commodities, and readers are not consumers, but the corporations, cultureless, with no ethical guidelines, nothing but their own profit growth in view, will treat them as such so long as they are allowed to. A public kept in ignorance isn’t likely to even notice.

I welcome e-publication, so long as it works like an immense new-and-used bookstore network including bookstores selling both paper and e-books—and so long as it is fully and freely hooked up with the public libraries. The almost total failure of our schools to teach literature is causing a disastrous break in cultural continuity; many young people have read nothing written before 1990 or even 2000. E-publication offers vast availability and accessibility to older texts via our libraries.

Finally, as a very old author, I’m glad to see some of my longtime commercial publishers riding out the avalanche—battered, yes, but so far so good. And I rejoice in linking up when I can with smaller publishing houses on the West Coast, paper or electronic or both—about as far away from the corporations as you can get, these days. It’s like buying local produce. A bit gritty around the roots, maybe, but it tastes like it used to.

Le Guin credits her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, for his ideas and suggestions for this essay. “Anyone my age needs a native informant from the computer generation,” she says. Le Guin’s latest book, The Wild Girls, is available in paperback from the small independent publisher PM Press. The book packages Nebula winner The Wild Girls, newly revised and presented in book form for the first time, with Le Guin’s scorching Harper’s essay, “Staying Awake While We Read.”

Le Guin needs no introduction here. She has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award (in 1986 for Always Coming Home and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001) and many others. Her recent publications include a volume of poetry, Incredible Good Fortune, the novel Lavinia, and an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl. She lives in Portland.  


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Collecting Counter-Narratives

By Scott Borchert
From the April 6, 2011
If the North American left is good at anything, it’s being discontented.

And if the collapse of the left as an effective political force over recent decades has amplified our discontent, it’s also forced some radical thinkers to dig in and do the hard work of analyzing society. This section of the left is mainly (though not exclusively) based in academia and grounded in a broad Marxist tradition. Beyond fostering mere discontent, though, their aim is to increase our understanding of how the regime of capital shapes our everyday existence, how this has come to be historically and how things might be different. And in this moment of political disorientation—from illusions in the Democratic Party to the rejection of universal, emancipatory politics—we could stand to hear what they have to say.

Indeed, some of us have heard them on programs like KPFA’s Against the Grain (ATG). But with the publication of this book, edited by ATG host Sasha Lilley and largely drawn from her interviews, many more will have the chance to absorb these crucial arguments. Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult is by no means comprehensive (nor does it claim to be), but it does offer a fine selection of the left’s most lucid thinking, principally around questions of political economy.

The value of this book lies in its accessibility. Because each short chapter is a conversation between Lilley and her guest, key points are presented quickly, clearly and in a language that is comprehensible. In this sense, Capital and Its Discontents is the perfect book for liberals and leftists who want to move beyond superficial criticism of bad policies and greedy corporate executives and toward a structural critique of capitalism and imperialism. It’s also the perfect book for those who don’t have the time or inclination to pore over everything published by these 17 contributors, but want to gain a general sense of what the left intelligentsia is up to.

The book is arranged into three sections: “Empire, Neoliberalism, Crisis;” “Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism;” and “Alternatives?” I won’t describe every interview, but it’s fair to say that there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. The first section begins with a solid one-two punch of Ellen Meiksins Wood and David Harvey, with the former tackling basic questions like the nature of historical capitalism and forms of empire and the latter tracing the rise of neoliberalism. Subsequent contributors situate the 2008 financial crisis within a broader crisis of capitalism that has its roots in a decades-long repression of wages, the vast expansion of debt (household and commercial) and the spectacular growth of the financial sector. The lesson here is that the current problems of capitalism are not the result of mismanagement—they have a long history arising from the inherent contradictions of a system based upon ceaseless growth and the relentless pursuit of profits above all else.

Section two explores what Lilley, in her substantial introduction, suggests is a unifying theme of the book: capital’s drive to commodify all aspects of our lives. John Bellamy Foster and Jason W. Moore describe what this means from an ecological standpoint, and Ursula Huws explains how the commodification of unpaid, mostly female, domestic labor provides the underpinnings of the modern service sector.

Contributors to section three consider alternatives to the current order and touch on the complex history of state-led “national capitalism,” the legacy of the Soviet Union, the New Left’s relationship to postmodernism and anarchist visions of how to organize society.

The question of “Alternatives?” is a major one, and Lilley often concludes an interview by asking how we can rebuild the left into a force capable of challenging capital. Though responses vary, they all emphasize the need to educate people with a systemic critique of capitalism and the need to build left unity. Capital and Its Discontents is itself a major contribution toward that first goal and explicitly argues that we move toward the second through renewed cooperation between anarchists and socialists, a notion that I second. But how we get there, and how we shape our discontent into an effective anti-capitalist movement, is the biggest question of all.

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Straight Edge, in print: Sober Living on Louder than War

John Robb
Louder Than War
May 1, 2011

Sober Living For The Revolution, Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge and Radical Politics
by Gabriel Kuhn (PM Press)

It’s going to be nearly three decades since Minor Threat recorded a song that was just over thirty seconds long called "‘Straight Edge."

Those thirty seconds were a riposte to the local in crowd of DC trad rock bores who were so ensconced in the drink and drugs lifestyle that they were confounded by the young singer of Minor Threat’s no drink and drugs world. Unwittingly, he kicked off a whole scene as thousands of kids worldwide became straight edge. Mackaye remains puzzled by his position as the guru of a youth movement and his interview in this book is one if the best I’ve read with the ever-eloquent musician
and that’s saying somethingas he sets the record straight on his intentions with the song.

In the interview, Mackaye covers the nature of music and politics as well as straight edge itself in an open and inspiring way. It’s the first chapter in the book and sets the tone for a series of interviews with key players on the international punk scene from The Refused in Sweden to Man Lifting Banner in Holland and Point Of No Return in Brazil and key powers in several other countries. Each one underlines the international spread of straight edge and its combined bed fellows of hardcore and politics and how it added an intensity to the music that was uncluttered by the drink and drugs.

The interview with Dennis Lyxsen from the highly influential Refused and International Noise Conspiracy and the currently great AC4 is the best I have seen with as well as he discusses the shock value of coming out as a vegan in Sweden in the early nineties but how that has had a big effect in the growth of that scene since then. The Refused album Shape Of Punk To Come has become a key musical influence since then but it’s their politics that are of interest here and the book even reprints the manifesto from the album that is one of those fantastic word spiels that is part political statement and part Situationist skree and part call to arms.

The reoccurring theme in the book is straight edge and how it entwines with politics and how one fed of the other. It makes for a fascinating read and a valuable insight into the idealism that still exists at the heart of rock music.

The book is pretty thick as well and is a perfect size for throwing at anyone who tells you that there is no political or idealistic thought left in rock.

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Gabriel Kuhn Interviewed about Sober Living on Znet

By Gabriel Kuhn
July 20th, 2010

en français

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.

How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?

Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.

We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways.
So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?

Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
How can we resist these developments?
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, veganism and straight edge don't go necessarily together?
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior". I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.

How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?

To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.

What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?

The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

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