Saturday, January 26, 2013

George Kennan Set to Music by John Halle


Noam weighs in contra Rick Perlstein on the questions raised by the PPS/23 document which I set.

The usual firehose in response to a request for a sip of water:

JH: In any case, my position is that a) the document says what it says-i.e. that we plan to exercise our power to maintain our disparity in wealth and privilege. and b) that these recommendation were influential and were to a large extent carried out in subsequent years.

Perlstein seems not to object to a) but he takes issue with b)"

NC: Your position is quite accurate. PPS 23 went beyond the paragraph cited (and note that that passage was specifically about Asia, not the industrialized world, Europe and Japan), and was one of a series of policy statements produced under Kennan's direction by his Policy Planning Staff. The general idea was that the industrial societies should be reconstructed, but within the framework of world order that the US would administer. Other parts of the world were assigned particular "functions" within this system. Thus Africa was to be "exploited" (Kennan's phrase, in PPS 23) for the reconstruction of Europe, Southeast Asia would "fulfill its major function as a source of raw materials for Japan and Western Europe", etc. Of course the industrial world had to be reconstructed. The primary reason was the "dollar gap." The US had a huge manufacturing surplus, and the only countries that could serve as markets and targets for investment were the industrial societies -- that's aside from the obvious geostrategic concerns about world domination. Triangular trade relations were therefore established linking the US, Europe, Japan, and their former colonies -- for Japan, as Kennan put it, the US must provide it with "an empire toward the South" -- in other words, its "New Order in Asia," but now under US control. That was the motivating factor for the Indochina wars, from 1950, after the "loss of China". In Europe, the Marshall plan was a bonanza for American capitalists. And they knew it. Here's a passage lifted from my book World Orders Old and New, where all of this is discussed, with documentation and scholarly sources cited (notably Willam Borden’s excellent study):

The Marshall Plan "set the stage for large amounts of private U.S. direct investment in Europe," Reagan's Commerce Department observed in 1984, laying the groundwork for the Transnational Corporations (TNCs) that increasingly dominate the world economy. TNCs were "the economic expression" of the "political framework" established by postwar planners, Business Week observed in 1975, lamenting the apparent decline of the golden age of state intervention in which "American business prospered and expanded on overseas orders,...fueled initially by the dollars of the Marshall Plan" and protected from "negative developments" by "the umbrella of American power."

So Perlstein is partially right, but apparently missing the point of the elaborate and sophisticated planning of which PPS23 was a central part – not an outlier at all, as is clear from reading it through and understanding that it is part of a series of policy proposals, then implemented.

He’s right that open admissions of intent are rare and that mostly policy makers bask in self-serving rhetoric. I doubt, frankly, that it’s deceiving themselves. There’s every reason to suppose that they believe it – and as everyone knows, it’s not hard to convince oneself of what it’s convenient to believe. I’ve reviewed material from captured Japanese archives and from recently released Kremlin records, which reveal the same commitment to noble goals, overflowing humanity, etc., right at the times of the worst atrocities. And it’s painfully familiar from the history of imperialism, slaveowning, patriarchy, and much else.

The most naïve part of Perlstein’s comments is the reference to American “generosity.” Policies aren’t made by and for the public. There was plenty of generosity, but from the taxpayer to US investors, owners, managers – internal class war. That holds of every one of the cases he cites, and as I just quoted, they’re quite aware of it, even if liberal intellectuals prefer tales about “our” generosity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Visit to the Toronto ICANN Conference

Three of the organizers of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency sector of ICANN, Milton Mueller, Robin Gross and Rafik Dammak.  

A great panel at the conference organized by NCUC (Non-commercial Users Constituency) was on domain takedowns. It was unusual for ICANN to have a panel with more women than men.  The panel is streamed at: 

This photo was taken in the Law Enforcement meeting. I walked in, not realizing it was a closed meeting. It was 99% male. The discussion was about data mining-- not how to stop it, but how domain registrants could do it more effectively. Also they discussed how to watch for certain types of spam and the various types of software that could show spikes in usage that would indicate something was going on.  

No more free coffee. In the past there were free snacks and coffee in the trade show room, but at this conference ICANN was trying to make a buck.

On Sunday, at the GAC (the Government Advisory Committee) the African governments requested a meeting for themselves. Other participants were asked to leave. I took this photo before I left. 

Despite being an "internet" organization, ICANN is still quite dependent on paper. This was the totally useless cache in my conference bag, photographed before I placed all this crap in Toronto's paper recycle.

On Saturday I played hookey and visited a wonderful farm market at a repurposed Toronto trolley garage.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

"We've Come from the City!"

A cantata by Herbert Haufrecht, written for Camp Woodland. It is sung by members of the Hudson Valley Folk Guild and performed at the Parish Hall in Phoenicia, NY, summer, 2012.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Waiting for the Invasion in 1983

In the fall of 1983, after the invasion of Grenada, many of us thought there would be a similar invasion of Nicaragua. Skip Blumberg, Karen Ranucci, Joel Kovel, Eddie Becker, Karen Ranucci, Joan Braderman snd I flew to Managua to document the US citezens who were in solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution and were expecting to be attacked by their own government. We returned with the footage and Shulea Cheang and I edited it into Waiting for the Invasion, which we finished in January. My favorite screening story was about the Iowa State Fair. We were approached by a group in solidarity with Nicaragua who were from Iowa and wanted to show a film in a booth at the Iowa fair that next summer. They said they had screened dozens of films about Central America and Nicaragua and that our film was the only one that they felt could speak to a crowd of Iowa farmers, so they showed it in a loop for an entire week. I think it was all the corn plants that were in our film that hooked them in. In terms of stopping the invasion, well, we did what we could. Unfortunately the US kept up with their invasion-- only much more covertly than Grenada. The Contra War ranks with the wars against the Cherokees and other tribes as an example of just how cruel and heartless the National Security State can be.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Melissa Leo Reads an Anti-Fracking Letter

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Camp Woodland Reunion

 Sue Rosenberg reads from Camp Woodland's newspaper, The Catskill Call and Pete sings Guantanamera.

Pete Seeger explains the origen of the poem Guantanamera, which was written in Haines Falls, NY state, where the great Cuban poet was recuperating from illness.

Atheists and Patriots:
Campers speak of their camp experiences-- from arguments about the existence of God to raising the US flag every morning.

Niela Miller Sings Searching for the Lambs.

 Putting on the Agony, Putting on the Style

 Last Night I had the Strangest Dream followed by Down by the Riverside

Two songs from the Cantata "We Come From the City" by Herb Haufrecht sung by the Hudson Valley Folk Guild.

 Sue Rosenberg sent more information about the musicians:
 So here are the names of the people on the stage: 
Eric Weissberg on the banjo, playing with him was Mickey Vandow. 
Karl Finger played guitar and he's the one singing Guantanemara with Pete and Pat Lamanna. 
Niela Miller was all the way on the right (near me) and Dan Mack-Ward was the other guy with the guitar. He sang When a Feller is out of a job. Bob Lusk from Heritage Folk Music sang Big Bill Snyder with Ira McIntosh- who is the story teller from Andes.

 I will be posting these songs in the next few days.
It takes time to compress the material and then to post it on YouTube.
DeeDee Halleck

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

George Stoney


Friday, July 13, 2012

Paper Tiger Clean Up Unearths Trove of Rare Media Journals

Patricia Gonzalez, Rebecca Centeno and Tomoko Abe on Clean Up Day

The Paper Tiger office is getting reshuffled and we found collections of several magazines that I refused to put on the street! I know everything is digital, but I thought that surely there are people who might want to have in their archive.

If you are interested, call me (DeeDee 845 594 4871) and I will deliver to any place within the metropolitan area.

Afterimage-- many issues from the early 1980s
Community Television Review--1984 on for several years
Channels of Communication-- EARLY 80S
CINEASTE -- 1979 on for several years
Kick It-- unusual Australian magazine from th early 90s
Cultural Correspondence-- 1983 , 1984
Colors- some of the early issues 1995
Off Our Backs 1980s
Mom Guess What 1980s
Nacla 1984 for many years-- great Latin American journal
Extra 1995 on-- lots of issues.. great journal from FAIR

Don't let these end up on the street!
call or email:

Great for Media Literacy Classes

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Sunday, April 29, 2012


 Shirley Clarke's film, The Connection is opening at IFC this week. Her great film set in Harlem, The Cool World, is still hoarded by vicious misogynist Frederick Wiseman.  This photo of a Video Space Troop meeting is by Peter Simon. That's me on the left with the sandal and Shirley with the hat.

The following is a piece I wrote about her the day I heard she had died-- it is included in my book Hand Held Visions.    

Shirley Clarke was my mentor.  I learned more from her than anyone else I ever knew--  mostly about how to be a mentor-- how to energize people, how to push them to do good work, how not to give up when the technology was failing, the people lethargic or the situation impossible.  Shirley pushed things and people to the edge.  She never gave up.  Altziheimer claimed her about ten years ago, but she held on, tenderly nursed by two of her beloved disciples, Piper and David Cort, who bathed her and tucked her in and smoothed her forehead.  Her daughter Wendy and many of her colleagues were with her during her last days in a Boston hospital.  She died last month in a sweet sleep surrounded by Felix the Cat and Betty Boop, the toys of her youth held tight for all these years.

Shirley was somewhere between Betty Boop and Felix the Cat herself, with a bit of Charlie Chaplin's tramp thrown in.  She often wore a bowler hat and tight smart little suits, like something out of a 1930's chorus line. All she needed were spats to complete the costume.  She had style.  A small woman with the body of a dancer, she had piercing black eyes, like a beady little mouse.  She was witty and bright, and endlessly energetic. 

Shirley started as a dancer.  Her first films were dance films, such as Dance in the Sun (1953) and In Paris Parks (1954), a lyrical look at gesture and movement in a public landscape.  I saw this early work and Bridges Go Round, a piece she did for the Brussels World Fair at the Hunter Art Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It changed my life.  Seeing her name on the credits and the joy and energy of the images made me realize that women could and should make their own films.  I decided to try to study film in college. 

Her work in the early 60's, The Connection and The Cool World are landmarks of the American New Wave movement.  The Cool World is a New York version of Italian neo-realism, every bit as powerful and poignant.  It remains (with Robert Frank's Pull My Daisy) the best expression of marginal life in that era.  Her film, Portrait of Jason (1967) was one of the first with a gay protagonist in an open and sympathetic (and completely unromantic) manner.  Shirley and Viva Superstar shared the screen as talent in Agnes Varda's Lion's Love, which was always my favorite Varda film.  Somehow Shirley (and Viva) added a New York edge to Varda, who can wax sentimental and cloying. 

In the early seventies I somehow found my way up to her workshop space in the penthouse of the Chelsea Hotel.  Shirley lived and worked there making live and taped video performance, installation and documentation with a collaborating group of artists.  I was lucky to have been a part of that work.  We formed a troupe, those of us who worked with Shirley.  She called us the TeePee Video Space Troupe and the idea was to experiment with performance that integrated video and other technologies.  It was the days before video cassettes and each tape had to be hand threaded into the portapak decks.  Not that it was really about recording per se.  Most of what we did was never on tape: the tape was only one of the elements of the constructions, the happenings, the events.  It was electronic performance in an interactive mode.  The troupe included myself, Andy Gurian, Shirley's daughter Wendy, Bruce Ferguson, Vicki Polon, David Cort, Bob Harris, Parry Teasdale, Shalom Gorewitz, Susan Milano, Shridir Bapat and others.  There were regular drop-ins like Agnes Varda, Shigeko Kaboda, Beryl Korot, Nam June Paik, Skip Blumberg, Barbara Haspiel, Steina and Woody Vasulka, Jori Schwartzman, or neighbors at the Chelsea, Carl Lee, Viva (toting one of her kids), photographer Peter Simon, Doris Chase, Andre Vosnevshenski, George Kleinsinger, Virgil Thompson, Harry Smith, Arthur C. Clarke (no relation).  

At any given time there always seemed to be one or two Japanese dancers around.  Sometimes even Andy Warhol climbed that flight of stairs after the last elevator stop, looking for Viva.  Louis Malle came by, as did Susan Sontag, Joris Ivens, Peter Brooks, Jean Rouche and Shelly Winters.  The Chelsea had a certain cachet for visitors from Europe, Hollywood and Japan and Shirley was queen of the Chelsea. 

Around Shirley swirled miles of video cables, cameras, monitors and telephones.  She was wired. Shirley had a new project every night.  We were needed to help make it happen.  It was sometimes frustrating, often exhausting, but it was hard not to trot over there, because you never knew what you might miss if you stayed away.

One time Arthur Clarke somehow got hold of a laser beam.  He unwrapped a long rectangular box with a fat cable, borrowed from some Columbia lab by a fan of 2001 Space Odysey.    This was many years before those red needles of light sparkled on every cashier's counter.  The laser was exotic and thrilling and Shirley and Arthur giggled like kids phoning in bogus pizza orders as they plugged it in and carried it out to the edge of the Chelsea roof, aiming it down at the sidewalk. From that distance it was hard to keep steady, but Shrider quickly screwed it into a tripod tilted over the edge.  Passers-by on 23rd street stooped to pick up the resulting tiny red jewel.  Both Clarke's roared with laughter as they made it jump five feet out of reach.  When we tried using the laser in our performances, it etched intricate patterns on several of our cameras.

One night we all agreed to do dawn.  We broke into five groups and went out to video dawn.  We recconoitered on the roof with stacks of monitors and cued up the five tapes from the five groups.  Shirley rang up for bagels and champaigne and when they were delivered we toasted the pink sky and switched on the decks for a multi channel piece of morning in New York.  Shots of steam rising from the street vents, tracking shots of bottle collectors pushing their carts, shots of pigeons in flight mixed and matched across the screens.  The natural sounds of the live streets below us mixed with the taped steam hisses and pigeon coos to make a city symphony of sounds as well as sights. Behind the pyramid of monitors flickering the black and white visual poems were the pastel sky scrapers, their windows reflecting the rising red sun ball.  One special moment was when pigoens flew right to left across one of the monitors and appeared in the bottom left of the neighboring monitor, as if in one continuous flight. It was one of those synchronisities that we were all sure Shirley planned. We didn't giggle during that event.  Exhausted and emotional we sat in the rosy light with tears streaming down our cheeks, the kind of tears that can punctuate a late Beethoven quartet played well.  When the tapes spun empty at the end we came together and hugged.  Like some Omega circle, just more spontaneous and real. 

I remember one night we set up an elaborate elevator installation: a camera on each Chelsea floor aimed at the elevator door and a Pisa-like leaning stack of monitors on the roof recreating the Chelsea's 10 floors.  Wires ran up the center staircase picking up the feed on each floor.  Then someone would do a performance on the elevator and we would watch the roof TV stack.  We could see the performance only when the doors opened on floor after floor.  It was a great idea.  It never quite worked.  None of Shirley's projects ever "worked" in the conventional sense, but we knew that the ideas totally worked.  It was exhilerating.    It was being high every night.  We were urban guerillas of the Chelsea penthouse, plotting an electronic coup that would liberate the imaginations of the world.

The image of Felix the Cat was one of the very first images to glow from a cathode ray tube in television experiments in the 1930's.   At this moment, high above us on a flickering celestial screen, an implike Shirley in a spiffy bowler hat morphs in and out with Felix in a perpetual soft shoe routine.  Goodnight, Shirley.  May some of us, your students, transmit electric visions as sassy and brilliant as you and Felix, with an edge as sharp and a passion as deep.  

Workshop Photographs by Peter Simon     Shirley kissing Nam June photo by DeeDee Halleck


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Michael Ratner on Bradley Manning's "Trial"

On 24 April, a hearing in one of the most important court martial cases in decades will take place in Fort Meade, Maryland. The accused faces life in prison for the 22 charges against him, which include "aiding the enemy" and "transmitting defense information". His status as an alleged high-profile whistleblower and the importance of the issues his case raises should all but guarantee the proceedings a prominent spot in major media, as well as in public debate.
Yet, in spite of the grave implications, not to mention the press and public's first amendment right of full and open access to criminal trials,no outside parties will have access to the evidence, the court documents, court orders or off-the-record arguments that will ultimately decide his fate. Under these circumstances, whatever the outcome of the case, the loser will be the transparency necessary for democratic government, accountable courts and faith in our justice system.
In the two years since his arrest for allegedly leaking the confidential files that exposed grand-scale military misconduct, potential war crimes and questionable diplomatic tactics, army private Bradley Manning has been subjected to an extremely secretive criminal procedure. It is a sad irony that the government's heavy-handed approach to this case only serves to underscore the motivations – some would say, the necessity – for whistleblowing like Manning's in the first place.
The most well-known of the leaked files, a 39-minute video entitled"Collateral Murder", depicts three brutal attacks on civilians by US soldiers during the course of just one day of the Iraq war. The footage, recorded from the cockpit of a US Apache helicopter involved in the attacks, shows the killing of several individuals, including two Reuters journalists, as well as the serious injury of two children. Beyond the chilling images of US soldiers eagerly pleading for chances to shoot, the release of this footage placed a spotlight on the military's blatant mischaracterization of the events, in which a spokesman claimed that there was "no question" that the incident involved engagement with "a hostile force", and underscores the vital role that public scrutiny plays in government accountability.
As an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and a legal adviser to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, I continue to attend Manning's hearings and can only describe them as a theater of the absurd: the trial involves numerous and lengthy off-the-record conferences, out of sight and hearing of the press and public, after which the judge provides an in-court summary that hardly satisfies standards of "open and public". Perhaps more remarkable is the refusal even to provide the defense with a pre-trial publicity order signed by the judge – an order that details what lawyers can and cannot reveal about the case. Yes, even the degree to which proceedings should be kept in secret is a secret, leaving the public and media chained in a Plato's Cave, able only to glimpse the shadows of reality.
The press and advocacy groups, however, have not been quiet about the trampling of their rights. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on behalf of 46 news organizations, urged the Department of Defense to take measures that would allow the news media to view documents prior to court arguments. The committee pointed out that the trial for the "alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in US history" is of "intense public interest, particularly where, as here, that person's liberty is at stake". The Center for Constitutional Rights, too, has requested access in the interest of an "open and public" trial, but neither appeal has been answered.
This is a clear violation of the law, but it will likely take burdensome litigation to rectify this lack of transparency. The US supreme court has insisted that criminal trials must be public, and the fourth circuit, where this court martial is occurring, has ruled that the first amendment right of access to criminal trials includes the right to the documents in such trials.
The greater issue at hand is why this process should be necessary at all. As circuit judge Damon Keith famously wrote in Detroit Free Press v Ashcroft, "Democracies die behind closed doors." Yet it is evident from the many layers of secrecy around Manning's arrest, imprisonment and prosecution that the government shows no sign of relinquishing its claimed powers to obscure rightfully transparent judicial proceedings. The doors appear to be tightly shut.
Unless we challenge the growing culture of secrecy within our government, and counter the ever-increasing, reflexive claims of "national security" by claiming our own constitutional rights, we risk finding those doors shut indefinitely.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Paper Tiger Exhibition at NYU Library

March 22, 2012, 6:14 pm
Filed under: ExhibitionNew York CitytelevisionActivism | Tags: ,

Citywide aims for progressive programming. We bring many people onto the show who stand to make a change in the world in whatever way they strive to do. This can take place in a number of different ways. Some of our guests are out there trying to improve conditions for less privileged parts of our society as well as spreading a humanitarian message, see our post on Immortal Technique. Some of our guests are actively trying to expand on what the human being can physically be, like recent guest Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Some of our guests have represented a change itself in being an original artist, like Mykki Blanco who was on last month.
These are people our program has brought on for our audience to check out and have something different to think about. Paper Tiger Television, our feature this week, is another weekly program in the City which doesn’t just discuss the people who are doing progressive work this day, the people on the show itself have been pioneering and innovative since the show’s formation in 1981. PPTV recognizes that there must be an aggressive front to counter a mainstream media that is largely controlled by large corporations. Formed entirely by volunteers who share the concern of what control mass media has over today’s culture, PPTV has been one of the most consistent and driven organizations of people who insist that there be a source of criticism and information outside the commercial world.
I spoke with one of the founders of Paper Tiger Television, Dee Dee Halleck, who took me through some of the early years of the new form of media activism which PPTV represented at the beginning of the 1980s. It is important to note about PPTV that while that not only did they set a new precedent for activists trying to reach a mass audience, they also set an important precedent for the mediums of public cable television which was just emerging at the time. And while programs such as The Coca Crystal Show and Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (“The TV party that could be a political party”) had already fought to claim the medium as one belonging to the people, PPTV ensured that the medium would balways be used to also speak for the people.
It’s an extraordinary organization that continues to do extraordinary work. Greatest of all is that they are always accepting volunteers. Check out their website and see what you think about the work they do; see if maybe you even want to help. You can also watch many of the programs tand documentaries they have produced. That’s righthere.
PPTV is currently celebrating it’s 30 year anniversary with an exhibition at Fales Library at New York University. This is the exhibition’s website. Here is a video about the 30 year history of Paper Tiger Television-

Dee Dee Halleck also told me about a great new effort of hers to unite activists with similar causes around the world. Check out Deep Dish Waves of Change for more information about that. This program derives from another project of Dee Dee’s calledDeep Dish TV, a similar organization to PPTV, doing with satellite what Paper Tiger did with cable television.
Dee Dee told me some wonderful stories herself. Check out the interview here-
Here is one of the first PPTV programs, Herb Schiller reads the New York Times-

Lucas Green

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012


thank you John Douglas

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Paper Tiger Exhibition at Fales

Camcorder Commando

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bifo Manifesto

Thursday, July 14, 2011

IAMCR in Istanbul

From a history of the organization by Kaarle Nordenstreng and Cees Hamelink:
The history of the IAMCR goes back to the first years of Unesco. Its Committee on Technical Needs in the Mass Media drafted in 1946 a constitution for an “International Institute of the Press and information, designed to promote the training of journalists and the study of press problems throughout the world............

IAMCR reception in Prague 1984.
From left to right: Robin Cheesman (Section Head, Denmark), Kaarle Nordenstreng (Vice President, Finland), Cees Hamelink (Vice President, The Netherlands) and Peggy Gray (President Halloran's executive assistant, UK).
Over the five decades the aims and scope of the Association remained focused on the creation of a global forum where researchers and others involved in media and communication can meet and exchange information about their work. The Association wants to stimulate interest in media and communication research, to disseminate information about research and to create a broad constituency of researchers, practitioners and policymakers.

Throughout its history the Association has adopted public statements on such issues as the protection of journalists, the right to communicate, the freedom of research, the support for international communication policies in the service of democratic development, and the need to contribute to the improvement of communication facilities in the Third World. The concern about public presence of communication research and its role in public life has been a leading motive throughout the years. This became very concrete in the contributions of the IAMCR made to the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 (Geneva) and in 2005 (Tunis).


Over the years, IAMCR was unusual in the fact that several of their meetings took place in Eastern Europe (Prague, Bled, Leipzig), during intense cold war years. In addition there was an implicit support for the principles of the MacBride Report, which was viciously fought by the US, to the extent that funding for UNESCO and the UN itself was dropped because of the commission's report. In what seems like a reversal of previous policy, this year's IAMCR meeting saw the organization's annual award presented to Eliu Katz, who made concerted efforts to undermine the NWICO (New World Information and Communication Order) principles in discussions at the time. Katz promulgated a theory of "active audience" which undercut the position of cultural imperialism and the need for democratic access to information technology and equitable means of expression.

In addition, another award was presented to a local scholar and official Turkish UNESCO rep during the harsh 1950s whose stance on "free flow of information" paralleled that of the US State Department at that time.

Two of the usual annual awards (the Herb Schiller Award and the Dallas Smythe Award-- two researchers who were adamantly critical of the corporate and imperial stance against NWICO by US policy makers and dictatorial regimes such as Turkey at the time) seem to be conveniently forgotten in the current revisions of IAMCR's position. Those awards were not included in the ceremony.

What was included was a long cello and piano recital of Bach and Italian medleys -- finishing with several compositions by the pianist in what has to be called easy listening style.

-- DeeDee Halleck, Istanbul, July 13, 2011.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Some short random clips from Mary Frank's Opening May 5, 2011

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Remembering Hazel (1935-2011)

Me listening to Jeremy on the fiddle at Margie's wedding. Photo by John Cohen
When I was a student at Antioch in 1958 I used to hang out at a ramshackle clapboard house that was practically on campus and the source of consternation for the college administration and the Yellow Springs "civic improvement association". A non-functioning Bendix washer made the yard closer to Appalachia than Central Ohio suburbia and the sounds of guitar picking were pretty much always heard through the pushed-out-screen door.  It was where Jeremy Foster and Alice Gerrard Foster lived with their red-haired toddler Coralee. I was the eldest of four girls and had recently left my Tennessee family and my own younger red haired sisters and being at the Fosters was the closest thing to home for me.

One afternoon the Fosters were especially excited-- "Stick around," Jeremy said--a friend was coming by-- her name was Hazel and she was from West Virginia. Jeremy and Alice weren't from the mountains-- Jeremy was from outside DC and Alice was a California Valley girl. But they loved country music. REAL authentic country music, not, as Jeremy used to put it, "Fuck music" of the sort that co-eds from Greenwich Village moaned in their Antioch dorm rooms.

As Alice and Jeremy bustled about changing sheets on the pull-out couch, it was clear that they thought Hazel was the real thing. I imagined a Dorothea Lange sort of hillbilly, earthy type, maybe dressed in a flour sack shift, perhaps driving a rattletrap Ford pick-up. I couldn't wait! After several hours of anxious expectation, a car did pull in to the Foster's drive way, not a hillbilly truck, but the biggest, fanciest limo I had ever seen. Out stepped a woman with a bee-hive hair-do, heavy make-up and a shiny red dress with a big slit up the thigh. Hazel wasn't coming directly from the mountains of West Virginia, but from Baltimore where she was working the bars.

Jeremy and Alice were overjoyed to see her and laughed at my surprise. Within a few minutes of driving up, she took out a guitar and she and Alice picked and sang a Carter Family song together. I think it was "Chawing, chewing gum..." Yes, Hazel was authentic. She was the best singer I had ever heard and I sat with Coralee on my lap for the rest of the afternoon listening to an amazing song swap.

Jeremy died a few years later in an accident on a DC beltway. Alice and Hazel ended up forming a team and recording several LPs with many original songs. Coralee is now a physician in Ithaca, I think, and Alice is living in the mountains of North Carolina. And Hazel died today.

Hazel Dickens, 1935 -2011 An Obituary 

by John Pietaro

The high lonesome sound that touched so many, so
deeply, could only have been born of both strife and
fight-back in equal proportions. Singer/guitarist Hazel
Dickens' sound was probably about as high and lonesome
as one got. The soundtrack of "Harlan County USA"
introduced her to the many outside of the country home
she remained a visceral part of, even long after she'd
physically moved on. Dickens didn't just sing the
anthems of labor, she lived them and her place on many
a picket line, staring down gunfire and goon squads,
embedded her into the cause.

She was born on June 1, 1935 in Montcalm, West
Virginia, one of the faceless towns dotting Appalachian
coal country. Her father was an amateur banjo player
who worked as a truck driver for the mines and ran a
Primitive Baptist church each Sunday. Here was where
Hazel first began singing, unaccompanied out of
necessity and the laws of tradition. But the devotional
songs melded with the mountain tunes and ballads,
creating a unique personal style. Bearing a rough, at
times coarse timber, her voice eagerly reflected the
broken topography about her as well as the pains of
poverty in her midst. In a family of thirteen residing
in a three-room shack, the music was far from distant
symbolism for her.

At age 16 Dickens relocated to Baltimore where she
encountered Mike Seeger on the still fledgling folk
scene. Seeger, working alongside his parents Charles
and Ruth Crawford Seeger in the Library of Congress
Archive of American Folksong, began performing with the
Dickens family trio, but it was Hazel's association
with Seeger's wife Alice Gerrard that offered notable
area for impact on the music. The duet of Hazel & Alice
recorded original compositions and deeply explored the
feminist archetypes in Appalachian song.  Dickens was
sure to not only raise issues such as the need for
equal pay for women workers, but to actively fight for
these on and off stage. Among the titles she penned
were "Working Girl Blues" and "Don't Put Her Down, You
Helped Put Her There". She also composed the noted
"Black Lung", which called on the miners' plight back
home. Like Aunt Mollie Jackson before her, Dickens was
able to capture the struggle of the moment in song, and
this was most evident in her on-screen performances in
celebrated films such as "Matewan" and "Song Catcher"
and her work on the above noted "Harlan County USA".
The union cause was her cause and it lived anew each
time she conjured a topical song set to a melody that
sounded as old as the ages.

A clear heir to the Appalachian stylings of Aunt Mollie
Jackson and Sarah Ogan, Dickens became a respected
figure and was a featured singer at folk festivals for
decades. Since the 1970s, Dickens had performed with a
wide array of musicians including Emmy Lou Harris,
Elvis Costello, Linda Ronstadt, Mary Chapin Carpenter
and Rosanne Cash. In 2007 she was inducted into the
West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Dickens was active as
recent as last month when she was seen attending the
South By Southwest Festival in Austin. Hazel Dickens
died of complications of pneumonia in Washington DC on
April 22. In the blackened crawlspaces of West
Virginia's mines the lament was a deafening silence as
the mountain peaks seemed to bow in solemn reverence.

-John Pietaro is a musician, writer and labor organizer
from New York

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Memorial for Janine Vega
M ikhail Horowitz and Andy Clausen
Ed Sanders, Carol Zaloom reading Janice King, Tom Pacheco
DeeDee Halleck introduces Sara Flores and Norma Flores, translated by Fanny Prizant
Max Kenner and Derrick Mustafa Bell

David Thomas and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Bill Yitalo, Michael Esposito, Allen Murphy and Juma Sultan

Mikhail Horowitz Sings the Mean Old Badger Blues; Jesus Papoleto Melendez Reads a Poem and Fatima plays piano and sings while Juma plays conga.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

"Looking Bad"

In 1983 Eddie Becker, Karen Ranucci, Joan Braderman, Skip Blumberg, Joel Kovel and I went to Nicaragua as the US threatened to attack. We thought it would be similar to the assault that was perpetrated against the island nation of Grenada that fall. Everyone expected that there would be a similar military invasion and we went down to try to show that what was happening in Nicaragua was supported by many of the Nicaraguan people and also many U.S. citizens who lived and worked there.

The resulting film is called Waiting for the Invasion: US Citizens in Nicaragua. Although many people all over the world expected an immediate invasion, we were wrong.  The invasion came, but not in the form of a full-out military assault.  Reagan unleashed a bloody U.S.-funded and trained counter insurgency that ruined the Sandinista economy and killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguan peasants.

Before we finished the film, we tried to get portions of it shown on the MacNeil Lehrer Report on PBS. We were quite desperate to get the information to a wider audience to try to stave off what we saw as an impending invasion. We knew that PBS would want full "journalistic neutrality" so we were careful to interview people from "both sides". But it was hard to find people who supported the notion of a U.S. invasion. Even a U.S. ex-military entrepreneur tire salesman wearing a California Chamber of Commerce tee shirt was against an invasion. We interviewed him as he was digging a trench outside of his business saying he would be "ready for Reagan".

We did finally found a pro-invasion spokesperson-- the U.S. Ambassador, Anthony Quintain, who railed against the peaceniks who had gathered in front of his embassy with their peace signs. We also interviewed the Texaco oil man in Managua, whose swarmy interview was full of hostility towards those protesters who "must live in a box", to be brought out for protests by the devious communists running the country.

It was 1983 and it was before the many brigades of U.S. "sandalistias" descended on the revolutionary experiment with their cameras and tape recorders. We had pretty much "an exclusive" with our look inside the Sandinista Revolution.  MacNeil Lehrer kept our film clips for several weeks and a friend who worked with them said they were seriously considering running some of our footage. But ultimately we were turned down.  The opinion from the PBS management (we heard that the issue had gone up the chain of command to Washington executives) was that it was "too one-sided".

"But wait!" we objected. "We did show both sides! We interviewed the ambassador and the oil company!" "Yes," said the producer, "but they look bad. Nothing they say makes any sense." So because it was so obviously "one-sided", our film never ran on PBS. It did, however, run in the Iowa State Fair. A solidarity group picked our film to loop continuously at a booth the next summer. One of the scenes takes place in a cornfield where a young U.S. agronomist speaks about the agrarian reform program and the need to get away from export-only farming and plant more food products.  The Iowa peace group said they looked at a lot of films about conflict in Nicaragua and Central America and they felt that our film was the only one that Iowa farmers could relate to.  Corn farmers unite.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Reminiscing about 112 Greene Street