March 24, 2005 § Leave a Comment
Williams College professor Mark C. Taylor’s life’s work is the examination of the culture of religion and its relationship to art, architecture, society and even economics. His latest book, “Confidence Games,” focuses on the market economy’s relationship with religion in order to further his ideas about the interconnectedness of everything.
“There is a religious dimension to all of culture,” said Taylor, “and part of the interpretive process is to try to show the religious dimensions of money and markets.”
Taylor said that the religious structure of the market dates back to Martin Luther, by way of Adam Smith, a Scottish Calivnist, who used metaphors lifted from John Calvin.
“The way in which the market functions is, for Smith and those down to the present day, the way in which God functions, the guiding hand of the market and all those kinds of metaphors,” said Taylor. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 10, 2005 § Leave a Comment
It’s hard not to look at the documentary “Peaceable Kingdom” as a 77-minute plea for vegetarianism, but to pigeonhole it like that would only ignore the wider issues that have less to do with dietary habits and more to do the capacity of people to lull themselves into a systematic form of inhumanity. Part of Tribe of Heart’s “Animal People” anthology series, “Peaceable Kingdom” looks at people whose experience with farms and animals caused them to devote their lives to advocating for appropriate treatment of farm animals. While vegetarianism is practiced by most of the subjects — including a couple who opened the country’s largest farm animal sanctuary in upstate New York and several former farmers who turned their backs on the family business — the idea that animals can be treated humanely and with dignity is surely something meat eaters can condone.
The film examines the American perception of a farm and how it is hopelessly out of date, if it was ever current at all. When most people consider the cruelty of meat production, they think in terms of death as the cruelty — in fact death is the only show of kindness in the process. By comparison, the closest a typical person might come to an equitable situation would be hunting, which is hardly the same as the systematic, industrialized commodification of millions of living creatures, bred in abusive situations where cruelty has been institutionalized.
As the film points out, Americans are raised on a diet of fuzzy farm images from children’s books that have no bearing on reality. The only fuzzy images in this film are the ones at the sanctuary. The footage taken at the farms where livestock is birthed and bred hardly match the American storybook idea, unless you are talking about an interment camp, maybe.
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March 3, 2005 § Leave a Comment
A new documentary suggests that water may be the new oil, but one that affects the Northern Berkshires in an even more direct way than black gold. “Thirst,” a film by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, follows three case studies in the move to privatize water supplies. In the details, the film reveals a situation where multinational corporations are doing their part to revive the wonderful and time-honored practice of colonialism as they buy up the resources of those who need them and sell those resources back at a profit.
Citizens in our area might do themselves a favor by viewing “Thirst,” considering the past events in regard to the Hoosac Valley Water Quality District and the proposals of privatization as a money-saving measure.
As the film shows, privatization can and often does lead to skyrocketing water prices for consumers — prices so devastating that people in Bolivia were willing to die to fight them. In Bolivia, Bechtel and the World Bank descended to take over the water, raising rates as high as 300 percent, until the citizens took to the streets and riots broke out. Soldiers, police, and snipers are used for some brutal crowd control and tragedy lead to the multinationals being escorted out of the situation by a government facing reality.
In Stockton, Calif., the city council fights a massive effort to stop a privatization deal. Calls from opponents demanding that citizens should vote on the issue bring some pretty bizarre public admissions on the part of the mayor and local government that reveal a bit too much in regard to their attitude towards the power of the people. One city councilor states that because they were elected to make decisions for the citizens, there is really no need for citizens to make decisions for themselves.
Much to its credit, the film provides voices to not only the activists in Stockton, but also to the supporters of water privatization. Despite the chance to explain their views, many come off as fairly obstinate and mildly obstructive, though by the same token they don’t seem malicious in their decisions, merely incapable of viewing the big picture in their effort to solve the more immediate problems. Still, it’s heartening to see an issue that is apparently uniting liberals and conservatives in the fight.
As much as the film points out the problems in the big picture, it does take the time to offer some solutions that can benefit the small one. In India, one man, Rajendra Singh, teaches locals how to capture monsoon rains and use the water to turn deserts into fertile land. Not only is Singh helping the people take charge of their situation and bypass the government’s efforts to sell the water supplies, but he is also bucking the world of international big business.
In India, you see, Coca-Cola is sapping up water resources, while in our own country, Nestle is depleting groundwater and streams by sucking large quantities of spring water to refresh joggers everywhere with their product. The current business trends weigh heavily on the idea of big businesses taking over local ones and sucking resources out of a community — it’s true in radio, factories, coffee shops, you name it. It is also true with water, now.
Makes you wonder how long before it will also be true for oxygen.
March 3, 2005 § Leave a Comment
It’s easy to descend into the realm of statistics in regard to youth crime. The documentary “Girl Trouble” personalizes the issue by following the real lives of three young women over a four-year period. The film illustrates that the issues surrounding youth delinquency in general and girl delinquency in particular are complicated ones, relating to the atmosphere and attitudes of their upbringing and homes and borne of a specific need for survival.
Crime has decreased nationally, while the incarceration for girls has risen at a faster rate than for boys. In San Francisco, the setting of the film, youth crime is on the decrease while the number of girls in the juvenile justice system has more than doubled. Girls represent more than a quarter of the youth offender population, and yet they account for only 2 percent of related services.
Directors Lexi Leban and Lidia Szajko take their cameras in and out of the Center for Young Women’s Development, an employment and advocacy program run by formerly jailed girls trying to turn their lives around. Under the dynamic directorship of Lateefah Simon, a 22-year-old single mother with the passion required to turn some lives around, the center works to give the girls practical experience and knowledge and help them navigate the justice system, thus learning to take their fate in their own hands.
As the film unfolds, viewers are side by side with the girls as they negotiate their paths through a world that unfortunately seem set up for them at birth.
Shangra, 16, the daughter of a homeless drug addict and essentially homeless herself, is facing drug charges, eventually violating court-imposed curfew and running from the law.
Stephanie, also 16, was raised in an abusive home by a heroin-addicted father and alcoholic mother, with a history of truancy, theft, and violence, as well as homelessness. As the film begins, she is pregnant by her abusive boyfriend and using aliases to avoid the law. In fact, her fear of ending up in jail is so ingrained that she refuses to go to the hospital to have abuse injuries treated, for fear she will be arrested and her baby will be taken away from her.
Sheila, 17, is a drug user and alcoholic raised in an abusive setting by her alcoholic family and harsh brothers. With a history of depression, psychosis, and suicide attempts, Sheila is constantly fighting her past and often losing — losing her job, fighting with her family, and eventually ending up in jail for a drug induced gun assault on her brother.
It’s a wonder that any of these girls are as friendly and intelligent as they are presented, thoughtful, largely calm, and definitely not whiners. They have their weaknesses and they are aware of them, but they are not without the desire to turn their lives around, it is just a matter of beating back their demons on a consistent basis in order to concentrate on the delicate balance required for betterment.
As the film shows, though the system has really worked against these girls and sometimes magnified their problems, it has also provided the means to help them out in the end when they are harnessed correctly.
In other words, the processes are somewhat in place when thoughtful, capable people are involved and that may be the big problem. Without the involvement of someone like Lateefah Simon, it is not hard to imagine that the girls would have ended up far more damaged and incarcerated for the rest of their lives.
As one lawyer points out over lunch to Stephanie, self-respect is the one impetus these girls have to take power of their own lives. They are trapped in a cycle of no solutions, where lawbreaking becomes their only means of survival and the loudest rebuttal to their particular social and psychological issues.
What they obviously need is a reminder that they must fight for their self respect and some hand holding as they learn the way life and the system works. Given the proper equipment, there are some people who will take the tools and run and they certainly deserve some time with those means before they are locked away like problems we want to forget.