In the live performance above, Dylan cuts out some verses from the studio version, but it’s such a great performance, it’s worth it.
Thanks to YouTuber Music Vault
Woman At War (Kona fer í stríð) is the most thrilling film I’ve seen in a long time. It’s the story of an Icelandic woman who decides to take direct action against the new money vultures who are invading her country. The slick capitalists are bringing in their heavy industry to destroy the Icelandic environment and change the Icelandic collective way of life, so this humble woman, Halla, a choirmaster, decides to take responsibility. She drags her bow and arrow across the moss-covered Icelandic interior moonscape and shoots a line of metallic wires across the newly built, landscape-spoiling, power lines. Snap, Crackle, Pop. The lines short and knock out the power to the new aluminum plants. The Mountain Woman has struck again.
The authorities, of course, do not take kindly to such shenanigans. They are on the lookout for this “criminal” and they use all the powers of a newly minted surveillance state. For these new capitalists, who seek to extract as much as they can from the previously clannish Icelandic village way of life, can only impose their will by enforcing it with an extensive surveillance and propaganda effort. Within hours of the power knock-out, the government apparatchiks have laid down the outlines of their counter-offensive. The Mountain Woman is immediately labelled a terrorist. The film neatly shows us how the discourse rapidly spreads from the politicians’ mouths across television, radio and locker rooms. The media buzz insists that it’s the resister and her friends, not the slick politicians who are the threat to democracy. She is falsely labelled as armed and dangerous with remarkable speed. The newly installed surveillance cameras and drones across the country make her a woman on the run, but still no less determined to accomplish her mission with the help of well-wishers and fellow travelers she meets along the way.
You can’t help but identify with the righteousness and intelligence of the woman, Halla, who gets pursued across the country. The film is constructed so that it is thrilling up to the very last moments. And in the end, in a daring and hilarious twist, our hero ends up having eluded the authorities, even as the rest of her—and our—future remains uncertain.
The acting of the lead character Halla, by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is a marvel. The one thing that can not be faked on a large screen is intelligence and depth of conviction. Perhaps I have been watching the wrong movies, but I almost never see this on the American screen. Ben Kingsley achieved it in his portrayal of Gandhi, but it is very rare to find an American actor whose internal political conviction and understanding is developed enough. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty of becoming a successful artist in this country; what is rewarded and what becomes the surrounding artistic environment is one of triviality, where political affiliation is a fad of the day, more like team sports, and the propensity to actually risk one’s moral convictions with action is nearly non-existent. But Ms. Geirharðsdóttir is not only fully convincing onscreen, you know she would be fully convincing off screen as well.
As if to counterpoint the seriousness of Ms. Geirharðsdóttir’s performance, the writer and director Benedikt Erlingsson contrasts the weighty theme with many elements of humor, not the least of which is the introduction of a character who is Halla’s twin sister—also played by Ms. Geirharðsdóttir. The portrayal of the sister is a funny, canny performance of a woman who looks inwardly towards meditation and yoga, in contrast to her twin who looks outwardly towards political action. I blinked a few times watching the two sisters together, because although they seem physically similar, their attitudes are so different that it was only with rolling of the credits that I was able to confirm that they were both played by Ms. Geirharðsdóttir.
Director Erlingsson also introduces some Brechtian-like characters who break the fourth wall, including a trio of musicians who show up at key times in the story, like a Greek Chorus. They inhabit the same space as the other characters but are unseen by them. There is also a scruffy bike-riding fellow wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt who keeps getting arrested for Halla’s crimes, but who is always let go for insufficient evidence. If you’d like to think that these characters are a commentary on the fact that when one person takes a strong moral stand and acts, there are always unseen supporters and allies, then we’re in agreement.
I was initially exhilarated by the movie, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. My wife and I had spent a brief time in Iceland last year and we both enjoyed seeing locations and streets that we recognized. It brought back memories of the basically egalitarian society we found there that was on the brink of challenge from the super-capitalists.
And yet a few days later, the movie had me down. Because as thrilling as the film was, as wonderful as it was that the forces of good won out in the end, it became clear to me that the story was a fairy tale. The director puts in Brechtian elements, but forgets why Brecht did so: Brecht wanted always to point out that what was onstage at any given time was just a story, not reality. Don’t get too caught up with the characters and forget about what is really going on in the real world, says Brecht. In Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, this is illustrated in the most direct way possible: through a set of coincidences the hero is saved from hanging by the authorities at the very last moment with a pardon from the Queen. A happy ending. But the cast slyly declares that this is just a story, and in real life, it doesn’t happen that way. In real life, people get hanged. Don’t get too caught up in the story, says Brecht. It’s a story. A fairy tale.
But Woman At War gives no such reminders. The hero in the story gets saved over and over from perilous circumstances by sheer dumb luck. She is followed by drones, tracked by police helicopters, surveyed by cameras, followed in cars, demonized by the worst, slickest media propaganda, stripped of allies by a populace anesthetized by the inanity of the discourse of capitalism, yet still always escapes. This is perhaps a story that is perfect for Iceland, because it is a society that is still on the precipice of the old and the new; it is a society that has worked very hard to move towards an egalitarian society, rooted in a collective memory of a people who had to rely on each other for survival. The relatively new neo-liberal vulture capital class is seeking to overturn all that. You can see the tension between these forces even in a casual visit to the country. The story, fortunately, has not been resolved in favor of the capitalists yet.
In a stroke of irony, though, I just read that Jodi Foster has bought the rights to this film and is going to star in a re-make. She will set it in Midwest America. I have great respect for Jodi Foster, but it’s a mistake. This can only be an Icelandic movie. The forces of capital have not reached the same tipping point there as they already have here. Here in America, we are surveilled, numbered, data mined, credit checked. We are militarized, racialized, families pulverized, children incarcerated. It’s too late in America for Erin Brockovich or Karen Silkwood. Their time has passed as possibilities. Julian Assange is thrown in prison. Chelsea Manning, once pardoned, now in prison, too. And both major political parties couldn’t care less. We are way beyond the point in this country where such a fairy tale would even have meaning: even a fairy tale has to have some plausibility. We in America have lost.
Our American cinematic fairy tales now are only of force, comic book tales of being able to beat up, destroy others. The Marvel and DC Worlds. We cannot even think in any other dimension. Perhaps Iceland…
Despite my reservations, this is a great film. It will have you thinking about courage and the State and just what it is that we can do as human beings to resist the madness around us.
The New York Times, which unapologetically lies in its pages, from Judy Miller’s Iraq stories to the current daily pro-Guaido Venezuela propaganda, from time to time deigns to run correction notices—as if to reassure its readers that the rest of the paper is copacetic. Here’s my favorite New York Times correction notice ever, from yesterday’s news story on the production of vegetarian patties for Burger King:
Correction: April 1, 2019:
An earlier version of this article misstated the kind of seeds on Whopper buns. They are sesame seeds, not poppy seeds.
Thank You, New York Times, for keeping up Standards!
Last week, I posted Part One of my interview with Malcolm Harris. Here’s how I introduced it:
“The young people tagged as Millennials have been called entitled, lazy, narcissistic, snow flakes and so on—but are those stereotypes the real deal? In his book, Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials, author Malcolm Harris investigates the political and economic forces that are squeezing and shaping his generation. In so doing, he also reveals some of the unique features of this stage of late capitalism.”
Now you can hear Part Two of my eye-opening interview with Harris as broadcast yesterday on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. The first part of the interview covered the life of millennials up to college; in this week’s Part Two, Harris focuses on the world of work, and why all of us, millennials or not, are headed in the same direction.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
The young people tagged as Millennials have been called entitled, lazy, narcissistic, snow flakes and so on—but are those stereotypes the real deal? In his book, Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials, author Malcolm Harris investigates the political and economic forces that are squeezing and shaping his generation. In so doing, he also reveals some of the unique features of this stage of late capitalism.
You can listen to the first part of the interview I did with Harris as broadcast yesterday on Arts Express on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC. Click on the grey triangle to listen.
You can listen to Part Two here.
This parody debate of Trump vs. Sanders was done on the @midnight television show in 2016, but it looks like we may be experiencing Groundhog Day soon. James Adomian does a nice job of capturing Bernie, but Anthony Atamanuik’s Trump is uncanny. It’s way beyond Alec Baldwin’s very good impersonation; it captures something more sinister.
Thanks to YouTuber Comedy Central
Bernie Sanders kicked off his campaign yesterday at Brooklyn College to a quad-filling crowd of over 10,000 people on a cold snowy day.
Best Bernie line: “I didn’t come from a family who gave me an allowance of $250,000 every year—from the time I was three years old.”
“As I recall, my allowance was twenty-five cents.”
Brooklyn, New York
In a world gone crazy, we might need to put the entire planet on the couch. Bruce Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist often at odds with the mainstream of his profession, argues in his newest book, Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian, for the essential value of anti-authoritarians in a democracy, and questions their treatment by the medical establishment. He also dishes a few pro-tips on how resisters can survive the slings and arrows of an authoritarian society.
You can listen to my interview with Bruce Levine as broadcast this week on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Once in a while, we here at Shalblog Industries® allow ourselves a political post. In the spirit of Shalblog Industries®’ policy of being all things to all people, however, this post will be merely descriptive rather than prescriptive.
The one incontrovertible fact about life in the United States is this: the standard of living that capitalism allows is built on the misery, torture, destruction, exploitation, and killing of millions of people around the world.
That one simple fact is really the centerpiece of our existence.
It’s a fairly impossible fact to live with.
How could we wake up every morning and function with that on our shoulders? The Shalblog Industries® Theory of American Political Ideology is simply a catalogue of the various strategies used to cope with this central fact of our existence. The style of denial a person chooses determines whether one is a conservative, fascist, neo-liberal, liberal, socialist, pacifist, anarchist, etc., or combination thereof. (And yes, certainly vice-versa is true as well—one’s political stance determines one’s denial technique.)
Why one person chooses one strategy and another person chooses another strategy is not something Shalblog Industries® is authorized to discuss right now. Our aim here is much more circumscribed. In this post we will merely catalogue the varieties of coping.
Without further ado: A Child’s Garden of Denial
1) Outright Rejection. “You’re lying. No one’s dying. At least not to make my life better.”
2) The New World Order Acceptance. “Yes it’s absolutely true–and that’s the way it must be. It’s right that people—my inferiors—should live to serve me, their superior.”
3) Life is a Game. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s life. There are winners and losers, and the losers haven’t done enough to become winners.”
4) Family Is Everything. “Life is hard enough as it is; I can’t worry about others, only myself and my family.”
5) As The World Turns. “Things will turn out all right in the end. The world is evolving slowly in the right direction. Patience.”
6) Poor Little Me. “Yes there is much injustice in the world, but I do not have the power to change things.”
7) I’m On It. “Yes, there is so much injustice in the world, and I am working to change it.”
8) It’s So Confusing. “Yes, there is so much injustice in the world, but what happens away from these shores is murky and vague to me.”
9) Not My Department. “Yes, it may be that people are not being treated well, but I’m not a political person.”
10) Pretty Please. “I see that there are injustices in the world, and if only we can get some people to be nicer, the world could be better.”
11) It Is What It Is. “This is what life is, unfortunately. No one said that life is fair.”
12) Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There. “Yes, it’s all terrible, but I have no idea what to do about it.”
13) The Beard Stroker. “Yes, it’s terrible, and if we study long enough and deeply enough to try to understand, then we can change things.”
14) God is Good.“The way things are right now is all going according to God’s will.”
15) Counter-Insurgency. “There are bad people who are spreading rumors that are just untrue. We must stop those people who are saying such things.”
16) I Gotta Be Me. “It may be true, but no one can function in everyday life with that knowledge in one’s rear-view mirror all the time.”
17) You Talkin’ To Me? “I am not the victimizer, I am the victim.”
18) The Artiste. “I’ll write a blog post about it.”
A socialist revolution in the United States in 2044? In activist Mike Albert’s new fictional journalistic account, RPS/2044, you can learn how it happened. This is the second part of the interview with Albert that I produced for the Arts Express radio program. Mike talks about what a Revolutionary Participatory Society might look like, why it’s important for present-day activists to lay out a vision for the future, and how we might get from here to there.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
You can listen to Part One here.
(And for local listeners to Arts Express on WBAI 99.5 FM and wbai.org be advised that Arts Express has been moved to the new edgier time slot of Tuesdays at 11pm.)
It’s the year 2044, and praise to the goddesses, a socialist revolution in the United States is well in progress. How did it happen? Fortunately we have an account of the 2044 revolution in this set of oral histories that journalist Miguel Guevera has conducted with many of the heroes of the revolution. Guevera (aka 2018 activist Mike Albert) talks about the workings of a Revolutionary Participatory Society and economy in this interview I produced, broadcast yesterday for the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NY.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
And you can hear Part Two here:
(And for local listeners to the show, be advised that Arts Express has been moved to the new edgier time slot of Tuesdays at 11pm.)
Yesterday, WBAI’s Arts Express radio show broadcast my interview with Noliwe Rooks, author of the new book, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and The End of Public Education.
Ms. Rooks argues that the current charter school movement is just one more scheme in a long history of school hustles which go back to the 19th century. What these schemes have in common, she says, is the transfer of education and tax dollars from minority and oppressed groups to the pockets of white entrepreneurs, in a process she calls segrenomics.
You can listen to the interview with Noliwe Rooks by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Yesterday, WBAI-FM radio’s Arts Express broadcast part two of my interview with Peter Frase, author of the new book Four Futures.
Frase has an intriguing set of ideas about what the future might look like after capitalism destructs, given the ecological constraints of abundance/scarcity and the political constraints of equality/inequality. In this final segment we talk about what might happen if the world’s resources turn out to be strictly limited.
Click on the grey triangle above to tune in.
You can listen to Part One here:
Last week I posted Part One of my interview with Jodi Dean, author of the thought-provoking new book, Crowds And Party. You can hear that first half of the interview here.
Now, here is Part Two, the second half of my interview, which was broadcast on WBAI radio’s Arts Express program yesterday. In this part, Jodi Dean talks about the problems with The New Left and Identity Politics; the anarchist/socialist split; the various critiques of the party formation and the rebuttal of those critiques; and why she thinks parties are the only way forward for those who would seek to upend capitalism.
Click on the grey triangle above to hear Part Two.
Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean is a fascinating must read for anyone interested in how political change happens, and what the left must do now. In this book, Professor Dean talks about those “beautiful moments” that have happened throughout history—think The Paris Commune and Occupy Wall Street—where The Crowd has created a disruption in the usual fabric of capitalist society. But those “beautiful moments” are short-lived, ephemeral, and seem to disappear into forgotten hope. How can a movement hold onto and build on these precious historical moments? Jodi Dean tackles crowd theory and the concept of a working people’s political party, reviews the relevant literature, and presents her analysis in her new book, Crowds and Party.
The book is not always easy reading, so I was happy to have the opportunity to engage in a spirited conversation with Professor Dean, broadcast on WBAI 99.5 FM NY radio yesterday on the Arts Express program. Dean was so interesting that we decided to do two parts to the interview, broadcast one week after the other.
You can listen to Part One by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Among the political left, there has long been a tradition of the radical folk song masked as a patriotic ditty. Paul Robeson sung “The House I Live In” and “Ballad for Americans”; Woody Guthrie sung “This Land Is Your Land”; Pete Seeger sung “If I Had a Hammer,” and so on.
Phil Ochs, who died 39 years ago last week, continued that tradition. “The Power and the Glory” was Phil’s stirring contribution to the genre. He was clever enough in constructing the song that it was covered by arch-conservative songbird Anita Bryant.
Phil’s anthem gets you out of bed Monday morning, saluting the flag, and stuffing The Communist Manifesto in your back pocket en route to the demo.
Click on the video for the song, and the words in English and Spanish, and an additional unrecorded final verse reportedly written by Theo Bikel.