Friday, July 06, 2007

Women call out the Pittsburgh police on domestic violence

Anyone who has experienced domestic violence, directly or indirectly, knows that it's usually futile to go to the police for help. I worked for Laurel House for a time and was astounded at how many of the DV survivors I spoke with had been dismissed, ignored, and mistreated by the cops. Women are asked what they did 'to piss him off,' or told that they deserve what they get; the few male victims who ask the police for help are laughed off or face more sexist and/or homophobic abuse.

And now Luke Ravenstahl, the 26-year-old mayor of Pittsburgh (he's my age!) has promoted three police officers, Cmdr. George Trosky, Lt. Charles Rodriguez and Sgt. Eugene F. Hlavac, with domestic violence charges on their records. According to the Post-Gazette article, Rodriguez's daughter dropped the charges yesterday.

Ravenstahl's office initially reacted with surprise to this revelation, and Ravenstahl issued a statement in which he claimed to be "announcing a new policy that will set a standard of zero tolerance for domestic abuse." But when the ever-progressive FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) threatened to sue, Ravenstahl decided it wouldn't be worth it to rescind the promotions. Guess we know where women stand.

The local chapter of NOW, fortunately, has decided to do something useful and fight back on this issue. Domestic violence is, unfortunately, a part of police culture-- and that makes it nearly impossible for abuse victims to get a serious hearing from the police. Knowing that, NOW is asking women to come forward and share their experiences being dismissed by the police. You can share your experiences with Joanne Tosti-Vasey at

They have also issued a list of demands, including that the city:

  • Keep records of allegations of alleged stalking, domestic violence, and sexual attacks by police officers in the personnel records during the employment of and for 6-10 years post employment to ensure that current and future police jurisdictions can have access to this record when making hiring or promotion decisions.
  • Refer allegations of any criminal act by a police officer, including domestic violence, to an outside agency such as the DA’s office or the PA State Police in order to overcome police “codes of silence.”
  • Set up an anonymous hotline service for community members and police to report allegations of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence. This would allow victims and police officers to report incidences they would otherwise fear reporting to the local precinct.
  • Hire more female police officers in an effort to change the climate within the police department.
    Establish a community oversight committee to review policies, procedures, and complaints about and within the police department.
  • Require periodic psychological and other appropriate evaluations of all officers at hire, after any significant job-related occurrence, upon allegations of significant misconduct, substance abuse, or criminal activity including domestic violence, and routinely after every five (5) years of employment.

This is a good start. It's a way to lessen the damage. But I don't think it's a solution.

The problem is that the role of the police in society is, by necessity, a violent one. While there are plenty of well-meaning individuals who join the police force (including some of my relatives, for whom I have a great deal of respect), the police as a societal force are there to protect private property through the use of violent force. They fill this role under a great deal of stress, in a highly sexist environment (and the women who succeed as police officers have to become 'one of the boys' to the point where they are often less sympathetic to female DV survivors than male officers). In that kind of environment, with a culture where DV is tolerated, is it surprising that so many police end up using violence on their families? Or that the 'blue wall of silence' doesn't crack when they do?

Kudos to NOW for helping DV survivors in Pittsburgh speak out. I hope they win their demands. I hope their actions are imitated everywhere. And I hope it becomes part of a wider movement that calls into question the role of the police and the foundations of violence on which our society has stood since the days of slavery.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Frederick Douglass: What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?

July 4, 1852

Rochester, New York

Fellow Citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions. Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap like as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary. Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you, that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin. I can today take up the lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yes! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive, required of us a song and they who wasted us, required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is "American Slavery." I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing here, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July.

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity, which is outraged, in the name of liberty, which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America "I will not equivocate; I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language I can command, and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slave-holder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some of my audience say it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother Abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more and denounce less, would you persuade more and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slave-holders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of these same crimes will subject a white man to like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being?

The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute-books are covered with enactments, forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read and write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then I will argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver, and gold; that while we are reading, writing, and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants, and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; that while we are engaged in all the enterprises common to other men-digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave-we are called upon to prove that we are men?

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to understand? How should I look today in the presence of Americans, dividing and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom, speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively? To do so would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer and insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What! Am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the last, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood and stained with pollution is wrong? No; I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman cannot be divine. Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be denounced.

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy's thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Welcome back, Cindy Sheehan!

Cindy Sheehan is back in politics! And planning to walk from Atlanta to DC.

If you're in the Philly area, come check out the Philadelphia Emergency Anti-War Convention tomorrow, July 4, at 1 pm at Independence Center.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Our very own Anand Gopal, published in Wiretap and The Nation Online!

Here's a taste:

Larry Gibson has gotten used to the threats. Gibson, a Lilliputian mountaineer with an impressive belly and an equally impressive baritone drawl, reels off the list of attacks and calamities he has faced almost with a touch of boredom. "We've had up here at my place about 122 acts of violence, from shootings and the burning of my cabin, to shooting my dog to trying to hang the other dog I had," he deadpans.

Sure enough, just yards from Gibson's modest Appalachian home sits a dull gray camper, its facade pockmarked with tiny bullet holes. In the 22 years that he has lived atop Kayford mountain, part of the picturesque massifs that form the coalfields of West Virginia, Gibson has also faced beatings, sabotage, and death threats.

What Gibson has not gotten used to, however, is the view. The rolling, verdant countryside below Gibson's home has been home to hundreds of isolated and close-knit Appalachian mining communities for generations. Much taller peaks that rose high above Gibson's home and filled the surrounding scenery, however, once surrounded Kayford mountain.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sexism in Hollywood? What what?

Already Under Fire, a Producer Is Going Further

LOS ANGELES, June 24 — For a while Wednesday night’s block party for “Transformers” was shaping up to be the hottest ticket in town.

But that was before Courtney Solomon, planning a celebration of his own, called in the SuicideGirls.

Having already provoked parents, women’s groups and the ratings board with explicit ads for the coming torture movie “Captivity,” Mr. Solomon and his After Dark Films now intend to introduce the film, set for release July 13, with a party that may set a new standard for the politically incorrect.

This is disgusting... this filmmaker is openly declaring his outright, unapologetic misogyny. And hoping to make money from it. His 'justifications' read like a Hollywood version of the explanations "white power" groups give publicly for their politics. Let's see if people actually speak out against it.

One person already has: Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and other proudly feminist art, on the blog Whedoneque (thanks to Tina for the link).

Incidentally, can we finally put to bed the whole debate about whether the Suicide Girls are a feminist organization?

A few highlights:

“The women’s groups definitely will love it,” Mr. Solomon hinted. “I call it my personal little tribute to them.”

[dot dot dot]

Mr. Solomon, a Toronto-born entrepreneur who acquired the rights to the game Dungeons & Dragons while working from his bedroom and wound up directing its film under the tutelage of the producer Joel Silver, casts his struggle with those who object to “Captivity” as a Larry Flynt-style fight against censorship and repression. Yet this promotional master of Hollywood’s dark side is waging the battle with typical outrageousness. The movie, which is rated R, will screen only once before its opening, at an expected showing for women’s groups in New York, at which he wants to engage in a town-hall-style debate with detractors.

“We would not be receptive,” said Meaghan Carey, deputy director of the New York City chapter of the
National Organization for Women. “We’re not going to go protest so they can get press.”

OK, so let me get this straight: promoting a film about how torturing women (in a very real and non-consensual way, just to be clear) is sexy by paying women to participate in a deliberately, openly anti-woman event is a brave fight against censorship and repression? Amazing. I'm still waiting to find out exactly which movies have been censored for being too sexist. You know, as opposed to the movies that actually do get censored, such as Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia by the great Australian documentary filmmaker John Pilger.

And NOW's predictable response, of course, is to remain silent, because they don't want to take the bait.

Granted, Solomon certainly is deliberately baiting the women's movement. Why? Perhaps he wants to prove that the women's movement is dead in the water, or that feminists are all humorless caricatures who just can't understand that it's "just a movie." (Hint: So was Birth of a Nation. Wonder if the Times would also glowingly describe that gem as, like, so awesomely politically incorrect and badass!)

But here's the thing: the women's movement isn't dead, despite the best efforts of groups like NOW. And we do have sense of humor, and we are a damn creative bunch. So here's a call to my sisters and brothers in LA-- get on this! Show this asshole what a real women's movement looks like!

Now, I'm not advocating that you sunny California types do anything illegal. But according to the article, "the primary audience... will be fans, who can cycle through the club free in groups of 50." How hard is it to get those tickets? And how much chaos could a group of 50 cause once it's deep in the heart of a party filled with a "warren of live torture rooms"? Especially one that "everybody on the Internet gets to watch"?

I'm just saying.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dehumanizing Aboriginal people in Australia-- again.

Alcohol banned in Aborigine areas (BBC)

Alcohol and poverty have blighted Aboriginal communities Australia is to ban alcohol and pornography in Aboriginal areas in the Northern Territory in a bid to curb child sex abuse.
All Aboriginal children in the territory will be medically examined.

The new proposals follow a report last week which found evidence of abuse in each of the territory's 45 communities.

The report blamed high levels of alcohol and poverty for the situation, which Prime Minister John Howard has described as a national emergency.

"We're dealing with a group of young Australians for whom the concept of childhood innocence has never been present," John Howard told parliament.

"That is a sad and tragic event. Exceptional measures are required to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation."

The article continues on to explain that Aboriginal people have imposed their own alcohol bans in their own communities for decades; most who drink buy their alcohol in nearby towns with mixed white/Aboriginal populations.

So let me get this straight: The government which has murdered Aboriginal people, destroyed their way of life, kidnapped their children and condemned them to racism and poverty, has suddenly developed an interest in protecting Aboriginal children-- not from the white supremacist machinations of the Australian government, but from their parents.

Imagine, for a moment, that the government decided to start a campaign against the sexual abuse of white Australian children, and began requiring mandatory, invasive genital examinations of all children; instituted criminal penalties for not just use or sale but possession of alcoholic beverages; and gave itself the right to search the hard drives of private citizens without a warrant or any justification whatsoever. How long would the Howard government last? Would the courts ever let such a policy stand?

But the Aboriginal population, apparently, doesn't get such constitutional considerations. Just as always, Aboriginal children are treated as the property of the state, not as human beings who are part of families. And since, according to Australia, Aborigines are not people, there's no need to provide decent jobs and infrastructure, end racism, and allow Aboriginal self-determination-- after all, it's not like the problems of alcoholism and sexual abuse have material causes that can be addressed. The answer, clearly, is to treat all Aboriginal people as lazy, drunk, child-molesting criminals without brains or human rights of their own.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Terry Jones on Britain and Iran

Ha. I was thinking I might have a bit more time to post on this blog, but then I decided to get married in four weeks! Which, yay! But not so great when it comes to having free time.

However, I think this Guardian editorial from Terry Jones (yes, the one from Monty Python) is well worth reposting:,,2047108,00.html
Terry Jones
Saturday March 31, 2007
The Guardian

I share the outrage expressed in the British press over the treatment of our naval personnel accused by Iran of illegally entering their waters. It is a disgrace. We would never dream of treating captives like this - allowing them to smoke cigarettes, for example, even though it has been proven that smoking kills. And as for compelling poor servicewoman Faye Turney to wear a black headscarf, and then allowing the picture to be posted around the world - have the Iranians no concept of civilised behaviour? For God's sake, what's wrong with putting a bag over her head? That's what we do with the Muslims we capture: we put bags over their heads, so it's hard to breathe. Then it's perfectly acceptable to take photographs of them and circulate them to the press because the captives can't be recognised and humiliated in the way these unfortunate British service people are.

It is also unacceptable that these British captives should be made to talk on television and say things that they may regret later. If the Iranians put duct tape over their mouths, like we do to our captives, they wouldn't be able to talk at all. Of course they'd probably find it even harder to breathe - especially with a bag over their head - but at least they wouldn't be humiliated. And what's all this about allowing the captives to write letters home saying they are all right? It's time the Iranians fell into line with the rest of the civilised world: they should allow their captives the privacy of solitary confinement. That's one of the many privileges the US grants to its captives in Guantánamo Bay.

The true mark of a civilised country is that it doesn't rush into charging people whom it has arbitrarily arrested in places it's just invaded. The inmates of Guantánamo, for example, have been enjoying all the privacy they want for almost five years, and the first inmate has only just been charged. What a contrast to the disgraceful Iranian rush to parade their captives before the cameras!

What's more, it is clear that the Iranians are not giving their British prisoners any decent physical exercise. The US military make sure that their Iraqi captives enjoy PT. This takes the form of exciting "stress positions", which the captives are expected to hold for hours on end so as to improve their stomach and calf muscles. A common exercise is where they are made to stand on the balls of their feet and then squat so that their thighs are parallel to the ground. This creates intense pain and, finally, muscle failure. It's all good healthy fun and has the bonus that the captives will confess to anything to get out of it.

And this brings me to my final point. It is clear from her TV appearance that servicewoman Turney has been put under pressure. The newspapers have persuaded behavioural psychologists to examine the footage and they all conclude that she is "unhappy and stressed".What is so appalling is the underhand way in which the Iranians have got her "unhappy and stressed". She shows no signs of electrocution or burn marks and there are no signs of beating on her face. This is unacceptable. If captives are to be put under duress, such as by forcing them into compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals, they should be photographed, as they were in Abu Ghraib. The photographs should then be circulated around the civilised world so that everyone can see exactly what has been going on.

As Stephen Glover pointed out in the Daily Mail, perhaps it would not be right to bomb Iran in retaliation for the humiliation of our servicemen, but clearly the Iranian people must be made to suffer - whether by beefing up sanctions, as the Mail suggests, or simply by getting President Bush to hurry up and invade, as he intends to anyway, and bring democracy and western values to the country, as he has in Iraq.

Terry Jones is a film director, actor and

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Review: Bastards of the Party

This review of the HBO documentary Bastards of the Party was published in the February 16, 2007 issue of Socialist Worker. This is the uncut version.

Bastards of the Party, directed by Cle Sloan, HBO Documentaries

Bastards of the Party, a documentary film produced, directed and narrated by Cle Shaheed "Bone" Sloan, a former member of the Athens Park Bloods, traces the political history of African American street gangs in Los Angeles. The title refers to the Crips and Bloods as the "bastard children of the Black Panther Party," though Sloan's history stretches back to the Reconstruction era. He traces the evolution of violence by whites against blacks and the forms of black self-defense that evolved as a result, by interviewing current and former gang members, Black Panthers, and historians (including radical urban historian Mike Davis, whose book City of Quartz Sloan credits with inspiring the film).

For instance, Sloan shows why the LAPD's reputation for racism has deep historical roots. The last legal lynching in Los Angeles took place in 1948, and Sloan shows the gruesome images of young Black men hanging from a tree while white men and women cheer and shout. It was when lynching finally became illegal that the LAPD took over the lynch mobs' job. The police commissioner at the time set out on a campaign to recruit police officers from the Deep South-- any white Southern man with a military background had a job waiting for him in Los Angeles, and the city deliberately developed a staunchly racist police force.

In the meantime, economic and political shifts forced a certain measure of desegregation in LA's neighborhoods. White neighborhoods reacted violently to the small numbers of African American families moving in, and there was a rash of beatings and killings of black youths by white gangs-- black newspapers from the time show the police looking on in approval. Young black men began to form their own groups for self-defense. The police force looked on this as a threat and began a campaign of repression that went on for years and culminated in the Watts riots of 1965.

While the Watts riots were portrayed in the white media (and in today's history textbooks) as instances of senseless violence and looting, Sloan paints a picture of an organized uprising that still serves as an inspiring expression of Black anger and shows how the Watts community empowered itself against a racist police force.

He then traces the history of the Black Panther Party's rise not only to political prominence, but as the heart of black self-organization. One woman he interviews says, "In those days, if your husband was gonna hit you, you didn't say 'I'm going to call the police.' You said, 'I'm going to call the Black Panthers.'" The Party organized breakfast programs, sickle cell testing, political education, food pantries, and revolution-- much to the alarm of the FBI. Sloan explains the history of COINTELPRO, the FBI's anti-Left sabotage program, and shows (through an interview with a retired FBI agent who participated in COINTELPRO) how the BPP and its reformist rival, the Us Organization, were pitted against one another and eventually undone by the FBI's relentless attacks.

In the 1970s, as the BPP declined, the problems of self-organization and self-defense remained. Black youth, inspired by the Panthers' example, began their own organizations, the most influential of which was the Crips-- an acronym that initially stood for "Community Revolutionary Inter-Party Service," though in a series of political arguments the "Revolutionary" was replaced with "Reform". The Crips had a political orientation and a constitution based on that of the BPP. However, the political collapse of the New Left left the Crips under attack and without direction. And as the manufacturing economy collapsed, jobs for semi-skilled laborers disappeared, and black men were left without alternatives as the factories closed. As rival gangs began to spring up, and popular culture portrayed the movement as an apolitical way to get rich, the situation declined into pointless black-on-black violence.

Sloan does a brilliant job tracing the political origins of the drug crisis in the 1980s, from the CIA to Nicaragua to South Central, and is unrelenting in his indictment of the police. He interviews experts who explain how the police actually benefit from and rely on the existence of gang violence, which brings them equipment, federal funding, sympathy from the media and a free hand to be as repressive and violent as they like. He intersperses shots of police "gang sweeps" in South Central with shots of soldiers patrolling the peasants of Vietnam.

As the movie draws to a close, Sloan focuses on the human cost of the continued violence and broken truces. He interviews current bangers about their lives and follows them to funerals. It isn't simply about guns and drugs, one Blood explains; he describes the loss of several family members and concludes with "We ain't looking for peace. Too much slaughter." The last few minutes of the movie features clips of Sloan wrestling with his own conscience over the course of several interviews-- the son of his closest friend has been killed, and despite his political commitment to stopping the violence, he wants to kill the killer-- not just out of revenge but out of a sense of loyalty to his family and those he loves. He ends with a roll call of those he knows or has come across during filming who have been cut down young, and the pictures show smiling, painfully young men at their prime.

No two-hour documentary can fully cover such a broad topic, and there are some important components missing. Latino gangs go mostly unmentioned. The effects of welfare reform and the draconian "criminal justice" reforms of the Clinton era are not explored. And the voices of women are largely absent. That said, Bastards of the Party is a remarkably thorough and illuminating documentary that sheds light on a part of Black history-- and American history-- that has been mostly ignored. Sloan is a gifted interviewer who allows his subjects' voices to narrate most of the film, and he conveys complex political ideas in a concise, accessible way. It's worth watching it on HBO or buying the DVD-- and take Sloan's advice and read Mike Davis's City of Quartz for even more depth on this topic.

Review: World War Z

Hello readers (if you're out there)!

I made a conscious decision to discontinue this blog at the end of last summer, when I switched jobs and no longer had lots of downtime during the day. I still don't have downtime, but I have been doing some writing, and some of you have been asking about the fate of You've Got Red On You... so: what the hell. Here I am. I've been working mostly on environmental issues these days, so look for lots of that, but for right now I'm posting a couple of recent reviews. Enjoy!

This is a review of Max Brooks' new novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. (You may also remember Brooks from the Zombie Survival Guide.

"World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" by Max Brooks

In 2005, the world watched in horror, and George W. Bush twiddled his thumbs, as Hurricane Katrina bore down on a defenseless Louisiana. The Bush administration's obsession with "homeland security" did not extend to taking the obvious measures necessary to save the people of New Orleans from disaster. And as climate change and the threat of pandemic disease grow each year, a recent study showed that very few US cities are prepared to care for their citizens in the case of a major disaster.

What does this have to do with zombies? Everything, according to "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War". Written in the interview style of Studs Terkel's classic "Working," "WWZ" is a fictional account of what happens when politicians put profit and ideology before human need. In WWZ's future, a mysterious virus appears in rural China around 2008, just as the Bush administration is winding down and the American people have finally insisted on an end to the war in Iraq. The virus, initially known as "African rabies," kills its victims within a few days and then reanimates their dead bodies, which then become zombies intent on eating human flesh. Anyone bitten by a zombie is doomed to become a zombie. (Brooks' zombies follow the rules horror fans will know from George Romero's classic "Living Dead" movies.) Initially, studies are issued showing that isolated outbreaks of the virus have the potential to become a global pandemic, but the reports are shelved in an election year, and those who protest the government's neglect of the issue are labeled 'NPR liberals' and ignored.

By the time world governments begin to acknowledge the zombie threat and take action, it is too late, and the zombie uprising is unstoppable. It results in a global human-zombie war that lasts ten years, devastates the earth, rearranges the world map and (perhaps) renders capitalism forever irrelevant. Brooks' narrator travels the globe ten years after the end of the war, interviewing survivors, soldiers, profiteers, politicians and others about their role in "World War Z". The interviews illustrate twenty years of world history from the point of view of ordinary people.

Brooks' vision of the future is cynical and bitter. Drug companies do their best to profit from the crisis by marketing useless drugs as miracle cures, causing the deaths of thousands. A nuclear crisis erupts in South Asia as Indian refugees stream through Pakistan and into Iran, causing a nuclear exchange between Iran and Pakistan. Israel, out of desperation, grants Palestinians the right of return and uses its apartheid wall to quarantine itself from the world; it remains safe from the zombie menace but is rocked by a civil war when right-wing Zionists revolt. The US military abandons its citizens on the East Coast, moves the federal government to Hawaii, and uses the Rocky Mountains as its line of defense. And Cuba, relatively safe as an island, finds itself overrun with millions of refugees from the US, houses them in refugee camps, and develops "guest worker" programs to allow Americans to "do the jobs Cubans don't want to do."

"World War Z" is an impressive achievement of speculative fiction: it is both a trenchant left-wing political critique and a well-written page-turner that will satisfy the most demanding horror and sci-fi fans.