Archive for January, 2010

In Memory of Howard Zinn

Friday, January 29th, 2010

By Elizabeth Henderson

I heard last night the sad news that Howard Zinn had died. I guess we should be grateful that he died quickly and was spared a long slow illness. Here is my contribution to our great celebration of his life.

When I landed my first full-time teaching job at Boston University in 1975, I moved to Boston as a young widow with my four year old son hardly knowing anyone. I had spent the previous decade in New Haven, Connecticut where I had a dense community of friends and fellow activists from the anti-war and civil rights movements. So my first week at BU, I trotted over to Howard Zinn’s office to introduce myself. I did not know Howard, but my late husband taught American studies and I had read Zinn’s books and articles.

After exchanging introductions, Howard mentioned that there used to be a community committee of faculty, students and staff at BU and that perhaps it was time to resurrect it. So that became our joint project. Once a month, a varied assortment of student activists, radical young faculty members, secretaries and maintenance people gathered to discuss the state of BU. Though clearly the senior in experience and renown, Howard treated everyone as equals. He never pulled rank and listened patiently through some of the wild or impractical proposals. A common theme was our dissatisfaction with John Silber, the president of the university. Silber was a Plato scholar and seemed to believe that philosopher kings should run the world. He repeatedly encroached upon academic freedom and professors’ traditional prerogatives, such as the freedom to select textbooks. I had a run in with his minions over the image on a brochure for the Russian studies program. Everyone had stories of his overweening lust for power and control. My favorite is from the president of the BU undergraduates. This young man went to see Silber about student concerns. Before he could even open his mouth, Silber snapped – “What are you doing in my office with pimples on your face?”

Our committee’s first undertaking was to research and publish a booklet – “Who Rules BU?” We exposed Silber’s network of business cronies and their real estate deals based on insider information, buying up properties along Commonwealth Avenue. Faculty and staff women with young children joined forces to push for a daycare center on campus. Silber, who himself had 6 or 7 children and a wife who stayed home to raise them, was of the opinion that women with young children should not work. We got the daycare despite his opposition. Howard led us in planning a campaign to persuade the Board of Trustees to dump Silber. I remember picketing at the home of a trustee who was a member of the Heritage Foundation. Modeled after a castle, the house was surrounded by a moat. Silber outmaneuvered us and stayed on as president for many years. Although he tried, he could never find someone to take over the position of chair of the Political Science Dept. who was willing to fire Howard.

Campus radicals were not the only people who rankled under Silber’s leadership. I became the junior faculty representative to the board of the BU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Although not a union, and dominated by full professors and department heads, the AAUP decided to strike against the university. None of these professors had ever organized anything like a demonstration or a picket line so they were forced to invite Howard to show them how to do it. Our community committee played a crucial role: since we had representatives of all sectors, we were able to get the staff to strike simultaneously with the faculty. We also got a commitment from the maintenance workers to respect faculty-staff picket lines, and so that students would not suffer or have to cross the picket lines, we arranged for classes to be held off campus. For a few heady days, the rigid university hierarchy seemed to melt. Together, faculty members, their secretaries and their students roared out “Solidarity Forever, and the Union Makes Us Strong!” During some tense moments at an AAUP strategy meeting, a conservative full professor attacked Howard. Instead of rising to the bait, he calmly replied, “This is not a matter of personalities. It is a matter of union democracy.” Even under fire, Howard managed to keep his sense of humor and played a central role in leading the strike to a successful conclusion. Of course, later, the courts overturned the victory, citing the Yeshiva Decision where faculty were held to be managers, not workers. But my salary as a young assistant professor went from $12,000 to $19,000, matching the pay rate for beginning male assistant professors of business.

Ultimately, I could not stand it at BU. After the strike, the full professors on the AAUP board turned down my request for support for childcare during our meetings. At a cocktail party for a new vice president, when I started to introduce myself, he said, “Oh, we know you.” Apparently there was a video of strike activists. Silber’s policies led to a shift in the student body from people who wanted to study liberal arts to future junior managers and government bureaucrats. I had no interest in teaching Russian to business majors and military intelligence. I announced to our community committee that I was leaving to move to a farm and invited them to visit and help. Many of them did. Howard and I remained in touch, and a few times when I came back to the city, I visited with him and his lovely wife Rosalyn.

Over the 30 years since I have been farming, I have not spent much time with Howard. But I sent him my writings about organic agriculture and he read them and wrote words of encouragement. He even found time to write a blurb for my book Sharing the Harvest:

Sharing the Harvest is an extraordinary book, an opening to a new world in which growing and eating food will be a sharing among humans, between farmers and surrounding communities, not a commercial venture for profit. It is both utopian and practical, inspiring and down-to-earth. It is a treasure, rich with suggestions, exciting for what possibilities it foresees for the human race.”

and he approved of my idea to put together a People’s History of US Food and Agriculture.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have known and worked with him…He has been a source of encouragement and a great inspiration. In the conclusion to Sharing the Harvest, I quote his wonderful words about unpredictability

The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. The apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience—whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself. (And I would add, by people all over the world to prevent a nuclear holocaust.) No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

In my letter accompanying the almost final text of the book, I wrote: “Few things could have been less predictable than my becoming a farmer or that my years of organizing against segregation while in college, against nuclear weapons and the war in Vietnam while in grad school, for parent-teacher run education while my son was little, and for organic agriculture once I started farming would have led me to community supported agriculture. So life is full of surprises, good ones… and nasty ones. I learned so much about working with other people from our years together at BU.”

Thank you, Howard. I love you so much.

Image: Flickr/redjar via Wikipedia.

LISTEN: Mark Schapiro: What’s the Deal with Cap and Trade?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

In this interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, author and editorial director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Mark Schapiro explains Cap-and-Trade legislation: its drawbacks, its benefits; and what it means for the future of the planet.

From Fresh Air with Terry Gross (transcript by NPR):

Mr. MARK SCHAPIRO (Journalist): So the basic idea behind cap-and-trade is that the government issues emission limits, limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that major industries can omit into the atmosphere. And then it permits companies to exceed those limits, to go and purchase an offset somewhere else. Now, what is an offset? An offset is something that basically is a project to reduce emissions in some other part of the world. Let me give you an example.

You have got a major German utility for example. Every year they are issued an emission limit, literally a number as to how many greenhouse gases they can omit into the atmosphere. They have a huge complex, it’s actually called RWE, the biggest utility in Germany. And they have a complex in their headquarters which literally gives them a reading every day as to how many emissions their utility is omitting. And every month they have an exact reading of how far over their limit they’re going.

And so that company has to go out and buy these things called offsets, which are essentially investments in what are emission reduction projects, somewhere else. So you have got a system called cap, which establishes the caps, the limits on emissions, and trade, meaning you can go obtain emission reductions somewhere else to allow you to continue polluting at home.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.


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Got a Question for DIY U Author Anya Kamenetz? Ask Away!

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Chelsea Green is going to be interviewing one of our new authors this Sunday, and we want you to be a part of it.

The price of college tuition has increased more than any other major good or service for the last twenty years. Nine out of ten American high school seniors aspire to go to college, yet the United States has fallen from world leader to only the tenth most educated nation. Almost half of college students don’t graduate; those who do have unprecedented levels of federal and private student loan debt, which constitutes a credit bubble similar to the mortgage crisis.

The system particularly fails the first-generation, the low-income, and students of color who predominate in coming generations. What we need to know is changing more quickly than ever, and a rising tide of information threatens to swamp knowledge and wisdom. America cannot regain its economic and cultural leadership with an increasingly ignorant population. Our choice is clear: Radically change the way higher education is delivered, or resign ourselves to never having enough of it.

The roots of the words “university” and “college” both mean community. In the age of constant connectedness and social media, it’s time for the monolithic, millennium-old, ivy-covered walls to undergo a phase change into something much lighter, more permeable, and fluid.

The future lies in personal learning networks and paths, learning that blends experiential and digital approaches, and free and open-source educational models. Increasingly, you will decide what, when, where, and with whom you want to learn, and you will learn by doing. The university is the cathedral of modernity and rationality, and with our whole civilization in crisis, we are poised on the brink of Reformation.


Anya Kamenetz is a staff writer for Fast Company magazine. The Village Voice nominated her for a Pulitzer Prize for contributions to the feature series Generation Debt, which became a book in 2006. She has written for the New York Times, appeared on CNN and National Public Radio, and been featured as a “Yahoo Finance Expert.” A frequent speaker nationwide, Kamenetz blogs at, The Huffington Post, and

This Sunday, we’ll be interviewing Anya Kamenetz and we’re looking at you to throw us some of your burning questions. Simply go to our Facebook page, become a fan of Chelsea Green Publishing, and submit your questions. Community education starts with community involvement, so what are you waiting for?

Riki Ott: 4 Positive, Practical Steps for Responding to Citizens United

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

It’s easy to get cynical and discouraged by the Supreme Court ruling that:

  • IF corporations = people
  • THEN the Bill of Rights must apply to corporations, AND
  • IF money = speech (???)
  • THEN restricting corporate “soft” money in politics restricts the First Amendment rights of an individual (an individual who can’t be tried for a crime or sentenced to prison, of course).

Easy to get discouraged, yes. Understandable to be disgusted with the whole system, yes. But not constructive. Author Riki Ott has some practical steps you can take to get up off the floor, dust yourself off, and do something with your anger and frustration.

From YES! magazine:

First, BREATHE deeply and look out a window.

If you can’t see a mountain, river, forest, wetland, ocean, prairie, tundra, or even a patch of sky, close your eyes and imagine it. We aren’t any good for anything if we’re in a panic or funk.


Citizens United is merely the last straw in a haystack of (successful) corporate attempts to extend corporate constitutional “rights” to corporate persons.

The expansion of corporate rights began over 200 years ago as the anti-corporate fervor from the American Revolution began to fade. The U.S. Supreme Court blurred the distinction between  “natural persons,” or real, living human beings, and “artificial persons”—corporations—in 1886 when it conferred the 14th Amendment right of “equal protection of the laws” to an artificial person, a railroad corporation, in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Since then, the Supreme Court has handed out other human rights to artificial persons (corporations), including the battery of First Amendment rights leading to Citizens United.

Since Santa Clara, literally hundreds—perhaps thousands—of local, state, federal, and international laws that attempt to protect our environment, our elections, our safety and health, and our right to organize have been overturned as a result of this doctrine. Armed with human rights and legal privileges, corporations have amassed enormous wealth and power and disabled democracy within all three branches of our government.

Read the whole article here.


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My debut: A heart-stopping press conference (An Excerpt from The People v. Bush)

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way by Charlotte Dennett. It has been adapted for the Web.

I began my press conference with a simple announcement:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Charlotte Dennett, and I’m running for attorney general on the Progressive Party ticket. I have with me a special guest, legendary prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who has flown here to show his support for my endeavor. I will appoint him as my special prosecutor if elected, and we shall seek an indictment of George W. Bush in Vermont after he leaves office.

We both knew that the odds were against us. It would have been hard enough to prosecute George W. Bush in an American courtroom for authorizing torture at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, or allowing unlawful wiretapping. But here we were, announcing that we were going to prosecute George W. Bush for murder, for the deaths of Vermont soldiers who had been led into the war in Iraq based on deliberate lies. We pressed our case, knowing there would be objections: Bush had never (some would say, never dared) set foot in Vermont; as commander in chief, he had the consent of Congress to send the troops off to war; he personally didn’t intend to kill these brave Vermonters.

We were prepared for all these reasons and more. Bugliosi, both at my press conference and in numerous interviews, had made it very clear that he would never, “never in a million years,” propose the prosecution of George W. Bush for murder if he hadn’t assembled the best evidence and sound legal grounds to convict him. But we soon discovered that our biggest hurdle was to convince Vermonters that George W. Bush should be viewed just like the rest of us citizens once he left office—in other words, that he would lose his immunity to prosecution for crimes he committed while in office. Vermonters, indeed all Americans, were comfortable with the notion that a sitting president could be subjected to impeachment for violating the rule of law. But the mere thought that a president-turned-private-citizen could be subjected to the rule of law through criminal proceedings was a novel idea. Eventually, however, that idea would also enter the public discourse, shepherded in by the degree of premeditated lawlessness during eight years of the Bush administration, beginning with months of planning—long before 9/11—to get us involved in a war on false pretenses.

It seemed that never before had a sitting president showed such pervasive contempt for the separation of powers embedded in the Constitution. When I took my place behind a microphone at the September 18 press conference, I was confident that the majority of Vermonters believed as I did, that George W. Bush had come perilously close to destroying the one thing all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, hold dear: our democracy.

“We are living in a culture of lawlessness and fear,” I said, as I tried to ignore the glare of the cameras. “Lawlessness by the very powerful; fear because the powerless don’t know what to do about it. As a result, we no longer have accountability in this nation. I believe someone has to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough. The crimes of the Bush administration must not go unpunished.’ ”

I motioned toward Bugliosi sitting next to me. He was looking deadly serious, his chin cupped in his hand, his face registering no emotion other than grave concern. “I can think of no better person to serve as special prosecutor,” I said, noting his record of 105 out of 106 successful felony jury convictions and 21 murder convictions without a loss. “And I can think of no better state to do this—a state that has the highest per-capita loss of soldiers in the war in Iraq, a state where 36 towns voted during their town meetings to impeach President Bush.” Vermonters felt frustrated, I added, that impeachment efforts went nowhere. “Now there is another avenue for us.”

Then I turned the microphone over to Bugliosi, a man I had met only a couple of weeks earlier but who, in that brief time span, had convinced me that every word he uttered came from a deep well of conviction—a profound love of country and an equally profound sense of outrage and injustice over what had occurred over the last eight years under the Bush administration.

“No man, not even the president of the United States, is above the law,” he began, his voice emphatic and clear. It was a statement he would make over and over again, knowing that the American people had trouble wrapping their heads around this seemingly paradoxical concept of a vulnerable commander in chief. But what he said next shocked me for its boldness.

“Yet, for whatever reason, this bedrock of American legal principles, which is so essential to American democracy and to who we are as a people, has been ignored by this nation’s establishment.” He paused, then went on. “An establishment that has in effect decided that George W. Bush should not be held accountable for his monumental crime of taking this nation to war in Iraq under false pretenses.”

What? I knew Bugliosi was not one for mincing words. In his earlier book, The Betrayal of America, he had called the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court the “Felonious Five” for effectively stealing the 2000 elections and appointing George W. Bush president. And even though I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who “irritates the establishment,” here he was firing a direct salvo, at the opening of my campaign, at those unseen “powers that be” in a way rarely heard in American civil discourse.

“But even the very powerful,” he added, his voice rising in emotion, “cannot abort the wheels of justice.” If they could, “the America of our Founding Fathers would cease to be and we would be a totalitarian state.”

That’s all it took: one simple sentence that really defined the situation we were in then, and are in now. The Associated Press, to my surprise, actually repeated Bugliosi’s criticism of the nation’s establishment. I couldn’t help but picture in my mind’s eye some unknown “establishment figures” in a huddle over how to respond to my candidacy. And when I say establishment, I mean Democrats as well as Republicans. After all, the incumbent attorney general in Vermont was a Democrat.

A Different Take on the Supreme Court Ruling

Monday, January 25th, 2010

By Kevin Ellis
Kimbell Sherman Ellis, LLP

It’s always great when an event throws the usual (and boring) left vs. right equation off its moorings. Such is this week’s Supreme Court 5-4 decision in which the court said the government cannot restrict the ability of corporations and unions to spend money on elections.

I have lots of liberal friends who say this is the death of Democracy and the Democratic party. Why? Because the Republicans and their corporate friends have all the money! Put aside the usual (and also boring) Republican retort that the liberal labor unions do the same thing. Are we really going to make judicial decisions based on what we think might happen?

There is either a First Amendment prohibition against the abridgement of free speech or their isn’t. Even if my friends are right, isn’t that an outcome-based reason. Are we going to chip away at the first amendment protections because we think it will create an outcome we want. I’m not so sure.

And is this court decision going to make things worse than they already are? There seems to be some notion that our system today works. Take it from someone who sees it every day. Politicians at every level spend a majority of their time raising money. They figure out how to get around the spending laws by creating PACS and other groups. They hate the system and would rather spend their time governing.

One of the reasons Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is in political trouble and is retiring is because the public perceived him as in the pocket of the banks and bankers, many of whom are headquartered in his state. True or not, I guarantee you Chris Dodd spends A LOT of time with the financial services industry as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. And I guarantee you he calls them A LOT, asking for money – under the current system.

And the people in my business of communications and politics don’t like going to fundraisers or getting the solicitation calls. We’d rather work. Vermont actually has a really good law than bans its politicians from asking a registered lobbyist for money during the state’s legislative session. That cleans things up fairly well. But don’t be fooled. It doesn’t stop them from forming a PAC and soliciting money anyway.

Take a look at Glenn Greenwald’s piece in Slate about this. And Eliot Spitzer’s comments are good too. Can this ruling really make the system worse than it is? I don’t see how it can get worse.

I am really skeptical about adjusting the first amendment because of the outcome we want. The society surprises you. Corporations are already voicing their displeasure – under the first amendment of course – with the ruling, saying they want out of the game. IBM has always said it doesn’t contribute to candidates.

You might see a wholesale rejection of the system as a result of this ruling. You might see a vigorous debate about it. TV commercials, radio talk shows, web ads, Facebook chat.

Will some Democratic lawmaker lose their seat because of negative ads paid for by some corporate raider? Sure. (That happens in every election already) Will some corporate lobbyist threaten a member of Congress with a bag of campaign money if he doesn’t vote the way that lobbyist’s corporate client wants? Yes. And that happens today. But remember that former Congressmen William Jefferson (cash in the freezer) and Randall Duke Cunningham, were caught and convicted.

Predicting the outcome of Supreme Court cases under the First Amendment is risky business, especially when you are trying to control people’s speech. It may be the outcome you want today. But tomorrow, it might be something you hate.

Gene Logsdon: Robot Farmers

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

One hundred percent fully automated robotic milking machines? Have we entered utopia? In a word: no. In three words: no, God, no. Gene Logsdon explains why these robot pals may not be all they’re cracked up to be in this post from The Contrary Farmer blog.

I’ve milked heaven knows how many cows over nearly a lifetime and never in a million years could I ever have predicted what is happening now. I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes, but the dairy industry claims that it now has robotic milking units that milk the cows without any human intervention at all. Mrs. Cow is trained to saunter into a “robotic” milking stall on a giant turntable when she has the urge to be milked, eats her grain nonchalantly while electronic sensors wash her udders, attach the milkers, empty her bag, and detach the milkers. Other electronic sensors monitor her health while she is milking herself. I suppose her cholesterol and blood pressure could be checked too. This would probably be a good time for a glowing reporter from the Happy Factory Society to interview her about how wonderful are giant, consolidated, animal confinement systems these days. She might have something interesting to say about health care, since hers is subsidized almost as completely as that of our Senators. Then she wanders out of her stall and lolls beside the manure lagoon on her robotic spa until she feels the urge to be milked again.

I have to conclude that today’s Mrs. Cow, while probably giving more milk than my Betsy in the days of yore, is not nearly as smart. Betsy would have learned how to beat the Happy Factory system in about four days and started frequenting the “robotic” stall every twenty minutes to get more grain which she loved dearly. In six months of robotic milking, she would have gained 500 pounds. Five thousand of her ilk would have bankrupted the Happy Factory and sent the price of corn soaring even higher than the romantic dreams of robotic farming.

Read the whole article here.


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Huge Victory for Michael Schmidt As Canadian Judge Rules Cow Shares Outside Regulators’ Jurisdiction

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

By David E. Gumpert

From his blog, The Complete Patient

Photo: Michael Schmidt meets with the media before entering a Newmarket courthouse.

In a decision that took Ontario Judge Paul Kowarsky two-and-a-half hours to read, and sounded much of the time like a thoroughly researched legal treatise, raw dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was exonerated on 19 counts of violating the province’s milk laws.

At first, the judge sounded as if he was going to rule against Schmidt,when he said several times he had “no authority” to pronounce on legislation. His role, he said, was to determine “whether offenses occurred.” He then went through each of the 19 counts against Michael Schmidt, which stem from offenses that first occurred in 1994, when his Glencolton Farm was first raided by authorities.

He then went through the account of how two undercover agents from the Ontario Ministry of Health in 2006 acquired milk products from Michael Schmidt. The circumstances around that operation wound up influencing the judge’s ruling when he decided he had “reasonable doubt” about whether the acquisition of $6 worth of raw milk cheese from Michael Schmidt constituted a sale. That decision was essential to allowing the judge to then rule on whether cow shares are subject to Ontario milk laws.

In the end, the judge determined that cow shares are outside regulatory oversight based on the following:

  • That legislation is subject to a “dynamic” based on cultural, social, and historical factors. In other words, raw milk doesn’t pose the same dangers it might have been seen to pose in the 1930s, when much of Ontario’s dairy legislation was passed.
  • That Michael Schmidt wasn’t “marketing” the cow shares. “There was no advertising and sale (of raw milk) to the general public…Cow shares are a legitimate private enterprise that does not constitute marketing in Ontario.”
  • Perhaps most intriguing, that “the people who are permitted to buy the milk are fully informed” via a special booklet, identification cards, regular newsletters, and other steps Michael Schmidt took on behalf of his members.  “There is no evidence of any illness” in all the years Michael Schmidt has been distributing raw milk, he observed, and tests by the regulatory authorities never found any evidence of pathogens.

Judge Kowarsky obviously gave the case a huge amount of time and consideration. He In addeitionto researching other cases, he reviewed cow share procedures in the United States and Australia,and rules regarding sale of raw milk in Europe. It made me wish that the New York state judge who ruled against Meadowsweet Dairy on a very broad definition of the term “consumer,” might have done the same kind of analysis.

Max Kane, the owner of a Wisconsin raw dairy buyers club facing legal problems of his own, said, “I want that judge for my case.” He drove overnight from Wisconsin to Newmarket to hear the court decision. Another American raw milk “celebrity” in attendance was Tim Wightman of the Farm-to-Consumer Foundation.

Michael Schmidt was all smiles afterwards. “It’s an incredible relief,” he told me. Especially given the judge’s observation that the amount of potential fines had Michael been found guilty couldhave been “astronomical.”

Collapse: The First Great Feel-Bad Movie of 2010

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

“Imagine the most sincerely encouraging, feel-good movie you’ve ever seen. Then imagine the 180-degree opposite — the most sincerely helpless-making, devastating movie you could ever see. Then imagine not being able to look away.”
—S.T. VanAirsdale, Movie Line.

In this interview with Movie Line, director Chris Smith talks about the making of his terrifying, darkly hypnotic documentary, Collapse, the challenges of preparing for a debate with someone with thirty years more experience, and the lessons he took away from the experience.

How did you meet Michael Ruppert?
In the ’70s Michael became a whistleblower in terms of a connection between the CIA and drug trafficking. Consequently his life sort of fell apart. The story that we had heard about came up just while we doing another project. We had just finished a film and were researching new things, and this was one of the ideas that we thought would be interesting to pursue, just to see if anything would come of it. It was really born out of just trying to have him talk about that project. When we contacted him and set up a meeting at his house, he had just finished writing a book basically about what he sees happening — the things that have led to the point in history where we are now — and what he sees coming our way. When we went there we realized very quickly that he wasn’t interested in talking about the past, but he was very much consumed with what he sees happening around us.

So we just kind of went with it. We spent two or three hours at his house, and it was this incredible sort of train-of-thought monologue. We left not quite sure what to make of it or Michael or anything else we thought of doing with him. But we kept coming back to it over the next couple weeks; we kept thinking about what he said and the way he said it, and kind of came to this conclusion to see if anything was there. So we organized to shoot with him for a few days in March 2009. That kind of started the beginning of the process.

How did you conjure and create this setting — this dark, empty space where Michael holds forth?
Our goal was to not do it in a studio. I was much more interested in trying to get the audience into Michael’s head — the world he lives in every day, the way that he looks at the world. We decided we wanted to film him exclusively in a setting that was visually engaging and interesting. We originally started looking for locations that had a postapocalyptic feel; the idea there was to put him in a place that would be representational of the world that he’s describing. Then we moved away from that because the more we got into the project, it seemed more appropriate to film somewhere where it felt like an interrogation could take place, and also played up his past connections to this underworld between the CIA and drug trafficking. It felt like some secret, hidden bunker where you’d take someone to transfer information that was perceived to be dangerous or top secret. It was a combination of those ideas that led us to that place. And also, cinematically, it felt like it was from that world.

Read the whole article here.


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“Trains Make Sense for America”: Reuters UK Interviews James McCommons

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Sure, passenger rail in the US is in a sorry state, says James McCommons (Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service). But there’s hope for the future thanks to the $8 billion in stimulus funds set aside for rail travel (not to mention the recurring billion dollars a year) and a resurgence from the general public in rail travel. We’re a long way from high-speed rail networks connecting major urban hubs, but such a system could be on the horizon.

From Reuters UK:

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – Anyone who wants to travel by train from the United States’ third-biggest city, Chicago, to Houston must board a bus for part of the journey.

Amtrak, the national passenger rail operator, no longer directly serves Houston, the country’s fourth largest city from the north; a bus connects from Longview, Texas.

Such is the sorry state of passenger rail travel in the United States, says James McCommons in “Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service.”

McCommons, a journalism professor at Northern Michigan University, spent a year riding Amtrak trains, logging 26,000 miles. He interviewed rail advocates, freight executives, politicians and train crews and passengers about how to improve rail travel, relieve highway congestion and cut energy use.

McCommons spoke with Reuters about rail politics, his favorite trains, and obsessive rail fans called “foamers.”

Q: You call the U.S. a third-world country when it comes to passenger rail. How did it get this way?

A: “We had a private system versus the public system like other countries have. We let it go to seed. After World War Two it was easier to replace trolley systems with buses. Amtrak is a quasi-public entity created to take money-losing passenger operations away from freight railroads. The idea was Amtrak would somehow become profitable, but it had mandates from Congress that were in conflict, to maintain a nationwide system and create efficiencies to make money. Amtrak’s never done that. There’s also been animosity with the freight railroads.”

Read the whole article here.


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