weekend | 28 april 2013

SECURITY

INSIDE AMERICA’S DIRTY WARS

Jermey Scahill | The Nation | via Longreads.com

dirtywarsThis article is adapted from Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, just published by Nation Books. Copyright © 2013 by Jeremy Scahill, all rights reserved

Anwar al-Awlaki’s youngest brother, Ammar, was nothing like him. While Anwar embraced a radical interpretation of Islam and preached jihad against the United States, Ammar was pursuing a career at an oil company in Yemen. Ammar was Canadian-educated and politically well connected. He dressed in blue jeans, wore hip Armani eyeglasses and sported a goatee. His hair was slicked back, and he had the latest iPhone. In February 2011, Ammar told me, he was in Vienna on a business trip. He had just returned to his hotel after sampling some of the local cuisine with an Austrian colleague when the phone in his room rang. “Hello, Ammar?” said a man with an American accent. “My wife knows your wife, and I have a gift for her.”

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GUNS

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FIREARMS RESEARCH: THE GUN FIGHTER

Meredith Waldman | Nature

GarenWintemuteWith his crisp blue suit and wire-framed spectacles, Garen Wintemute hardly looked frightening as he stepped to the podium last month to address a conference on paediatric emergency medicine in San Francisco, California. But his presence there made the organizers nervous.

Wintemute, an emergency-department doctor, is better known as the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California (UC), Davis. As such, he has published dozens of papers on the effects of guns in the United States, where widespread gun ownership and loose laws make it easy for criminals and potentially violent people to obtain firearms. Wintemute has pushed the bounds of research, going undercover into gun shows with a hidden camera to document how people often sidestep the law when purchasing weapons. He has also worked with California lawmakers on crafting gun policy and helped to drive a group of gun-making companies out of business.

All this made Wintemute a potentially risky speaker for the conference funder, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is barred by law from funding any activities that advocate or promote gun control. The meeting organizers had told Wintemute to stick to facts and avoid any mention of policies. But with the nation still reeling from the murder of 20 children and 6 educators, who were shot in their school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December, the conference organizers were not sure what Wintemute would say.

He stuck to the facts, but also managed to make clear how he feels about the funding prohibition, which has effectively killed off most research on gun violence. “We don’t have a labour force,” Wintemute told the assembled doctors.

. . . This is not the first time that Wintemute has attacked papers he perceives to be weak, even if they point towards policies he would like to see adopted. And he goes no easier on policies that he views as ineffective, even ones that seek to limit firearm ownership. He has, for instance, repeatedly criticized the assault-weapons ban enacted by Congress in 1994, in part because the ban was easily circumvented. Instead, he advocates three steps informed by research: requiring background checks for all US gun sales, forbidding alcohol abusers and those convicted of violent misdemeanours from buying guns and rewriting current federal restrictions on gun ownership to better capture people who are mentally ill and at risk of violence to themselves or others.

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TIME LAPSE

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MINIATURE MELBOURNE

Nathan Kaso | Vimeo

A short tilt-shift time-lapse film featuring the city of Melbourne, Australia. This piece is 10 months in the making and features a range of different events and festivals held in the city throughout the year.

Music: “Reflections” by Tom Day.

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RACE

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HOW TO SPOT HOLLYWOOD’S NON-THREATENING BLACK MAN (NTBM)

Inkoo Kang | LA Weekly

Last week, America received two embarrassing reminders of its doting but asexual love for the Nonthreatening Black Man (NTBM). First, professional cowboy-hat-wearer Brad Paisley and Kangol connoisseur LL Cool J unintentionally trolled the entire Internet with “Accidental Racist,” a country song that argues that access to necklaces today totally makes up for centuries of slavery. Then came the release of the new Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, a film about racial progress à la The Help, in which the emotional fulcrum is white people learning important lessons about becoming less awful.

Often, the “nonthreatening” label is a cultural-studies-savvy bomb hurled at certain black male celebs and characters who are deemed at best too wholesome, and at worst examples of racial incorrectness. In his least offensive iteration (hi, Donald Glover!), the NTBM deserves a defense, as black men shouldn’t have to carry the burden of having to frighten everyone around them at all times, like the world is their haunted house. (That sounds exhausting, actually.)

Unfortunately, the persistence of the NTBM in the media isn’t due to a generation of black men who grew up idolizing Steve Urkel. Rather, it’s because the trope serves as a subtle code that signals how entertainment conglomerates believe mainstream white audiences want black and other minority groups to behave. Instructions from white men to black men form the core of both “Accidental Racist” and 42. When Paisley croons, “I hope you understand/When I put on that T-shirt [with the Dixie flag]/The only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan,” he’s pleading for the emergence of a new kind of black man, one who isn’t nauseated by the symbols of white supremacy.

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INVESTING

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MY EDGE AT THE CROSSROADS

Joshua Brown | The Reformed Broker

When people ask me what my edge is, I tell them I have a very good sense of what the crowd is thinking and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at what they’ll do about it next. I pay close attention to when there’s an emotional or tonal shift to the rhetoric of the Pundit Class because I know that the masses gradually adopt these oft-repeated tropes and heuristics for their own and act accordingly.

Keynes figured out that his job as the King’s College endowment portfolio manager was not to guess at the future – but to guess at what other market participants would be guessing and to beat them to those assumptions. Before he realized that this was the way to invest, his track record was terrible – lots of trading, very little to show for it, the Crash of ’29 nearly wiped him out of his own small fortune. But after this realization hit him, his confidence grew and his cockiness faded. His average holding times lengthened, his turnover decreased and his returns began to trounce the market.

Keynes was now a master at judging the judges of the beauty pageant, and leaving the judges themselves to fret over their petty calculations of pulchritude.

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SHORT FILM

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CAFÉ REGULAR, CAIRO

Ritesh Batra | Vimeo

Ritesh Batra’s award winning Arabic language short Café Regular, Cairo has screened at over 40 international film festivals and won 12 awards including the FIPRESCI Critics Prize at the International Film Festival of Oberhausen and Special Mentions at Tribeca Intl Film Festival and Chicago International Film Festival. It was bought by Arte for French and German television. His debut feature ‘Lunchbox’ will premiere at the International Critics Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

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ENVIRONMENT

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FOREST ECOLOGY: SPLINTERS OF THE AMAZON

Jeff Tollefson | Nature

Ecologist Thomas Lovejoy tucks his trousers into his socks with a casual warning about chiggers and then hikes off into the Amazon jungle. Shaded by a tall canopy and dense with ferns and underbrush, the old-growth forest looks healthy, but Lovejoy knows better. Three decades ago, the surrounding forest was mowed down and torched as part of a research project, and the effects have spread like a cancer deep into the uncut area. Large trees have perished. The spider monkeys have moved out, as have the army-ant colonies, and many of the birds that depend on them.

Lovejoy and his team have been studying this 10-hectare fragment of forest since the late 1970s as part of the largest and longest-running experiment in tropical ecology. In collaboration with ranchers, they cleared the trees around this and ten other plots of varying size to create islands of intact forest. The researchers have been monitoring the plots ever since, documenting how deforestation harms the adjacent untouched forest as specialist plants and animals gradually give way to generalists and pioneer species that prefer disturbed habitat. “We are chronicling the simplification of these forests,” says Lovejoy, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

. . . Lovejoy’s latest scientific progeny — third-generation fragmentologist Ewers — initially worked in the Amazon as a 25-year-old postdoc under Laurance. Ewers first visited Camp 41 in 2004 while conducting unrelated research on deforestation. He is now setting up a similar experiment in the state of Sabah in Borneo
. . . His initiative, known as the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project, is receiving some £6 million pounds in core funding over ten years from the Sime Darby Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, the philanthropic arm of one of the world’s largest palm-oil producers. Forty-two plots mirroring the sizes used in the Amazon project will be located at various distances from the surrounding forests. Dozens of scientists have been surveying the sites, and the project now has data on 3,000 to 4,000 tropical species, from ants and beetles to birds, bees and trees — a database much larger than the one Lovejoy and Bierregaard were able to compile at the outset of their experiment. After a year’s delay, loggers fired up the chainsaws on 4 April.

The unpublished baseline data show a landscape severely affected by development. For instance, the average amount of carbon locked up in trees in the primary forests has been estimated at 243 tonnes per hectare, compared with 49 tonnes per hectare in logged forest and just 4 tonnes per hectare within palm plantations. And yet, while many logged forests have been hard-hit ecologically, they still show pockets of remarkable biodiversity, including all five of the native cat species

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NETWORKS

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CROWDSOURCING IN MANHUNTS CAN WORK

Philip Ball | Nature

The original experiment by Rahwan and colleagues constituted their entry in the Tag Challenge, a competition staged by the US state department in 2012. The Tag Challenge required teams to find persons playing the role of jewel thieves in New York, Washington DC, London, Stockholm and Bratislava within 12 hours — using only a mugshot of each target, released on the morning of the competition.

Rahwan and his team used crowdsourcing to find the targets, offering cash incentives to individuals for uploading photos of suspects to the web and for recruiting more searchers. Although they failed to locate the targets in London and Stockholm, the team won the competition1.

Analysis of the information provided by participants now shows that communications such as tweets became more specific and directed towards other users in the target cities as the day of the competition approached. “Despite increasing time pressure and its associated cognitive load, people actually became more selective in their recruitment of others,” says Rahwan.

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TELEVISION

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THE SUNDANCE KID GROWS UP

Andy Greenwald | Grantland

The Sundance Channel was founded in 1996 by Redford & Co. … well, to show Sundance movies, basically, a term that by the ’90s had calcified into a restrictive cliché all its own.5 It lurked quietly on the upper reaches of your local cable service, dutifully broadcasting reruns of Living in Oblivion6 and occasionally experimenting in on-brand original programming like sending Mario Batali and Michael Stipe to lunch. Five years ago, Sundance Channel was sold to Cablevision’s Rainbow Media (now a publicly traded entity known as AMC Networks), which was widely expected to merge the underperforming channel with its own fringe arthouse network, IFC. That didn’t happen, and now Sundance Channel’s lack of preexisting identity is suddenly its greatest strength. Due to a fluke of mismanagement and timing — the sort of thing the industry likes to call “foresight” in hindsight — Sundance Channel suddenly finds itself with the strange opportunity to fulfill its founder’s mission on an entirely different medium and long after he cashed out.

Earlier this year, Sundance Channel gained the best — some would argue “first” — notices in its history for Top of the Lake, a haunting seven-hour miniseries from filmmaker Jane Campion, cofinanced by the BBC and Australia’s UKTV. Though I’m regrettably late to the party,7 I’m happy to report the notices were well deserved. Starring a lightly accented Elisabeth Moss as a troubled Sydney cop investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old in her uncomfortably small New Zealand hometown, the series did what independent cinema once did best: take a familiar format and fold it in on itself like origami, until what remains is both totally unexpected and deeply beautiful. Despite some broad-stroke plot similarities, saying Top of the Lake is a smarter version of The Killing would be like calling a Harley-Davidson a smarter version of a Big Wheel. This was a crime series more concerned with the persistence of heartbreak than the breaking of laws: Moss’s detective Robin Griffin is as much a victim as Tui, the missing girl; and Matt Mitcham, a gruff and murderous Scotsman introduced as a nominal villain, alternates his violent rages with bouts of Ecstasy-popping, mother-mourning self-flagellation. (It helps that Mitcham is played by veteran actor Peter Mullan in one of the finest performances of the year. He’s a blazingly charismatic blend of sex, danger, and alcohol, like Iggy Pop fermented in a Lagavulin still.)


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FILM

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‘PORTRAIT OF JASON’ AND THE LIFE OF MOVIES

Richard Brody | The Front Row | The New Yorker

The cinema is the great compensatory art, the one that natural-born artists who lack any particular technical skill, craft, or knowledge gravitate toward, because it’s the one where the equipment itself supplies most of the needed technique. The artists need only bring their being—because being is the cinema’s very stuff and subject. That’s why it’s wrong to call movies a visual medium; it’s a shorthand that I’ve indulged in, too, but there’s actually no such thing as a beautiful image. If a director happens to be endowed with a visual gift (such as Stanley Kubrick, who started as a photographer), so much the better, but what makes an image beautiful is that it’s infused with a beautiful soul. That’s why there’s no formula for recognizing or identifying a beautiful image; it’s not definable as a geometric or formal quality, but rather, essentially, as a communion of kindred spirits that’s describable only in terms as literary as literature itself.

In other words, movies that are any good save people’s lives, and the 1967 film “Portrait of Jason”—which opened at IFC Center on Friday, in a deep-toned, richly textured, and (most importantly) sonically sharp restoration by Milestone Films—is one of the greatest cinematic salvations of all time, because it helped to save two people, one in front of the camera (its eponymous protagonist—indeed, its soloist), and the other behind it (the director, Shirley Clarke). I wrote a capsule review of it in the magazine, but it’s worth revisiting the movie in detail because its details are so extraordinary, starting with the question posed, at the very start, regarding the title.





THE COOL WORLD

Shirley Clarke | Youtube

Cool World is set in the meanest sections of Harlem. Hampton Clayton plays Duke, a powerful street gang member who claims that he is motivated by the Black Muslim movement. His subsequent criminal activities are thus not merely for gain, but as a means to declare black supremacy over the white establishment. One of director Shirley Clarke’s few mainstream projects, Cool World was the first commercial film venture to be shot on location in Harlem. The largely unknown cast features future luminaries (and husband and wife) Clarence Williams III and Gloria Foster. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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MUSIC

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NPR TINY DESK CONCERT: LYLE LOVETT



lyle-lovett-release-me

“I CHI” PINKUNOIZU

Ewan Jones Morris | Vimeo

Animation and collages by Ewan Jones Morris | “I Chi” is from Pinkunoizu EP “Second Amendment” pinkunoizu.com/ | Released by everybodysstalking.com/ | Printer operator: Ben Ewart-Dean

Pinkunoizu-Free Time

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