March 12th, 2012
atomvincent

Moving Without Merce

Merce Cunningham was a giant of modern dance, pioneering radical techniques and philosophies that challenged both his audiences and performers. By the time of his death in 2009, a plan unlike any other in the dance world had been created by the administration and approved by Cunningham himself - a plan that laid the groundwork for the preservation of his choreography and for a finite end to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company . For The Nation, Marina Harss examines that precise plan, attends the company’s final performance, and looks back at a career that irrevocably changed the art of dance.

Despite Cunningham’s larger-than-life reputation, his work is far less mainstream than one might imagine. The first challenge for dancers and audiences is the lack of connection between music and dance, except in the earliest works. Cunningham and John Cage, partners in life and art, established early the precept that the music and steps would coexist in time but proceed independently of each other. One is used to seeing bodies moving to music—to most of us, music is the reason for moving—but Cunningham and Cage maintained that this was not necessarily true. Dance has its own rhythms, its own internal music. Thus, the dances are created and rehearsed in silence, which can at times be challenging even to seasoned Cunningham dancers. Because the music and steps are created separately, the tempos and dynamics of the two do not coincide—one might see devilishly fast footwork while hearing slow, quiet music, or the opposite, a long, drawn-out phrase set to fast, percussive sounds or, worse yet, movements of the feet, arms or torso that are just slightly out of sync with the music. This last scenario can tempt a dancer to follow the rhythm of the music, a temptation that is difficult to resist. The dancers hear the music only during performance. For a non-Cunningham dancer, this can be downright bewildering. During a demonstration and discussion at the Guggenheim last year, a highly skilled young dancer from American Ballet Theatre performed a short Cunningham duet, and was then asked what it was like to hear the music for the first time. “Distracting,” she said, with a shy laugh.

Read the full article here.

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January 19th, 2012
chasewhiteside

Newt Gingrich Attacks the So-Called “Liberal” Media—But What Liberal Media?

Writing for The Nation, Erik Alterman explores the frequent conservative critique that the mainstream media is “liberal,” which immunizes Republican candidates from all sincere journalistic efforts to point out fallacy, inaccuracy, or hypocrisy in their positions.

Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match—either in size, ferocity or commitment—for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.

In a careful 1999 study published in the academic journal Communications Research, four scholars examined the use of the “liberal media” argument and discovered a fourfold increase in the number of Americans telling pollsters that they discerned a liberal bias in their news. But a review of the media’s actual ideological content, collected and coded over a twelve-year period, offered no corroboration whatever for this view. The obvious conclusion: News consumers were responding to “increasing news coverage of liberal bias media claims, which have been increasingly emanating from Republican Party candidates and officials.”

Read the full article here.

January 9th, 2012
atomvincent

Crueler Than Violence, Certain As Moonlight

Stephen Burt writes for The Nation on four new books of poetry that seek to observe the unique emotions of the contemporary world and the intersection of our interior lives with the systems that surround us.

It’s tempting, sometimes irresistible, to divide poets into movements and schools, to slot any poem that seems mildly memorable into the category New Whatever and argue that it represents our time. You can do that with these four poets if you come at them from a certain angle, an angle that they sometimes recommend; you can do the same with other contemporary poets—Claudia Rankine, Mark Nowak, Craig Santos Perez and especially C.D. Wright—who have won praise for quotation-filled, reportorial, essaylike forms. (The poet and critic Joseph Harrington has done just that in the online magazine Jacket2, announcing the age of the docu-poem, of what he prefers to call “creative nonpoetry,” whose arguments, facts and incorporated quotations—Perez, Nowak and Ossip stand among his examples—break out of any and all generic frames.) You can also find earlier precedents for these kinds of forms, too, from Ezra Pound’s Cantos (1925–69) to Muriel Rukeyser’s now undeniably influentialU.S. 1 (1938); you can find poems made largely or wholly of source texts erased or altered in search of sublimity, like Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os (1977), fashioned from Paradise Lost. Yet these new poems, from Wright’s to Ossip’s—unlike those older ones—function as essays, medium-length attempts at understanding some things without explaining everything: they do not pretend to predict the whole course of our history, nor do they tell us what we should do.

Instead they are partial takes—neither songlike nor epic—on systems more complicated and fragile, and less amenable to human governance, than previous generations of writers believed. Avowedly partial, attentive to the self and to something outside the self, the essay form—or the ghost of it, or the fragments of it—makes a bracing contrast both with the lyric compression these poets refuse, and with the giant systems they critique.

Read the full article here.

December 22nd, 2011
atomvincent

Read This, Not That: The Mythical Fall of the Soviet Union

For The Nation, Stephen F. Cohen takes us on a tour of the realities of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Far from the mythology of a citizen-led revolution or the inevitable fall of the enemy of democracy, the Soviet Union was broken up by the actions of a few major players, grabbing at opportunities for power and wealth. Historians, especially in the West, all but ignore the realities of the dissolution and utterly fail to ask what opportunities may have been squandered in the mad dash for a new order in 1991.

Most generally, there were ominous parallels between the Soviet breakup and the collapse of czarism in 1917. In both cases, the end of the old order resulted in a near total destruction of Russian statehood that plunged the country into prolonged chaos, conflict and misery. Russians call what ensued smuta, a term full of dread derived from previous historical experiences and not expressed in the usual translation, “time of troubles.” Indeed, in this respect, the end of the Soviet Union may have had less to do with the specific nature of that system than with recurring breakdowns in Russian history.

The similarities between 1991 and 1917, despite important differences, were significant. Once again, hopes for evolutionary progress toward democracy, prosperity and social justice were crushed; a small group of radicals, this time around Yeltsin, imposed extreme measures on the nation; fierce struggles over property and territory tore apart the foundations of a vast multiethnic state; and the victors destroyed longstanding economic and other essential structures to build entirely anew, “as though we had no past.” Once again, elites acted in the name of a better future but left society bitterly divided over yet another of Russia’s perennial “accursed questions”—why it had happened. And again the people paid the price.

All of those recapitulations unfolded, amid mutual (and lasting) charges of betrayal, during the three months from August to December 1991, when the piecemeal destruction of the Soviet state occurred. The period began and ended with coups (as in 1917)—the first a failed military putsch against Gorbachev organized by his own ministers in the center of Moscow, the second Yeltsin’s liquidation of the state itself in the Belovezh Forest. What followed was a revolution from above against the Soviet system of power and property by its own elites. Looking back, Russians of different views have concluded that during those months political extremism and unfettered greed cost them a chance for democratic and economic progress. 

Read the full article here.

December 12th, 2011
arvindsuguness
Read This, Not That: The Lessons of the UK
The financial crisis of 2008 had similar effects on the United States and Great Britain, largely due to their similarities as nations. Both countries have highly developed financial sectors that grew in the wake of deregulation in the 90’s, and both have high levels of inequality that persisted after the crisis. For The Nation, Sam Pizzigati writes about the lessons American reformers can take from the British and why more equality would be good for both societies:

British progressives were never comfortable with New Labour’s “intense relaxation” about people getting rich. But they now have much more evidence to back up their instinct—and a renewed sense of egalitarian confidence. Both the evidence and the confidence come in large part from a remarkable 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.The authors explore the impact of inequality on modern societies and demonstrate in graphic detail that people in more equal nations live longer, healthier and happier lives. Wilkinson and Pickett took their stunning data slides to cities across Britain. If Britain had levels of inequality as low as those of Scandinavia and Japan, they explained, British murder rates would drop by half, mental illness by two-thirds, teen births by 80 percent.

Read the full article here.

Read This, Not That: The Lessons of the UK

The financial crisis of 2008 had similar effects on the United States and Great Britain, largely due to their similarities as nations. Both countries have highly developed financial sectors that grew in the wake of deregulation in the 90’s, and both have high levels of inequality that persisted after the crisis. For The Nation, Sam Pizzigati writes about the lessons American reformers can take from the British and why more equality would be good for both societies:

British progressives were never comfortable with New Labour’s “intense relaxation” about people getting rich. But they now have much more evidence to back up their instinct—and a renewed sense of egalitarian confidence. Both the evidence and the confidence come in large part from a remarkable 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.The authors explore the impact of inequality on modern societies and demonstrate in graphic detail that people in more equal nations live longer, healthier and happier lives. Wilkinson and Pickett took their stunning data slides to cities across Britain. If Britain had levels of inequality as low as those of Scandinavia and Japan, they explained, British murder rates would drop by half, mental illness by two-thirds, teen births by 80 percent.

Read the full article here.

December 6th, 2011
chasewhiteside
Read This, Not That: Would a Republican President Destroy Women’s Health?
Conservative activists have moved steadily rightward on issues of reproductive rights, leading to the dismantling of any program that is even tangentially related to abortion. Jordan Smith, writing for The Nation, examines the destructive policies of one republican presidential candidate.:

Perry has presided over a wave of anti-choice legislation that has shredded healthcare services for the state’s most vulnerable. It reached its apex during the 2011 biennial legislative session, which saw a dismantling of Texas’s budget to provide women—especially the poor and uninsured—with access to basic healthcare, including reproductive health and family planning.
…
Advocates and lawmakers say that in addition to an increase in abortions and unplanned, Medicaid-paid pregnancies—
56 percent of all Texas births are paid for by Medicaid, which in 2009 alone cost the state $2.9 billion—the failure to fund preventive healthcare will lead to an increase in STDs, including HIV, which the state can ill afford. Since 2006, the first year for cuts to the family-planning budget, STD rates have skyrocketed in a number of Texas counties, according to calculations by data analyst Steve Wexler. This includes a nearly 68 percent increase in El Paso, 49 percent in Hidalgo and 44 percent in Harris County, home to the state’s largest city, Houston.

Read the full article here.

Read This, Not That: Would a Republican President Destroy Women’s Health?

Conservative activists have moved steadily rightward on issues of reproductive rights, leading to the dismantling of any program that is even tangentially related to abortion. Jordan Smith, writing for The Nation, examines the destructive policies of one republican presidential candidate.:

Perry has presided over a wave of anti-choice legislation that has shredded healthcare services for the state’s most vulnerable. It reached its apex during the 2011 biennial legislative session, which saw a dismantling of Texas’s budget to provide women—especially the poor and uninsured—with access to basic healthcare, including reproductive health and family planning.

Advocates and lawmakers say that in addition to an increase in abortions and unplanned, Medicaid-paid pregnancies—
56 percent of all Texas births are paid for by Medicaid, which in 2009 alone cost the state $2.9 billion—the failure to fund preventive healthcare will lead to an increase in STDs, including HIV, which the state can ill afford. Since 2006, the first year for cuts to the family-planning budget, STD rates have skyrocketed in a number of Texas counties, according to calculations by data analyst Steve Wexler. This includes a nearly 68 percent increase in El Paso, 49 percent in Hidalgo and 44 percent in Harris County, home to the state’s largest city, Houston.

Read the full article here.

November 28th, 2011
chasewhiteside

Read This, Not That: Misogyny in the Occupy Movement
Submitted by Liz Cambron.

Does OWS, like other social movements before it, have a problem with women? From being shut out of leadership positions, to reports of rape at the Zuccotti campsite, Sarah Seltzer, writing for The Nation, investigates the problem and OWS’ laudable efforts to correct it:

For many women in the movement, their frustration lies with the world outside Zuccotti. The video “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street” grossly objectified a number of female activists, and Time magazine asked whether women were contributing to the #OWS Twitter hashtag, despite dozens of female journalists and protesters’ participation. 

The dozen women I spoke to for this story—most of them queer-identified and/or women of color—have witnessed varying amounts of offensive behavior, such as unwanted touching or use of casually misogynist language, within the movement. And they also differ as to the extent to which they think they can elbow the “isms” out of their space. But for the most part they share a defiant hope; just maybe, they say, for once, a mobilization for social change can get it right: maintain a broad base of support, connect the dots between different kinds of injustice and achieve staying power. Their fervent wish is that the movement’s careful attention to inclusive structure, including “safe space” caucuses and working groups and a commitment to anti-oppression training, means not that misogyny will vanish altogether but rather that diverse voices will remain a core part of the movement.

Read the full article here.

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