destruction

Canada's Mining Dominance

WEAK LAWS AND empty regulations in Canada allow Canadian mining companies to flourish in every corner of the world: Papua New Guinea, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, all over Africa—anywhere local conditions are favorable for producing “low cost” metals; that is, any country where local government control mechanisms are weak or nonexistent.

Today, Canadian companies account for 75 percent of mining worldwide, and their practices are rife with abuse. The companies promise sustainability, responsibility, and a “win-win” situation for all, but there is a fundamental contradiction between their claims and the reality of massive open-pit, cyanide heap-leach mining, which devastates surrounding communities and the environment.

Mining companies dominate most areas of public discourse. In addition to accommodating laws and a friendly stock market, companies are heavily involved in Canadian pension funds in universities, NGOs, charities, and even arts and cultural groups. Canadians, for the most part, have become docile, uninformed participants in a global race for destruction, while quietly pocketing most of the gold. —ETS

Image: Big machinery in a mine, Paul Binet / Shutterstock.com

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Missed Reckonings

THE MOST common image of the assassination of President Kennedy is embedded in the collective consciousness due to the fact that it was the subject of what may be the most-seen film in history, Abraham Zapruder’s 26-second home movie, grainy and garish in color and fact. The more recent eruption of reality television may have left us nearly unshockable, but a long, hard look at Zapruder’s short, hard film is still horrifying. The most provocative context in which I’ve seen the film located is Stephen Sondheim’s meaty musical Assassins. The Broadway production had Neil Patrick Harris as Lee Harvey Oswald with the film projected onto his white T-shirt. That the show took place at Studio 54 served to underline the demonic bargain at the intersection of the military-industrial-circus complex: The nightclub theater location satirized the fact that our stories about killing can either critique the cultural appetite for destruction or serve to perpetuate more of it as a form of entertainment.

If Assassins was the most provocative screen for the Zapruder film, the most politically complex is Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK, now being rereleased to mark the assassination anniversary. It’s one of the greatest examples of cinematic craft applied to polemic (current examples are Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave)—edited like a dance, with a television miniseries’ worth of big name actors (Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, John Candy) in small roles holding up the edifice of big speechifying done by Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a thrilling film, and it has intellectual substance—the point is not whether or not the conspiracy theory posited in JFK is true, but that human beings “sin by silence” when we should speak.

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Apocalypse Redux

EVERY SUMMER brings the end of the world. But not since 1998’s Deep Impact and Armageddon both threatened the end of the world with objects from space has there been such apocalypse redundancy in summer blockbusters: This year, class wars, real wars, ecological exhaustion, aliens, and zombie viruses destroyed our planet in as many different ways.

In her excellent e-book The Zombies are Coming!, Kelly J. Baker reminds us that apocalyptic fantasies have been part of the popular American imagination since at least the Puritan hellfire sermon. Even without a common religious narrative to guide them, end-of-the-world stories mostly function as a form of cultural critique and utopian longing. We can only imagine a desired future out of the ashes of the utterly destroyed present. In other words, things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better.

If Baker is right that we seize on apocalyptic fantasies both to express a deep feeling that something is very wrong with our current state of affairs and to imagine some better alternative, then this summer’s world-ending movies display a profound lack of imagination. Most of them are not even particularly good at conceiving the end of the world, and none of them offer us a vision of how things might be different.

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Beyoncé, Religion, and the Crowd: Desiring Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Beyonce, photo by nonu | photography, Flickr.com
Beyonce, photo by nonu | photography, Flickr.com

Maybe you are like me and you need a bit of good news this week, because it’s been a week of bad news. There was the tragic shooting at the Navy Yard, leaving 12 people killed. Then there were the racist comments about the new Miss America, Nina Davuluri. She is the first person of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America, yet the news of the event emphasized racist tweets. It was almost as if people were competing over who could be the most racist: Some referred to her as “the Arab,” and other tweets claimed, “this is America, not India,” and one even called her “Miss 7-11.” Not to mention the continuing escalation of tensions throughout the world involving Syria.

It was a depressing beginning to the week. I mimetically absorbed much of this violence, hatred, and racism. Misanthropy settled into my soul and I began to loathe myself and the entire freakin’ human race.

But then I saw this video of Beyoncé performing in Brazil, and my hope in humanity was restored.

The War is Over. We're All Responsible.

U.S. troops head to Iraq, 2006. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/w1FpAB
U.S. soldiers board a flight to Iraq in Kuwait, Oct. 2006. Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/w1FpAB

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam, “Some are guilty, all are responsible.” It is a good reminder of our responsibilities now that the war in Iraq has officially been declared ended.

First, we as a society are responsible for the necessary care for our returned veterans. A total of 1.5 million American men and women served in the armed forces in Iraq.  Nearly 35,000 suffered physical injuries, as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries, and as many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Suicides and divorces are rising, homelessness and unemployment are high.

Having sent them to war, our society now needs to assume the responsibility for providing what they and their families need. As Abraham Lincoln reminded the country in his second inaugural speech, as the Civil War was ending in March 1865, one of the unfinished tasks was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”  

We must advocate for and ensure that in the budget and deficit cutting battles to come, the necessary funding for veterans care and benefits are maintained. It’s a moral obligation.

It's Finally Over -- and It Was Wrong

Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.

The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.

The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.

Hurricanes and Spoiled Romance

When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.

We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)

Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).

Compassion, Destruction, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprising addition to the typical summer blockbuster canon -- for one thing, it manages to entertain and challenge, without resorting to gratuitous violence to make its point. But there's a deeper subtext that is even more unexpected -- for this is a story in which we start to lose.

It was fashionable in the late 1960s and early '70s for science fiction films to attempt to out-dystopia each other -- see for example the notion in Soylent Green that post-industrial humanity snacks on itself to survive, the suggestion that only robots can be trusted to look after creation in Silent Running, and the climactic revelation in the original Planet of the Apes that a few generations from now, the nuclear arms race will end in mutually assured destruction. All these point to a simple philosophical idea: that humans cannot be trusted to care for ourselves or the planet we steward.

Could the Riots in England Have Been Averted?

The rioting and rampages that spread across English cities last week have caused severe property destruction and raised public alarm. Writing in London's Guardian, community organizer Stafford Scott describes how he was among the group that on August 6 sought information from the police in Tottenham, a poorer section of London. They wanted an official statement on whether Mark Duggan had been killed by police bullets, as had been reported in the news.

All we really wanted was an explanation of what was going on. We needed to hear directly from the police. We waited for hours outside the station for a senior officer to speak with the family, in a demonstration led by young women. A woman-only delegation went into the station, as we wanted to ensure that this did not become confrontational. It was when the young women, many with children, decided to call it a day that the atmosphere changed, and guys in the crowd started to voice and then act out their frustrations.

This event is what most media accounts have identified as the spark that set England on fire, which has caught the world by surprise. Yet, says Scott, "If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking."

What Would Jesus Tax?

In the face of state and federal budget cuts, many of us have been fasting and contemplating the question: "What would Jesus cut?" In light of tax day, however, we might equally contemplate: "What would Jesus tax?"

After all, a great deal of our budgetary stress is the result of declining revenue, thanks to the economic downturn and decades of tax cuts.

A new report that I co-authored, "Unnecessary Austerity," argues that before we make draconian budget cuts at the federal and state level, we should reverse huge tax cuts for the wealthy and tax dodging corporations.

The Jesus I know would be concerned about the extreme inequalities of wealth and power that have emerged in our communities. He would rail against principalities and powers that rig the tax rules so the privileged pay less.

He would lament the destruction of God's creation through excessive consumption and pollution. And, he would be alarmed about financial and commodity speculation driving up the cost of food and worsening hunger. (In today's world of high finance, someone would be hedging investments on how quickly Jesus could multiply loaves and fishes.)

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