A Tribute to Helen Thomas

Sadly the renowned journalist Helen Thomas passed away on Saturday at the age of 92. In the following two videos we see Helen help Colbert roast Bush at the legendary White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2006 and, in 2010, in a Real News interview, we see her defend herself admirably after her resignation. For more of Helen on the Real News see here or for more on her passing see the following by Ralph Nader: There will Never be Another Helen Thomas.

Chris Hedges: Urban Poverty in America Made Me Question Everything

Launching a new show “Reality Asserts Itself”, Paul Jay interviews author, journalist and activist Chris Hedges about the formative experiences that shaped his world view. Part 1 of 6, the following episodes will be added to this post as they appear.

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Pedagogy of the Connected

This was published in the August issue of Learning Curve (India) and republished at Bella Caledonia. (Art: Computer Chaos by Joana Coccarelli)

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, a prophetic work on the impact of television on culture, the late media scholar Neil Postman compared two dystopias. One was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, a world of strict thought control and surveillance where dissent was drowned under screams of torture. The other was Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World, a culture of permanent distraction, immobilized by entertainment and diminished by superficiality. One society was watched by Big Brother; the other entertained by it.

Postman found Orwell’s vision irrelevant to western democracies. Modern society, he said, was less a prison than a burlesque. Like Huxley’s nightmare vision, culture was being impoverished by distraction and trivia, and thought devalued. The problem wasn’t so much entertainment as the habit of mind that resulted from being permanently stimulated and amused, leaving little space for reflection.

The case against television may have been overstated. It was after all a passive medium and individuals were free to walk away. Internet too in its first incarnation had limited claim on our lives. But things have changed dramatically with Web 2.0. We no longer just consume information; we also create it. Barriers to entry are lower and technical skills are no longer necessary. Combined with smart phones and wireless technology, we are in the midst of an epochal change. We are dependent on technology in a way we have never been before.

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Dead journalists and Sister Agnes-Mariam

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has an important report up by Dahlia El Zein. The attacks on media personnel affiliated with the Syrian regime has been rightly condemned. But not enough is said about the regime’s more systematic policy to co-opt and in some cases deliberately trap journalists for propaganda purposes. Most shocking however is the role of Sister Agnes-Mariam, the regime-affiliated nun who has been feted both by the far left and the Christian right. The nun has already been condemned by Father Paolo Dell’Oglio, who was expelled by the regime for his criticisms after spending 30 years of his life in the country. The following story is further indictment.

Evidence of government targeting in the deaths of the international journalists is circumstantial, although the journalists on the ground perceived that they were under attack. CPJ spoke with Sid Ahmed Hammouche, a reporter with the Swiss daily La Liberté who participated in the government-sponsored trip that ended in Jacquier’s death. He said he believes the government laid a trap for the reporters.

Gilles Jacquier (AFP)
Gilles Jacquier (AFP)

Hammouche and Jacquier were among a group of 15 journalists allowed into Syria on government-issued visas facilitated bySister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, a Lebanese nun of Palestinian origin with close relations to the Assad regime. Sister Agnes had helped arrange a reporting trip to Homs on January 11, although she declined to accompany the group, saying her absence would help them move freely. Jacquier resisted the Homs trip, believing it unsafe, but Sister Agnes urged him to go or risk losing the opportunity to renew his visa beyond the initial four-day period, Hammouche told CPJ in an account consistent with news reports.

Once they arrived in Homs, the journalists divided into two groups, one with journalists from CNN, CBS, and BBC who were led by the Ministry of Information to visit a local hospital. The other contingent included Hammouche, three French journalists, including Jacquier, his wife, Caroline Poiron, Jacquier’s cameraman, Christophe Kenck; and Swiss and Belgian journalists. That group was escorted by 20 Syrian soldiers dressed in military fatigues and in plainclothes. This group was also supposed to visit the hospital but they were detoured without explanation to a pro-Assad neighborhood, Hammouche said, where they interviewed residents. As they left the area, the group encountered a pro-Assad march and heard an explosion.

To his surprise, Hammouche said, the soldiers took no evident action to protect the journalists or respond to the explosion; instead, most of the soldiers dispersed without explanation, leaving four escorts who appeared relaxed and dismissed the noise as a “sound explosion.” Hammouche said the soldiers urged the journalists to go toward the explosions to investigate. Hammouche said he and a Swiss colleague refused, remaining in one of two government vehicles, but Jacquier and the others traveled toward the source of the initial explosion.

More explosions followed, Hammouche recounted: “There were four explosions total in a 10-minute period. And that’s it. We didn’t hear a sound after that.”

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Farewell Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)


One of the greatest journalists, polemicists and prose stylists of our age, Alexander Cockburn, passed away yesterday. Cockburn’s courage as a journalist, his facility with words, and his political intuition were unparalleled. He was what Christopher Hitchens always pretended to be. His provocations were delivered with wit and wisdom and, unlike Hitchens, avoided soft targets. He preferred going after powerful interests and the shibboleths of both right and left. Where Hitchens built his reputation by accommodating power, Cockburn’s work was devoted to discommoding it. He was, as Ralph Nader noted, fearless. Pressing on with the Cockburn/Hitchens comparison, Corey Robin notes:

First, Cockburn was a much better observer of people and of politics: in part because he didn’t impose himself on the page the way Hitchens did, he could see particular details (especially of class and of place) that eluded Hitchens. At his best, he got out of the way of his own story and allowed his readers to see things they never would have seen without him.

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Creative Community for Peace: Elite Club for the Endless Cycle of War Profiteering, Whitewashing and Violence

Creative Community for Peace Logo

A month ago, I mailed the Red Hot Chili Peppers a letter, asking them not to perform in Israel. The campaign, of course, is much broader than myself; The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a Lebanese group of BDS activists, the US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), and my own group BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within have all made statements and called for action. International social media campaigns are spreading [1, 2], the petition based on my letter is constantly growing in signatures from all around the globe, and even Macy Gray (who’s been reaching some new conclusions) twitted a little word of support. All this noise isn’t going by unnoticed by the Israeli government, media, and corporate elite, and though it took them a while, they are beginning to take action.

Music Industry Fat Cats Profiteering off of Military Occupation: An Economic-Ideological Cycle

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