JP124: Chess and Community, and The Silence of the Lambs

the scroll, the scroll,
the buttons, the buttons


The 124

I want to use this space to put a little bit more of myself on the page by editorializing a little bit. I’ve done some of that here, but I want to make it a part of the weekly commitment. A fringe benefit I’m discovering from this whole process is that it’s an exercise in expressing my ideas and that’s a type of growth I’d like more of. That said, I have nothing to type up for you this week. Instead, I’m going to use the space to share a PBS report on local youth development organization Chess and Community. This is a really cool organization and it’s the sort of thing that makes me proud to live in Athens.

Ben & Jerry’s has chosen Chess and Community as their charity for free cone day this April 4th. I’ve been meaning to work on my chess game… hopefully will have a chance to play a game or two after I get my ice cream.

Weekly Roundup…. scroll fast, ‘cuz it’s lengthy

Black Liberation and Left Renewal“, Jordan T. Camp, Jacobin

Drawing on a range of sources that include Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, and the Combahee River Collective, Taylor shows how the black freedom movement has historically “pushed mainstream politics to the left.” In sharp contrast to backlash narratives that depict white working-class resistance to civil rights and anger at the 1960s urban uprisings as the source of a punitive turn in politics, she highlights how elites deployed law-and-order strategies to defeat these struggles. The freedom movement, we learn from Taylor, threatened those elites by upending racist stereotypes in service of a reconstruction agenda that would improve material conditions not only for African Americans but for the multiracial working class as a whole.

For Donald Trump, A Terror Attack Will Be An Opportunity Not A Curse“, Peter Maas, The Intercept

Can we breathe a sigh of relief after federal judges blocked President Donald Trump’s discriminatory executive orders? For a moment we can, but we are just a terrorism attack away from the White House gaining a new pretext for its wrathful crackdown against Muslims and immigrants.

Reporter assassinated in Chihuahua capital“, Mexico News Daily

The journalist [Miroslava Breach Velducea] was the third killed in Mexico this month.

Mexico was denounced last month as the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists. Reporters Without Borders said 99 were assassinated between 2000 and 2016.

American Oligarchy

The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency“, Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

Last month, when President Donald Trump toured a Boeing aircraft plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, he saw a familiar face in the crowd that greeted him: Patrick Caddell, a former Democratic political operative and pollster who, for forty-five years, has been prodding insurgent Presidential candidates to attack the Washington establishment.

He has not worked directly for the President, but at least as far back as 2013 he has been a contractor for one of Trump’s biggest financial backers: Robert Mercer, a reclusive Long Island hedge-fund manager, who has become a major force behind the Trump Presidency.

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was public-opinion research, conducted by Caddell, showing that political conditions in America were increasingly ripe for an outsider candidate to take the White House. Caddell told me that Mercer “is a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.”

The Bizarre Far-Right Billionaire Behind Bannon and Trump’s Presidency“, Thomas Hedges, The Real News Network

In Gorsuch, Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary“, Eric Lipton and Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times

Deep into the Senate’s 68-page questionnaire of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court nominee was asked to describe how he had come to President Trump’s attention.

The first thing he wrote was, “I was contacted by Leonard Leo.”


Why the U.S. Women’s Hockey Players are Planning to Strike“, Sarah Jaffe, Dissent

Equal pay for equal work is a demand of women around the globe, yet these athletes—despite dominating their sport in international competition, where only Canada is on their level—get nothing close to it. They make just $20,000 for four years of play. But their demands go beyond wages; theyre also asking for USA Hockey to put money into the sport as a whole, from support for girls youth hockey to marketing for the game.

Afraid of losing their jobs, workers take over the business“, Anna-Catherine Brigida, PRI

Three years into operating as a cooperative, the staff at Los Chanchitos said a day of work is not much different from before. Employees arrive on time for their scheduled shifts, waiters attentively take orders and food is served promptly. But with no owner, decisions are made democratically with consideration for each worker’s concerns.

Discrimination and Hate Crimes

Suspect in Manhattan Killing Hated Black Men, Police Say“, Ashley Southall, The New York Times

An Army veteran with a long-simmering hatred of black men claimed responsibility on Wednesday for using a sword to fatally stab a homeless man in Manhattan this week, the police said, calling the attack random and racially motivated.

US soldier admits killing unarmed Afghans for sport“, Paul Harris, The Guardian

An American soldier has pleaded guilty to being part of a “kill team” who deliberately murdered Afghan civilians for sport last year.

Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, told a military court he had helped to kill three unarmed Afghans. “The plan was to kill people, sir,” he told an army judge in Fort Lea, near Seattle, after his plea.

Immigration and Deportation

Deportation of African and Other Immigrants Is Quietly Increasing and No One is Taking Note” David Love, Atlanta Black Star

As the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducts its sweeps on immigrant communities, African people are among those who are being detained and deported. While deportations were in no short supply under the Obama administration, these deportations are expected to soar under Trump, whose immigration ban on six Muslim nations includes three African nations — Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Trump also is clamping down on refugees and asylum seekers.

War and Peace

War Correspondent Describes U.S. Air Strikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen“, Malak Habbak, The Intercept

In Iraq, U.S. forces are helping Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers in their months-long battle to drive ISIS out of western Mosul. As many as 600,000 civilians are trapped there, amid widespread hunger and destruction, and more than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured last month in Iraq.

As Claims Escalate Under Trump, Airwars Tracks 1,000th Alleged Coalition Civilian Casualty Event“, Samuel Oakford, Airwars

Following an unprecedented increase in claims, researchers at Airwars have tracked their 1,000th alleged civilian casualty event tied to reported Coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria. Recent evidence indicates that in both countries, civilian casualties rose during the last months of the Obama administration and are now accelerating further under the presidency of Donald Trump – suggesting possible key changes in US rules of engagement which are placing civilians at greater risk.

US threat to strike North Korea is ‘aimed at Beijing’s ears’” Liu Zhen, South China Morning Post

A pre-emptive strike on North Korea threatened by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is most likely just rhetoric to pressure Beijing, analysts say, despite the tension on the peninsula.

Climate Change and The Environment

The Plant Next Door“, Sharon Lerner, The Intercept

When the Environmental Protection Agency informed people in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, last July that the local neoprene plant was emitting a chemical that gave them the highest risk of cancer from air pollution in the country, the information was received not just with horror and sadness but also with a certain sense of validation.

Flooding, Mudslides Strike Peru, Killing 72; Thousands Homeless“, Pam Wright,

According to the Associated Press, at least 72 people lost their lives and thousands are now homeless after a series of storms wreaked havoc on the South American nation. At least 115,000 homes have been destroyed, roadways are impassable and 117 bridges are reportedly washed out, the report added.

Islamophobia and Antisemitism

Leader of group widely identified as anti-Muslim meets with White House“, Lois Beckett, The Guardian

Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese American conservative, has written two books warning about the dangers of “radical Islam”. Act for America, the organization she founded, describes itself as the “the NRA of national security” and claims 500,000 members and 1,000 chapters across the country focused on advancing policies “to protect America from terrorism”.

State Violence

Thousands Protest Police Violence in Paris“, Gonzalo Fuentes, RFI

More than 7,000 people joined the march, which follows the baton rape of 22-year-old Théo Luhaka in a Paris suburb in February and the death in custody of Adama Traoré in Beaumont-sur-Oise last year.

Philippines’ Duterte welcomes prospect of ICC case, says ‘brutal’ war on drugs to go on“, Karen Lema, Reuters

But Duterte has said he is on the right track regarding human rights and has never instructed security forces to kill suspects who were not resisting arrest. More than 8,000 people have died since he took office last year and began his anti-drugs campaign, a third in raids and sting operations by police who say they acted in self-defense.

The Carceral State

Prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, with uncertain returns for inmates“, The Economist

Employment upon release is perhaps the best defence against recidivism. The chief justification for prison labour is that it both defeats idleness and gives inmates marketable skills. Whether it actually does so is unclear. “The vast majority of prison labour is not even cloaked in the idea of rehabilitation,” says Heather Thompson of the University of Michigan. Simple manufacturing jobs, like the ones done cheaply by most inmates, have already left the country. The study pushed by the Bureau of Prisons, showing drops in reoffending, was published in 1996. More recent comparison statistics often ignore bias in how those being studied are chosen. Rigorous academic work on the subject is almost non-existent.

Unknown Minstrel
by Daniel Suhre

This week we take a look at another under-appreciated musician named Gary Stewart. Stewart was a good-timin’ honky tonkin’ man from Kentucky, who never quite achieved wide success. He was “too rock” for country and “too country” for rock.

Despite this Gary did find himself a small but devoted fan base. He was a favorite of Bob Dylan, who said he would listen to ‘Ten Years of This’ over and over again, and the extremely-hard-to-impress critic Robert Christgau called ‘Out of Hand’ “the best regular issue country LP I’ve heard in about five years”.

The song that first drew me in was his more country-rock hit Cactus and a Rose.  There are a few lines in the song that hit me along a certain class line in a way that few other modern country or even folk songs do. See if you can pick them out.

Your Essay Here

A few weeks ago Dan began submitting his blurb Unknown Minstrel to the blog and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. He’s considering starting a blog of his own, an impulse that I’m encouraging, but he currently has other projects that take priority. In the meantime, I want to encourage more people to start news blogs like this one. Moreover, I would like to encourage someone to start up a weekly news blog with an editorial or essay that I can share right here. You interested? Let me know…

al-Baqia (the rest)

Clarice triumphs over sexism:
The feminist theme in The Silence of the Lambs

This week I watched Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. This movie is well-known enough that I feel little obligation to go over the plot, so I’ll make it quick and then get to my thoughts on its feminist theme.

FBI trainee Clarice Starling is called in by mentor and role model, behavioral specialist Jack Crawford. Crawford assigns Clarice to go interview cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to gain insight into at large serial killer Buffalo Bill, nicknamed because he skins his female victims. Lecter, who speaks to no one, takes an interest in Clarice and offers insight quid pro quo, in exchange for information about Clarice’s life. This relationship pays off and Clarice is able to solve Dr. Lecter’s riddles in order to find and kill Buffalo Bill, save his most recent victim, and graduate from the FBI academy.

The Silence of the Lambs is a story about FBI trainee Clarice Starling’s triumph over sexism. This conflict plays out both in her successive encounters with sexism in her professional life and then, of course, against the movie’s villain Buffalo Bill who is a personification of violence against and hatred of women.

The movie introduces Clarice in what will be a fairly consistent form: busting her ass to overcome obstacles. In this first instance she’s literally on the FBI obstacle course. This is the form of the movie, throughout which Clarice is relentless in her pursuit of Buffalo Bill and need to prove herself, facing down benevolent sexism and casual disregard from her her respected mentor Jack Crawford, who means well and put Clarice on the case, but ultimately lets us down; belittlement from the correctional director Chilton, who believes she was put on the case solely to tantalize Dr. Lecter and turns from accommodating to cold when Clarice asserts her independence as an investigator;  aggressive sexual harassment from an inmate who later flings semen at her; and the resentment of a roomful of local police, who acknowledge her authority, but clearly don’t respect it. Ironically, and brilliantly imo, the only man in the entire movie who shows Clarice the respect she deserves is depicted to be a monster: the sociopath psychoanalyst serial killer who eats his victims, Hannibal “the cannibal ” Lecter.

Director Jonathan Demme sets up an excellent juxtaposition to introduce Dr. Lecter. The path to Hannibal is a gauntlet beginning with a long descent down and down into the depths of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which is paired with melodramatic scoring as we’re told of how Hannibal faked chest pains and used the opportunity to brutalize a nurse, during which “his pulse never got above 85.“, all the guards are tense and uneasy, together with Chilton they piece together a monstrous mythology — this man is evil. The final stretch is a row of violent and repulsive inmates before finally arriving at the startling contrast: Hannibal the Cannibal is remarkably likable; someone who’s respect you’d want to earn.

Not only is Dr. Lecter the only man in the film who respects Clarice, but Clarice is the only person in the film who he takes an interest in at all. Everybody else is either a bother or food to him. After escaping prison, Dr. Lecter calls Clarice to congratulate her on the case and to let her know that he has no intent to come after because “the world’s more interesting with you in it”. This is the devil affirming the film’s message that women deserve their place in the world. It’s a striking choice. I suppose that it represents how deep you have to go to subvert an established order? Not sure.

While the antagonist in the movie is sexism itself, it is grotesquely manifested in the movie’s villain, Buffalo Bill, a  serial killer who skins women to make a suit for himself to enable the transformation he desires. Dr. Lecter makes point of clarifying that Buffalo Bill isn’t a transexual, but actually is disturbed and seeks a transformation that removes him from himself.

This brings up a common criticism against the film and one that I’m sympathetic to: it’s transphobic. The the status of trans people and the rampant violence against trans women in this country, 8 murdered in the US so far this year and 27 last year, is why Hannibal’s disclaimer — that Bill isn’t actually trans —  isn’t enough and I determine this choice to have been irresponsible. Transphobia isn’t intended to be part of the movie’s message, clearly, but unintended consequences are relevant and demand attention. It brings to mind how some so-called feminists actively exclude trans women.

Regardless, The Silences of the Lambs is an entertaining thriller in which a powerful woman faces and overcomes sexism with dogged determination and brilliant professional intuition. It holds up well and is well worth a visit or revisit. Let me know if you watch it and what you think!


I’m catching up and will be back on track with progress on the effort to memorize all the nations and capitals next week.

Thank you for scrolling

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