During a recent trip to the Angola Rodeo, Caroline Lewis stumbled upon a a facet of the extragavanza that helps Louisiana State Pententiary inmates make some extra money, and manage their own business.
About an hour in, trained monkeys are riding dogs, herding rams around the rodeo ring. A popular site for family outings, the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary goes to great lengths to entertain. Several events pit inmates in cartoonish stripes against wild horses or bulls riled up by professional rodeo clowns; more than one man gets trampled underfoot.
Out on the fair grounds, which are also prison grounds, the scene is less surreal, but, in some ways, just as unconventional. The spectacle of the rodeo is replaced by the bustle of commerce. Food and souvenirs, including items hand-crafted by prisoners, are offered up by casually dressed inmates and prison staff. Here, the men incarcerated at Angola - 97% of whom will never leave - are indiscernible from other attendees, save for the colorful “Rodeo Worker” labels some have graffiti-ed across their backs.
Less controversial than the rodeo, Angola’s all-day craft fair is undeniably a place for some inmates to showcase the skills they have honed while serving their sentences and to interact with the general population.
But, in the context of typical prison labor practices in this country, the craft fair is arguably much more than that.
Full-Stop Blog “Mr. Wolf said he would remember his nephew, who had written in the past about battling depression and suicidal thoughts, as a young man who ‘looked at the world, and had a certain logic in his brain, and the world didn’t necessarily fit in with that logic, and that was sometimes difficult.’” - The New York Times
Aaron Swartz, a digital activist and Internet prodigy who helped invent RSS feeds and liberated the bulk of the JSTOR library, is in the process of being thoroughly eulogized by friends, family, journalists, and admirers in the days following his suicide. He suffered from chronic depression and died at 26.
How do we talk about the death of someone special who also battled some form of mental illness? What does it say about our society, about us?
I was struck by something Rick Perlstein wrote about Swartz in The Nation:
"I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him," and Perlstein thankfully continues, "which also means hospitable to people like us."
Perlstein is saying Swartz envisioned a more humane world - one that he tried to realize himself, no less - but he’s also saying that his unconventional vantage somehow doomed him from the start.
I flashed back to the book Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s epic tribute to his late friend and mentor, Delmore Schwartz. In the book, Humboldt, who stands in for Schwartz, is all memories and legacy, deceased from page one. He never stood a chance, Bellow seems to say. The narrator, a version of Bellow named Charlie Citrine, spends the book trying to decide whether to humanize, romanticize, or psychoanalyze the poet and intellectual who was dogged by mental illness.
Creative Commons is like the bastardized version of Santa Claus I learned about as a kid: this exemplar of magnanimity bestows gifts upon everyone else, even on the guy’s own birthday! (Feel free to leave the non-profit some cookies in return.)
Creative Commons is celebrating its 10th birthday, so I made a list of the top 5 most useful and well-curated archives of CC content - a few of the copyright alternative’s greatest gifts to media makers. (They also have their own celebratory showcase of CC content and tools.)
Every time I slide in some background audio from a producer with a CC license, I get that giddy, new shirt feeling. Then I pat myself on the back for not breaking the law. Or shopping.
I feel like I should thank this CC-licensed person. Not just for the shirt (it’s turning some heads), but also for the strange, but thoughtful card: “No, I’m not litigious; I won’t take it back. I just love to make things and let strangers benefit from them under conditions I’m reasonably comfortable with. Here.”
CC would be far less successful and less useful without the online communities that cultivate their licensed material, and those communities owe a debt to CC for engendering the culture of mutual respect and open exchange that makes them functional.
Mind you, I have no problem with people wanting to use their work to acquire actual ‘legal’ tender (which is not mutually exclusive with using a CC license), but right now, I’m just looking around at all my awesome, free Creative Commons stuff and feeling like a little kid in the Christmas morning scene of the motion picture event of the holiday season.
(NY PRESS) Hurricane Sandy hit New York just a month ago and yesterday, Josh Fox (Academy Award- nominated director of 2010′s Gasland) released his short documentary, Occupy Sandy, in the same fast, unconventional way that the Occupy Sandy relief effort popped up after the storm.
People were led via text message to the site of the film’s “guerrilla movie premiere,” which was ultimately revealed less than half an hour before the film began. Fox was still making edits on the latest version.
On the wall of a Mobil gas station, The Illuminator (the mobile projector that has been called Occupy’s “bat signal”) projected the film, as audience members, including people from affected communities, munched on popcorn.
NY Press pulled Fox aside after the movie to talk about the state government’s attitude towards climate change, the role of Occupy Sandy, and plans to re-purpose more gas stations into movie theaters.
(NY PRESS) A “postmodern grassroots variety show” may sound like just another one of the dismissive names people have been lobbing at Occupy ever since it cropped up in Zuccotti Park last September. But that’s what activist Laura Hanna promises in the fundraising extravaganza the Occupy group Strike Debt is putting on tonight at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village.
For some, this will be a quirky variety show, but for alternative music and comedy fans, this will be a star-studded event. Comedians like Janeane Garofolo and David Rees will entertain along with members of Neutral Milk Hotel, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Das Racist (OK, there will be magicians, jugglers, and real live Occupiers as well).
What brings them all together? It’s the kickoff of the Rolling Jubilee. The Rolling Jubilee is an ongoing “project of Strike Debt that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it,” explains the group’s website.
And thanks to some very kind words from mainstream commentators hailing from all over the political spectrum, the group far surpassed their goal for tonight’s fundraiser before it even started.
“Whoa, did you see that?” asked Annie Spencer, a member of Strike Debt. “The live ticker on the Rolling Jubilee website just crossed $200,000 being raised.” That’s enough to buy and abolish more than $4 million worth of debt.
Praises being sung of the Rolling Jubilee are rightly qualified by the observation that this is a nice thought, but probably won’t make a dent in America’s $11 trillion of debt. In fact, the group can’t even promise to erase an entire family’s debt.
“This first debt purchase of over $100,000 of medical debt is roughly 80 different people,” said Thomas Gokey, who helped execute the group’s successful test run.
Gokey said that certain kinds of debt, like mortgage debt and student debt, are also more difficult to erase. “As we learn more about the industry and talk to more people with expertise who are willing to help us, we may learn that there are additional things possible.”
But if nothing else, the Rolling Jubilee is educating people about the rules of the debt game by letting them join in.
The fundraiser will be interactive as well. “I think what makes us different is we don’t actually have telephones that are ringing in,” said Hanna. “But we have a social media booth that we’re going to set up so we can interact with people who are watching the LiveStream.”
You can learn more about debt and the Rolling Jubilee by checking out the resources on their website or watching the LiveStream of tonight’s fundraiser, which will be complete with “speed lectures” on a variety of debt-related issues. And jugglers – don’t forget the jugglers.
My favorite media moments arise when a story gracefully and undeniably sidesteps well worn stereotypes, leaving journalists to awkwardly stumble over them (see: all initial coverage of Jeremy Lin).
I tasted a hint of awkwardness in the mainstream media’s earnest acknowledgment that Occupy effectively took the reigns in coordinating post-Sandy disaster relief. But that’s nothing compared to the unwieldy mound of awkwardness piled atop the high praise that some unlikely commentators are heaping on Occupy’s newly unleashed “Rolling Jubilee.”
In case you haven’t heard: The Rolling Jubilee is a project of Occupy’s Strike Debt group, which intends to “purchase debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolish it.”
Of course, there are a lot of rules and hidden pitfalls in this financial game that should make any journalist or reasonably skeptical person wonder if it’s really worth playing.
I think provoking people to learn the rules and acknowledge the game makes this cheeky project a success already. But that alone is not a reason to throw money at it.
So, professional debt collectors and tax experts were consulted and many financial writers were satisfied that this would at least accomplish the modest goal of abolishing a tiny, random fraction of the $11 trillion Americans owe without burdening taxpayers.
Now, the Rolling Jubilee is getting backhanded by compliments left and right.
Forbes’ Tim Worstall wins for best/worst backhand: “But the icing on the cake for me is that this one and only decent Occupy idea is a profoundly conservative one…”
Worstall falls back a little too hard on America’s narrow, partisan caricatures of “Conservative” and “Liberal” as the only possible ways to frame any given solution to a problem. Here, for many reasons, they just don’t fit.
After making his case, the self-defined Neoliberal Conservative then puts the icing on his own cake: “Tee hee I say, possibly chortle, even snigger.” Ew. He then admits that he donated money to the group.
Tom Gokey of Strike Debt on self-identifying as a neoliberal: “That’s like calling yourself a hipster.”
Gokey said members of Strike Debt had different reactions to the piece, but he was “really tickled” by Forbes’ “thumbs up.”
The Guardian’s Charles Einstein, offering up his removed transatlantic perspective, applauds Strike Debt’s “trans-partisan message” and “non-threatening appearance.”
Einstein (who is up front about his bias towards serious thought about “civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution”) urges Strike Debt to keep up appearances and continue to frame the Jubilee as just “people helping each other out of hardship” in order to conceal its “transformative potential.”
Even better, says Einstein, if they can continue to convince themselves they actually sincerely believe this.
Unfortunately, Business Insider re-posted the piece, so now the secret strategy from Occupy’s ally across the pond has been compromised.