Dispatches from the Culture Wars –Two Steps Forward Edition

New National Drone Map * NRA's Jewish Enemies List * NYC Labor Chorus * Westboro Baptist Church Defectors * Gay Rights Bus Visits Christian Colleges * Anonymous Billboards Display Graphic Racial Inequity * Ad Campaign Redefines 'Jihad' * Coke Fights Obesity, Jim Crow * Class Appearances at Downton Abbey * Italians Still Love Il Duce * Gender Bias at Wikipedia * Day Laborers Fear Being Left Out of Immigration Reform * More
February 12, 2013
New York billboard campaign declares racism still exists - see story below
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By Jennifer Lynch
 
February 7, 2013 
 
The Federal Aviation Administration has finally released a new drone authorization list.  This list, released in response to EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, includes law enforcement agencies and universities across the country, and - for the first time - an Indian tribal agency. In all, the list includes more than 20 new entities over the FAA's original list, bringing to 81 the total number of public entities that have applied for FAA drone authorizations through October 2012. 
 
The list comes amid extensive controversy over a newly-released memo documenting the CIA's policy on the targeted killing of American citizens and on the heels of news that Charlottesville, Virginia has just become one of the first cities in the country to ban drones. Although they can be used for neutral, or even for positive purposes, drones are also capable of highly advanced, almost constant surveillance, and can be equipped with advanced forms of radar detection, license plate cameras, and facial recognition. EFF hopes this list will spur more people to ask their local law enforcement agencies about their drone programs. 
 
 
 
By Nathan Guttman
 
February 8, 2013
 
The National Rifle Association compiled a list of its enemies and it reads like a Jewish who's who list. The list, prepared by the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action includes 506 individuals, organizations, media outlets and corporations that "have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations." They include major Jewish national organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee; two major Jewish women organizations: Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women; and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the Reform movement's rabbinical arm.
 
Reform Jews, the list suggests, are among the NRA's worst adversaries, but also named are  Ben and Jerry's ice cream company and its founder Ben Cohen, and celebrities Barbara Streisand, Mel Brooks, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman and many others. [In all fairness, the list also includes Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, Ellen DeGeneres, Selena Gomez and the Temptations.]
 
 
 
By Margot Adler
 
February 9, 2013 
 
Union membership is at its lowest point since the 1930s. New figures show a drop, and only about 11 percent of workers belong to unions today.  But these numbers don't deter the New York City Labor Chorus, which has been singing in praise of unions for more than 20 years.  Jana Ballard, the choral director of the labor chorus, is one of the youngest in the group. She's 38. The average age of the 80 members is about 65.
 
When you hear the words "New York City Labor Chorus," you might expect old renditions of "Solidarity Forever" and "Union Maid"  -  which they do perform  -  being sung by aging voices. But don't underestimate them. "The art of singing was being lost," she says. "A lot of union members don't know labor songs and don't know too much about labor. And we felt this would be a way of reintroducing it to some and introducing it to others." You don't have to belong to a union to be in the chorus. "All that we ask is that you have the values and you are union sympathizers," she says.
 
 
 
By Mary Elizabeth Williams
 
February 7, 2013
 
In a surprisingly public display of soul-searching, two members of the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church are defecting. Fred Phelps' granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper declared Wednesday that she and her sister Grace have left their Kansas congregation, and apologized for the pain their organization has inflicted. Or, as she said in a text message to the Kansas City Star, "We ripped the Band-Aid off."
 
The Phelps name and its congregation, Westboro Baptist Church, is strongly associated with the vile 83-year-old patriarch Fred, a man whose contribution to our national dialogue has, for the past several decades, consisted almost entirely of the motto GOD HATES FAGS. After years and years of bullying, the small but appallingly vocal group seems to be losing its talent for making a scene.  And now, in her post, titled "Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise," the 26-year-old Megan Phelps-Roper speaks plainly of the world into which she was born and raised.  Phelps-Roper says simply that she and her sister have now left the church, and that they're "trying to figure it out together. "We know that we've done and said things that hurt people. Inflicting pain on others wasn't the goal, but it was one of the outcomes. We wish it weren't so, and regret that hurt."
 
 
 
By Brennen Jensen 
 
January 13, 2013
 
Soulforce, a social-justice charity in Abilene, Tex., takes the message of gay acceptance into places that are unlikely to want to hear it: the campuses of Christian colleges and universities, where students who come out of the closet can lose their scholarships, be expelled, or even be forced into controversial "reparative" therapies designed to end same-sex desires.
 
The charity's annual Equality Rides, now in their seventh year, feature a brightly painted bus and up to 35 young gay-rights activists - each extensively trained in the techniques of nonviolent confrontation - who spend around eight weeks calling on Christian colleges across the country. Over the years, Equality Rides volunteers have visited more than 100 institutions and spoken with more than 10,000 students. In that time, 14 Christian colleges have dropped some of their discriminatory policies toward gays and helped spur the creation of about 40 "safe haven" groups - on- or off-campus organizations for gay students who feel intimidated.
 
 
 
by Jamilah King  
 
January 11, 2013 
 
Billboards are everywhere in New York City. They're on subway trains and in stations, and on top of and inside taxis. But few, if any, have been anything like a series of anonymous billboards that have popped up on bus shelters in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. They're not selling anything but a declaration: that racism still exists.
 
That's also the name of the appropriately titled campaign. At least half a dozen billboard sites have sprung up around the neighborhood since August, with each month dedicated to highlighting racial disparities that impact black people in America. So far, the billboards have touched on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, education, fast food, smoking, policing, and black wealth. Each month's billboard is also accompanied by an detailed post on Tumblr that provides background information, news articles, studies, charts, and statistics to back up each claim.  But who's behind the project remains a mystery.
 
              
         
 
 
 
 
By Maureen Chowdhury
 
January 30, 2013 
 
In an effort to "reclaim" the word jihad, Muslim activists launched a new ad campaign in the nation's capital this week. Commuters in the Washington, D.C., subway system will start seeing posters stamped with the "#My Jihad" hashtag. Each poster depicts a Muslim sharing their personal struggle: "my jihad: is to march on despite losing my son," and "my jihad: modesty is not weakness."
 
The campaign is organized by Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago arm of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The ads first launched in December 2012 in Chicago and then in San Francisco in January. Rehab tells us he started the initiative because they wanted to stop letting "anti-Muslim propaganda" define what the tenets of Islam stood for and to protect the "mainstream [Muslim] voice," Rehab says.  The campaign defines jihad as "a central tenet of the Islamic creed which means 'struggling in the way of God'. The way of God, being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc (not forcible conversion as wrongly claimed by some)."
 
 
 
By David H. Freedman
 
January 2, 2013
 
In late 2011, in a nearly 6,000-word article in The New York Times Magazine, health writer Tara Parker-Pope laid out the scientific evidence that maintaining weight loss is a nearly impossible task - something that, in the words of one obesity scientist she quotes, only "rare individuals" can accomplish.  The article is crammed with detailed scientific evidence and is well-reported, well-written, highly readable, and convincing piece of personal-health-science journalism that is careful to pin its claims to published research. 
 
There's really just one problem with Parker-Pope's piece: Many, if not most, researchers and experts who work closely with the overweight and obese would pronounce its main thesis - that sustaining weight loss is nearly impossible - dead wrong, and misleading in a way that could seriously, if indirectly, damage the health of millions of people.
 
 
 
By Marion Nestle
 
January 16, 2013
 
In case you missed it, Coca-Cola  has a new ad campaign positioning the company as a force for public health. The new two-minute TV ad.  argues that the company is producing lower-calorie products in smaller sizes and that it's up to you to fit Coke into your healthy active lifestyle.
 
The ad is an astonishing act of chutzpah. If Coke really wanted to help prevent obesity, it would STOP targeting its "drink more Coke" marketing to kids, lobbying and spending a fortune to defeat soda taxes and caps on soda sizes, Fighting attempts to remove vending machines from schools, pushing Coke sales in developing countries where rates of obesity and related conditions are skyrocketing, among many other things they could stop doing.
 
Someone who calls himself John Pemberton (the real inventor of Coke) has gone to the trouble of presenting the 2-minute commercial with a somewhat different narrative  - the real story about Coca-Cola and obesity.  This is the one to watch!
 
 
 
By Grace Elizabeth Hale
 
January 28, 2013 
 
The  opposition by the New York State chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's restrictions on sugary soda caught many Americans by surprise. But it shouldn't: Coca-Cola alone has given generously to support N.A.A.C.P. initiatives over the years, and this is the latest episode in the long and often fractious history of soft drinks, prohibition laws and race. 
 
After the Atlanta-based company pioneered its distinctive glass bottles in 1899, anyone with a nickel, black or white, could drink the cocaine-infused beverage, raising concerns among Southern whites that soft drinks were contributing to "negro cocaine fiends" raping white women. In 1940, Coke's chief rival Pepsi hired a team of African-American men to create a "negro markets" department, and within a few years the campaign was so successful that many Americans began using a racial epithet to describe Pepsi. The image of Coke and Pepsi as "white" and "black" drinks lingered long after\, and eventually, part of Coke's strategy was to support African-American organizations, forming the basis of its relationship with the N.A.A.C.P.
 
 
 
By Kathy M. Newman
 
January 22, 2013  
 
In season two of Downton Abbey, the inimical Dame Maggie Smith (who plays the "Dowager Countess") finds out that one of the family's servants will be allowed to live out his final days (after suffering an incurable war wound) in the family's lavish second floor quarters. The Countess is displeased by this and opines that "It always happens when you give these little people power, it goes to their heads like strong drink."
 
If you are a fan of the show, one of the 7.9 million US viewers who watched Downton Abbey kick off its third season on PBS earlier this month, you know full well that the "little people" in this early 20th century British world - the kitchen maids, ladies' maids, footmen, valets, chauffeurs, cooks, housekeepers, and butlers - have very little power. A few of them rise above their station, but class divisions are brutally enforced.  I am transfixed by the class differences represented in the series, but let's look at a few of the myths that swirl around Downton Abbey and consider what we can learn about the real history behind the show -  and about ourselves.
 
 
 
By Jared Spurbeck 
 
January 14, 2013
 
Today in the age of the "brogrammer," whose frat boy tendencies are glorified and sought after by cutting-edge online startups, women in tech often find themselves objectified and excluded -- especially in communities like Wikipedia and open-source software, where women make up even less of the population (around 13 percent and 1 percent, respectively) than in more mainstream technical fields.
 
That was one of the facts Joseph Reagle, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, drew on for his study about "Free culture and the gender gap."   He discovered that just because a community (like Wikipedia) says that it's open doesn't mean that it isn't hostile to women. Reagle found that Wikipedia's values of radical freedom and openness actually led to a culture that is more closed off to women. Similar dynamics exist in popular open-source software projects like the Linux kernel. Open-source luminaries like Eric Raymond are legendarily combative and hostile to "idiots,"  even while they tolerate abusive personalities who drive female contributors away
 
 
 
By Hans-J_rgen Schlamp in Rome
 
January 8, 2013
 
Every year, thousands of people in Italy hang a fresh calendar of images depicting Benito Mussolini on their wall, just one of many indications that the cult of "Il Duce" is alive and well in the country. Many still consider the fascist dictator to have been an honorable man, and foreign tourists, especially Germans, are shocked when they see these openly flaunted calendars and that even in 2013, the former Italian dictator has a loyal fan base at home.
 
The full extent of the Mussolini cult  can be seen in Predappio, a small town in the Emilia-Romagna region with barely 7,000 inhabitants. It was here in 1883 that Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, the son of a blacksmith and a village school teacher, began a life that would become "Il Duce," the architect of fascism and in many respects a model for Adolf Hitler.  Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Predappio for the "Il Duce" devotional shops that line the main road, and young men with shaved heads in long black capes regularly pose for photos at the Mussolini family tomb. 
 
 
 
By Andrea Rodriguez 
 
November 16, 2012
 
Adela Hernandez, a biologically male Cuban who has lived as a female since childhood and served two years in prison in the 1980s for ``dangerousness'' , made history this month by becoming the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba. She won election as a delegate to the municipal government of Caibarien in the central province of Villa Clara.
 
In a country where gays were persecuted for decades and sent to grueling work camps in the countryside, Hernandez, 48, hailed her election as yet another milestone in a gradual shift away from macho attitudes. The country's most prominent gay rights activist is Mariela Castro, Fidel's niece and current President Raul Castro's daughter.
 
 
 
By Alexander Mondrag¢n  
 
February 7, 2013
Translated by Emily Leavitt from Spanish
 
For the thousands of immigrants who earn a living as day laborers and look for work in the streets, it's common to never have a permanent boss. And this could become a big problem for undocumented day laborers seeking to legalize their status.  Based on the initial proposals for an immigration reform bill, undocumented workers would have to confirm that they have a job, something impossible for day laborers. According to immigrant advocates, this also affects immigrant women who work as domestic workers. 
 
Out of every 10 undocumented immigrant workers, on average, four work in the informal sector, changing jobs three to four times a year based on the season.  Because of this, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and other advocacy groups are very concerned that these workers would be left out of immigration reform.
 
 
 
By Graeme McMillan
 
February 9, 2013
 
In May, DC Comics will launch two new series taking place in their mainstream superhero universe that offer different insights into the class struggle in a world filled with superheroes, alien races and inexplicable events.
 
"The Movement" is teased as a chance for us to "Meet the 99%... They were the super-powered disenfranchised  -  now they're the voice of the people!"
 
"It's a book about power," explained The Movement writer Gail Simone. "Who owns it, who uses it, who suffers from its abuse. As we increasingly move to an age where information is currency, you get these situations where a single viral video can cost a previously unassailable corporation billions, or can upset the power balance of entire governments. And because the sources of that information are so dispersed and nameless, it's nearly impossible to shut it all down."
 
"The thing I find fascinating and a little bit worrisome is, what happens when a hacktivist group whose politics you find completely repulsive has this same kind of power and influence," she elaborated in an interview at Big Shiny Robot. "What if a racist or homophobic group rises up and organizes in the same manner?"
 
 
 
By Kim Willsher
 
February 10, 2013
 
France's Communist party has undergone a revolution and dropped the hammer and sickle from its membership cards.
 
The party (PCF) is replacing the communist emblem of peasants and the proletariat with a five-pointed star representing the European Left, a loose alliance of far-left parties, including France's Left Front. The move, announced at the party's 36th congress, which closed on Sunday,  has angered traditionalists.
 
 
 
February 12, 2013