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While theaters have recently been filled with many films that promise to entertain, few promise to educate, and even fewer do so in the thought-provoking way that Gus Van Sant’s new movie, Milk, does.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

harveymilk

The film follows Milk’s life from from the moment he decided he wanted to be a politician, to the moment he finally won a seat a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors . Milk  ran unsuccessfully for political office on three separate occasions; with each attempt, he gained more and more support. Milk, however, had  short-lived political career. Dan White, a fellow San Francisco supervisor, shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk  on November 27, 1978.

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While each person has his or her own views on the sensitive issue of homosexuality, the film’s release could not have come at a more appropriate time. When Proposition 8 passed at the end of last year, many felt Californians had taken a huge step back in the fight for equality. Although that may very well be the case, Milk puts a face to the fight for gay rights. Harvey Milk’s touching and motivating story is guaranteed make you think a little before treating anyone poorly.

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Well, after my last post on Britney, I thought it was fitting that I write about something that receives far less press attention but far greater significance. While many people, and admittedly myself, focus far too much of their energy on the latest tabloid drama or a upcoming television miniseries, I think the genocide that occurred in Guatemala, and went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world, deserves far more attention than Hollywood’s pop stars and celebrities.
After taking my first Ethnic Studies class at UC Berkeley this past fall, I was forced to open my eyes to the daily genocide that plagued much of Guatemala’s Mayan community. According to United Nations’ research 200,000 people were killed, 1.5 million people were displaced from their communities, and hundreds of thousands fled the country. Over 600 massacres were committed, and while 3% were committed by the Guatemalan insurgency, the overwhelming majority of these brutal, heartless massacres were committed by the military.

Using ChunkIt! to do some research, I found out that the indigenous Guatemalans’ livelihood depends on access to good, sufficient land; they are subsistence farmers. Over 60% of the population is rural and 2% of the population controls 70% of the land. For the Mayans, their land was not providing them with enough subsistence, and they needed relief from the horrible conditions of plantations and subdivided lands. As a result, 160 Mayan families created a colonization project in the Guatemalan jungle and built from scratch the village of Santa Maria Tzeja. In 1980 Guatemalan soldiers came and destroyed the town that had taken 10 years to build. They looted, slaughtered, and torched the town; they raped, beat and murdered the women, and when they found Mayans hiding in the village the mercilessly killed them.

Professor of Chicano Studies at UC Berkeley, Beatriz Manz, recounted her firsthand experience in Guatemala titled Paradise In Ashes.

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Manz hypothesizes that perhaps the genocide that occurred in Guatemala and more specifically in Santa Maria Tzeja, because the military felt threatened that the indigenous people were setting up their own villages in the jungle, or perhaps the military was attempting to discourage the Mayans from joining an insurgent movement, or maybe, the killing occurred simply because the military could. Whatever the reason, nothing can justify the lives that were taken, and the families that were destroyed as a result of this ruthless genocide.

Caution: if you opened this post thinking that it would be a profound address to the world leader of the small island country of Nauru, which has been plagued in the past decade by a faltering economy based on depleted phosphate mining, a brief stint as an international tax haven, an offshore detention center for the government of Australia, and accusations of corrupt politics:

You are about to be sorely disappointed.

Nauru Awareness Day!  Nauru is a tiny island all alone in the  middle of the Pacific.  Today let them know they're not completely forgotten by sending the President a friendly postcard at Office of the President, c/o Ministry of Works, Yaren Nauru.

"Day 31: Nauru Awareness Day! Nauru is a tiny island all alone in the middle of the Pacific. Today let them know they're not completely forgotten by sending the President a friendly postcard at Office of the President, c/o Ministry of Works, Yaren Nauru."

Yep, another daily task from This Book Will Change Your Life.  Nauru is a tiny island nation near Australia with a population of about 13,000, which sadly means that ASUC President Roxanne Winston yields power over roughly twice as many people as President Marcus Stephen of Nauru.  I couldn’t try roast Nauru pig today as my book recommended, but I did send President Stephen this friendly card purchased especially for the occasion at Avant Carde on Bancroft:

avant carde card

and wrote him a note:

I was not being facetious.  The guy is a gold medal-winning weightlifter.

With that last paragraph, I was not, in fact, being facetious:

President Stephen of Nauru (right) discusses lifting up President Ma of Taiwan and spinning him around WWF-style during a ceremonial inspection of the troops.

President Stephen of Nauru (right) ponders lifting President Ma of Taiwan up over his head and spinning him around WWF-style during a ceremonial inspection of the troops.

Too bad ASUC President Roxanne Winston never won any weightlifting championships.

In the spirit of Nauru Awareness Day, familiarize yourself with basic Nauru facts and scope out Nauru’s tourism bureau website to acquaint yourself with accomodation options.  This information will come in handy should you choose to visit Nauru yourself, as the larger of the two hotels on the island boasts a swimming pool and air conditioning.  Or glance over President Stephen’s international medal record and bemoan the complete lack of pictures of Nauru’s specialty roast pig on Google Image Search.

“From 52 to 48 With Love” is a cool and inspiring social/political/art project that encourages voters from any party to send in photographs of themselves reaching out to voters from opposing parties with healing messages.  It derives its name from the 52% who voted for Barack Obama and the 48% who voted for John McCain in this month’s presidential election.  Here is the original blog post from Ze Frank, the project’s creator, explaining his idea:

“i would love to have a place for obama supporters, mccain supporters and supporters of third parties (over 1%) to reach out in a gesture of reconciliation…

simple messages from individuals.

perhaps it is naive. the differences are real, i know. but we have to repair the damage done from this election cycle somehow…”

Ze Frank, Blogger

It’s a pretty neat project. Here are a few of my favorite submissions:

Frank began the project on November 5th, the day after the election, but since then it has grown and expanded.  You can take a look at all “From 52 to 48 With Love” submissions here, and perhaps afterwards contribute your own photograph to ze@zefrank.com.

At 8 pm PST Tuesday night, celebrations erupted all over California as Barack Obama was announced the next president of the United States, but there were surely few better places to be to experience the excitement than on the streets of Berkeley.

(Understatement.)

Hundreds of students gathered in the streets of Berkeley after Sen. Barack Obamas victory in the presidential election Tuesday night.

Hundreds of students gathered in the streets of Berkeley after Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election Tuesday night. (The Daily Californian)

I will save the actual writing of the eyewitness account for Vivek, who was actually on Telegraph that evening and has graciously agreed to guest blog about what I’m sure he will term “a hella sick evening, like, HELLA SICK”.

For now, you should definitely check out The Daily Californian’s excellent photo slideshow that perfectly captures the spirit of the evening, or read more in Tess Townsend’s article “Berkeley Celebrates Obama’s Victory“.

A few weeks back, I posted an easy three-step process to become a vote-by-mail voter in the November 4 election, written especially for all you college kids. Have you done it yet? No? Well, you have only seven more days before the October 20th deadline passes and it’s too late.  So get on that.

Here’s the process again in case you’re a lazy dog:

  1. Fill out a short application to receive vote-by-mail status for this election.
  2. Mail the application to your county elections office.
  3. Start reading up on this year’s propositions.

Frequent Reasons For Not Voting Shot Down

pew pew pew

pew pew pew

Vote-by-mail ballots aren’t counted unless there’s a tie.

False.  Vote-by-mail ballots are, in fact, counted first.

I’m cynical and jaded about how my vote won’t affect the presidential election because the electoral college system means that all of California’s votes will go to Obama anyway.

I concede that this is probably true.  Rather than feed you some idealistic fodder about how it’s the principle of exercising your democratic rights that matters, I will give you a more pragmatic reason to vote: the most contentious ground in this election, and the one that your vote will certainly affect, is state propositions.

State propositions are abstruse and don’t affect me because I’m not really a taxpayer.

Do you care about a high speed rail system spanning across the state?  Do you care about the ethics of the treatment of farm animals?  Do you care about abortion for minors?  Do you care about whether same-sex marriages will continue to be recognized?

Yeah, I know you do.  If you are capable of pressing Ctrl+P, you can spell your name, and you can stick a stamp on an envelope, you can vote.

GOOD is having a bumper sticker design contest themed around voting.  Check out some of my favorite submissions, both visually and content-wise, for inspiration:

by Dan Swoboda, for the 2006 election

by Dan Swoboda, for the 2006 election contest

by Steven Blumenthal, for the 2006 election contest

by Steven Blumenthal, for the 2006 election contest

by Amy Chen

by Amy Chen

by Ben Murphy

by Ben Murphy

by Jim Ward

by Jim Ward

To paraphrase the words of one presidential candidate who is not my BFF, “See you at the election, bitches.”

This list is a follow-up to my earlier article on Time’s recommended list of 10 banned books.  If you’re still shaking your head over how books like Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that challenged the status quo and are now considered literary classics were actually banned at some point as being dangerous for young minds, take a look at what books are being challenged today.  (Oh wait, Huck Finn is still on this list and being challenged 120 years later.)

The following list was taken from the American Library Association’s compilation of the 10 most challenged books of 2007.  Challenges are culled from newspapers nationwide and from personal complaints filed with the ALA.  (The ALA estimates that for every 1 challenge recorded, there are 4 to 5 that go unreported.)  Keep in mind that while a challenge is not a ban, it is essentially an endorsement for one.

Without further ado, a countdown of the top 10 books that are allegedly poisoning the minds of young people today:

10.The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky

What it’s about: “The story takes place in a suburb of Pittsburgh during the 1991-1992 school year, when Charlie is a high school freshman. Charlie is the wallflower of the novel. He is an unconventional thinker, and as the story begins he is shy and unpopular.

The story explores topics such as introversion, teenage sexuality, abuse, and the awkward times of adolescence. The book also touches strongly on drug use and Charlie’s experiences with this. As the story progresses, various works of literature and film are referenced and their meanings discussed.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.”

9. It’s Perfectly Normal: Robie Harris

What it’s about: “Frank yet playful, [this book] portrays a reassuring array of body types and ethnic groups…allowing readers to come away with a healthy respect for their bodies and a better understanding of the role that sexuality plays in the human experience.

Birth control, abortion, and homosexuality are given an honest, evenhanded treatment, noting differing views and recommending further discussion with a trusted adult. The dangers of STDs, teen parenthood, and sexual abuse are examined.” (School Library Journal)

Why it’s being challenged: “Sex Education, Sexually Explicit.”

8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Maya Angelou

What it’s about: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a 1969 autobiography about the early years of author Maya Angelou’s life. [It] begins when three-year-old Angelou and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their grandmother and ends when Angelou becomes a mother at age seventeen years old.

The author uses her coming-of-age story to illustrate the ways in which racism and trauma can be overcome by a strong character and a love of literature.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit.

7. ttyl: Lauren Myracle

What it’s about: “An epistolary novel [crafted] entirely out of IM transcripts between three high-school girls. Far from being precious, the format proves perfect for accurately capturing the sweet histrionics and intimate intricacies of teenage girls.

Myracle’s triumph comes in leveraging the language-stretching idiom of e-mail, text messaging, and IM. Reaching to express themselves, the girls communicate almost as much through punctuation and syntactical quirks as with words.(Amazon.com Editorial Review)

Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.”

6. The Color Purple: Alice Walker

What it’s about: “The Color Purple is an acclaimed 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker. It received the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award.

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on female African American life during the 1930s in the Southern United States, addressing the numerous issues in the black female life, including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.”

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

What it’s about: “The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all of American literature.  By satirizing Southern antebellum society that was already a quarter-century in the past by the time of publication, the book is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. ” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Racism.” (Oh irony.)

4. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

What it’s about: “The Golden Compass tells of Lyra Belacqua’s journey north in search of her missing friend, Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned father, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as Dust.  Both the trilogy and the film adaptation have faced controversy, as some critics assert that the story presents a negative portrayal of the Church and religion.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Religious Viewpoint.”

3. Olive’s Ocean: Kevin Henkes

What it’s about: “Twelve-year-old Martha Boyle stands on the brink of discovery: about her family, about first love, and mostly about herself. Martha is given a journal entry from her classmate, Olive, who was killed in an automobile accident. Martha didn’t really know Olive, but the journal entry makes Martha reflect on what might have been if Olive hadn’t died. In her two weeks on Cape Cod, Martha learns to deal with the changing emotional landscape that comes with adolescence.” (AudioFile)

Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.

2. The Chocolate War: Robert Cormier

What it’s about: “Set at the fictional Trinity High School, the story follows protagonist Jerry Renault as he challenges the school’s cruel, brutal, and ugly mob rule. Because of the novel’s language, the concept of a high school’s secret society using intimidation to enforce the cultural norms of the school, and the protagonist’s sexual ponderings, it has been the frequent target of censors.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence.”

1. And Tango Makes Three: Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell

What it’s about: “The book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap Penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who for six years formed a couple. Roy and Silo hatched and raised the healthy young chick, a female named “Tango” by keepers, together as a family.

This book aims to send the reader the message that it is okay to be in, or know someone who has, a “non-traditional” family.” (Wikipedia)

Why it’s being challenged: “Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group.”

For those of you counting, “Sexually Explicit” was the biggest reason a book was challenged in 2007, with 7/10 books falling under that category; “Offensive Language” came in second with 5/10 books; and “Homosexuality” and “Unsuited to Age Group” tied for third with 3/10 books.

If you’re wondering who challenges these books, the ALA has compiled the following graph of challenges by initiator from 2000-2005.  Parents lead by nearly four times the challenges as the next group.  Particularly troubling is the inclusion of elected officials and government as active challenging parties.

Click picture for link to original PDF.

Click picture for link to original PDF.

I have a few thoughts of my own about this list from the ALA, such as Since when is “Homosexuality” a reason to ban any book?, Why are my elected officials campaigning for the banning of books?, and Have these challengers of literature checked out what their kids have been watching on TV for the past decade? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Attention: What you are about to watch could quite possibly rock your world.

GOOD’s new video, “The Hidden Cost of War,” is without a doubt the best educational video I have seen since Professor Wesch’s video on Web 2.0, “The Machine Is Us/ing Us“.

Why you should watch “The Hidden Cost of War”:

In just under 3 minutes, it gives a comprehensive overview of how some experts have concluded that U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq will cost 3 trillion dollars, when both current debts and long-term costs are accounted for.

the hidden cost of war

Screenshots of "The Hidden Cost of War" from itsnicethat.com.

Plus, it has cool pictures.

The figures featured in the video are taken from the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War by American economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.  Stiglitz has won a little-known award called the Nobel Prize, and Bilmes teaches at a small university called Harvard.  So they know a thing or two about economics.  Even if you don’t agree with the political implications of or mathematics behind Stiglitz’s and Bilmes’s estimation, I think everyone can agree that it’s something to think about and discuss.

As you can tell from the capital letters and the middle initials, this is serious business. This ain't no "Goodnight Moon" or "The Very Hungry Caterpillar".

Here’s a YouTube version of the video, but I encourage you to watch it on GOOD’s website for higher quality:

GOOD is a Los Angeles-based magazine focused on social issues, politics, and sustainable living.  They use videos and other visual mediums to create what they call “media that matters” for “people who give a damn”.  100% of their print magazine subscription fees go to a charity of your choosing, from Kiva to Teach for America to Slow Food USA; they’ve raised over $850,000 so far.  Membership to the website alone is free, and the website itself is worth a browse to see GOOD’s other work.

Found on Digg; originally on Matthew Kendig's Flickr photostream.

Found on Digg; originally on Matthew Kendig's Flickr photostream. Dugg.

“Please tip; we are trying to raise $700 billion to help rich folks.”

Today is brought to you by the number 42.

Why is 42 so important today?  Sure, it’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  But I bet you didn’t know that 42 is also the number of days until the 2008 General Election.

Depending on your age, this may be the first presidential election in which you are eligible to vote, and you are of course doing your civic duty by doing everything a young voter does to be as educated as possible about the issues at hand.  You’ve watched The Daily Show’s coverage of Indecision 2008.  You’ve seen the YouTube You Choose candidate debates.  You keep up with projections on fivethirtyeight.  You’ve observed the venerated and unbiased political arena that is Digg.  You’ve become a member of the Facebook group of the candidate you most support.

The Best F***ing News Team Ever

The Best F***ing News Team Ever

In all seriousness, though, you might be forgetting something important.  You’re probably going to college outside of the county in which you registered to vote.  Have you registered to be a vote-by-mail voter in November’s General Election?

Fear not.  I have collected all of the necessary URLs for you to strip away the last of your excuses not to vote in three easy steps.  If you’re not a California resident, you’ll need to look up the equivalent forms for your state.

  1. Fill out a very short application to recieve vote-by-mail voter status for this election. You can also check a box to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter (voter-by-mail?), but if your college address keeps changing, I’d advise against it.
  2. Mail the application to your county elections office.
  3. Start reading up on this year’s propositions. You’ll get an official voter information guide in the mail as well.  Think you don’t care about state propositions?  Think again.  Do you care about a high speed rail system spanning across the state?  Do you care about the treatment of farm animals?  Do you care about abortion for minors?  Do you care about whether same-sex marriages will continue to be recognized?

If you’re not registered to vote, but you are a United States citizen who will be at least 18 years old on November 4, 2008, and you are not a felon or legally mentally incompetent, shame on you!  You can’t let all of the money both campaigns have spent on influencing our highly prized and elusive 18-25 demographic go to waste.  Besides, there are hungry kids in Africa who wish they had your ballot to cast.  Fill out a registration form online here.  They really can’t make it any easier for you people.

Registered to vote?  Submitted vote-by-mail status?  Awesome.  We now interrupt this program to bring you a nonpartisan message from Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

Click to see the SNL Palin/Hillary Open from SNL last week.

"I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy." "And I can see Russia from my house!"