Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lessons Learned Lately

The Prophet of Dry Hill: Lessons from a Life in Nature by David Gessner. A plan to write a biography of nature writer John Hay becomes a contemplation of connections to land and between people and all of nature. Sadness and acceptance mingle as the health of Hay and his wife declines, they leave the land where they’ve lived for sixty years of witnessing the booming human population and resulting destruction, and the author also moves away from Cape Cod.

Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight

After what is widely considered pre-planned police violence during the 1968 Democratic convention, the government decided to put eight anti-war, anti-establishment leaders from three different groups on trial for conspiracy to incite that violence. Hilarity ensued. When the judge, in one of his many biased rulings, refused to allow former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark to testify, the New York Times called it “the ultimate outrage in a trial which has become the shame of American justice.” But it’s so hard to pick just one.

The book, which has inspired me to read some others on related topics, consists primarily of trial transcripts which alternately amuse and outrage. Editor Jon Wiener’s introduction sets the stage and gives an update on the defendants. Tom Hayden’s afterword discusses many of the parallels between government actions in the sixties and their attempts at intimidation and repression which began after WTO protests in Seattle, which I experienced personally the following year marching against biotechnology as rooftop snipers loomed above us.

The Unforeseen is a documentary film about “development” focusing primarily on a particular past issue in the city of Austin, but raising questions about the entire society’s values and choices. What is unforeseen is not only completely predictable but inevitable as long as you’re not blinded by short term profit and the idea that humans are more important than the world they’re dependent on.

Wendell Berry reads from his work over the opening scene and Patty Griffin’s Someone Else’s Tomorrow plays over the closing credits. In between is everything from Bush and the foreshadowing of the savings and loan crisis to Robert Redford’s local childhood and Ed Abbey’s cancer cell metaphor. The commentary track by director Laura Dunn and others adds much background information on the scenes and people shown. Alternately inspiring and infuriating, The Unforeseen, like all of the material in this post, makes me proud once again to be Un-American.

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