Claire Finch's blog

New Reading Liberally Resources- And Continually Impressive RL Leaders

Never underestimate the help and guidance that can be gained from the obscure corners of your virtual netroots universe! Take, for example, an email that I recently received from John Karls, a Reading Liberally chapter leader from Salt Lake City.

As a Reading Liberally summer intern, I was contacting our existing chapter leaders in search of tips and advice to pass on to future RL enthusiasts. Among the few replies, one stood out so much in terms of the passion it exuded as well as the effort it must have commanded that it effectively restored my faith in the power of the email outreach.

The email was epic: a 4-browser-screen-long chronicle of John Karls' various triumphs and frustrations in his attempt to wrangle new readers for the Salt Lake City chapter. Snippets of wisdom to be extracted from the whole: That nearby universities, political organizations and community groups were surprisingly poor sources for progressive readers, that the majority of the current active members were recruited directly in person, and that to create any successful organization requires "a long, hard slog by someone... willing to spend a lot of time in a 'labor of love'!!!"

Leaders such as Mr. Karls who are willing to put such attention into any political organization should certainly be commended. And in case you don't happen to have a similarly effort-loving progressive at the ready, hopefully you will be inspired to become one! If you need help, never forget to contact others in your network! In the meantime, consult Living Liberally's newly completed resources for running a Reading Liberally Chapter-- made possible only with the combined input and time of our chapter heads.

Blogging Liberally: A Series of Unfortunate Coincidences?

1.) Think that global warming, high energy costs, and looming global food shortages are just really unfortunate coincidences? As John Feffer posits on Alternet, think again!

2.) And in case that didn't convince you of the potentially dire effects of our energy dependencies, Chris Hedge's article on how our petroleum-based society could soon grind to a drastic halt just might.

3.) Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World (to be published today) reveals that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a letter tying Iraq to al Qaeda. As Alex Koppelman says on Salon.com, are we really surprised?

4.) Bush prepares to visit China for the Olympics, and can't really decide how he feels about the country. He says it's "really hard to tell" whether human rights violations in China have improved, but no matter-- it's still "important to engage" China.

5.) An excuse to finally get Netflix: It's a greener option than Blockbuster.

6.) Media buzz about a potential Obama-Bayh ticket grows.

Talking Liberally Progressive Parley: Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com

Do you remember how you first became involved with progressive politics? For me, it was through feminism. Taking women's studies classes (not to mention fielding all those catcalling pervs on the street!) alerted me to the overwhelmingly pervasive lack of equality that women still experience, which only opened my eyes to the many social injustices going on around me. But feminism and progressivism aren't seamlessly united-- what certainly surprised me is how matters of women's rights seem to get pushed to the periphery of liberal thought. Which is why when it came time to choose a progressive leader to interview, there choice was simple: Jessica Valenti! Jessica is the executive editor of feministing.com, a blog devoted to connecting young feminists and pointing out misogyny in everyday media and culture, as well as the author of the books Full Frontal Feminism and He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. We met for lunch, where we not only explored the ties connecting feminism and progressivism, but shitty first jobs, the never-ending influence of activism, and those dang feminizing conservatives. Enjoy!

Claire Finch: So tell me about feministing.com

Jessica Valenti: Feministing basically started 4 years ago. I was working at a feminist organization, it was the first job I had out of grad school and I was super-excited to be working for a national organization. I thought it was going to be amazing, and it wasn’t amazing at all, it was kind of horrible-- I felt like they were giving a lot of lip service to younger women but not necessarily putting us in decision-making positions or asking our opinions, or even inviting us to the cool meetings. But whenever it was time for a conference, or there was a photo opportunity, it was like, "Young women front and center, women of color front and center, look at how diverse our organization is!" But then of course, when we got back to the office, it was like, "Go make coffee."

So I think that I became a little bit jaded working at this organization, and around the same time there was a lot of the Girls Gone Wild media stuff happening where it was like, "Girls are having sex! They’re going crazy, they’re going wild! And isn’t it awful!" And I noticed that in a lot of the articles, they were talking about young women but they would never quote young women. It seemed like the mainstream media was very invested in presenting this picture of the young American woman as vapid and politically apathetic and socially unengaged, and it just didn’t match up with the women that I knew in my life…So I think that to a certain extent, when we started the blog…we kind of filled a gap. People were probably looking for young feminist stuff online and they found feministing.

So our readership grew super-fast. We wanted to present feminism in a fun, accessible, funny way…And we also wanted a site that would hold the mainstream media accountable in the way that they represented women’s issues, and the way they talked about young women, and something that would hold the mainstream feminist movement accountable for the way they don’t include younger women and women of color and low-income women in their organizational processes.

More scintillating discussion after the break!

Can't Decide Which Side You're On? Neither Can The Media

1.) Everybody's doing it: While remaining outwardly bipartisan, the Afghan Ambassador to the US expressed his support for key points of Obama's plan for Afghanistan.

2.) McCain's attempts to paint Obama as image-obsessed and disdainful of the military fall flat as Obama's persona continues to repel all the mudslinging.

3.) The free ride hits a pothole as McCain's media coverage becomes inconsistently adoring. The media's un-prompted airing of McCain's anti-Obama ad and the positive spin of Republican senator Stevens' indictment are ridiculously admiring, while the Washington Post article cited above is uncharacteristically negative.

4.) Offshore drilling won't deflate gas prices immediately, according to Obama and many experts. CBS' Chip Reid ignores this, bolstering McCain's love of drilling while failing to fully cite Obama's stance.

5.) Obama's not the only target of media misrepresentation: Deplorably, headlines continue to attribute blame to inebriated female victims of rape cases.

Reading Liberally: Tips for Alleviating Those First-Time Nerves

Going in to host my first (and in fact, THE first in NYC) Reading Liberally last night, I was somewhat unaccountably nervous. Granted, I wasn't really thrown into hosting alone, as I was surrounded by my loyal posse of Living Liberally friends and coworkers. However, in the hopes of making Reading Liberally more of an established and regular event, I would like to bestow upon you my top tips for running a successful chapter meeting, garnered from our slightly attended yet ultimately satisfying meeting last night.

1.) Go for an intimate space where everyone can hear one another and feel connected, but make sure that wherever you go doesn't turn into an awkwardly quiet study spot at night-- this appeared to be the initial situation when I arrived at Earthmatters Cafe last night, but luckily all the nice people who were already surrounded by heaps of books and papers just shot me a few nasty glances before picking up and moving to the upper floor (so in this case, lots of extra space was a valuable asset!)

2.) Back to my previous comment about my nerves: make sure that you have at least a couple of cohorts to accompany you on your first time!

3.) Make sure that at least ONE person has read each book very well-- chances are, very few people that attend will have read any/all of the books, so the key to successful discussion in this situation is to make sure that you can summarize the book and easily move into whatever universally relevant political topic your book deals with. (On this note, it's best to have a few questions prepared for when conversation gets sparse!)

4.) Have a sign to mark your turf-- useful both in alerting the previously noted studious sorts, and in directing people to the table. I personally made a very bootleg sign by taking screen shots of the reading liberally logo and arranging them in a word document.

Finally, the most important thing is just to make sure that people come. In terms of starting a book group, the key to success (more than flyer-ing, or advertising, or random outreach) seems to be meeting people that genuinely want to experience progressive politics through literature. Here's to starting just such a Reading Liberally chapter!

Oh, and by the way, we read Free Rideby Dan Brock and Paul Waldman, both of which are worth considering for your first foray into group-friendly political lit.

From Upward Escalator to Flat Moving Walkway: Our Current Economic Prospects

My first introduction to the public-policy research institution The Century Foundation was indispensably informative-- I attended a lunchtime panel discussion, during which I was informed that my generation was in a startlingly dire economic situation.

Evidently, our generation (I'm 20, so a "millennial") is the first generation that is not expected to do better financially than our parents. What's more, we will face even more difficulty moving beyond class, race, and gender barriers-- despite the progressive action of more recent decades. Dismally shocking, and definitely action-inspiring!

Check out this video that The Century Foundation made covering the highlights of the panel discussion:

(the real highlight of which is obviously the brief clip of yours truly-- I'm the one in the purple dress proclaiming my newfound motivation to "do something")

The Century Foundation has more awesome youth discussions planned, so if you live in the New York area, make sure to try and catch one!

Blogging Liberally: At Least Obama's Getting a Little Help from the Media

1.) High gas prices got you down? Blame Bush and Cheney! Pelosi does.

2.) Obama goes international and may even convince doubters that he knows a thing or two about world affairs (with the media's help).

3.) Bad financial times may have lasting effects on democracy as we know it.

4.) McCain humor watch: why bad jokes may lead to a bad president.

5.) In addition to enjoying stimulating democratic discussion, everyone at Netroots Nation in Texas can savor some of the highest-priced electricity in the nation! Thanks, deregulation!

6.) Evidently, both autism and athsma are the genius inventions of spoiled child extortionists-- at least according to conservative radio host Michael Savage.

Reading Liberally: McCain's Free Ride


Ever wonder how McCain got where he is? Why after all the flip-flops, the slip-ups, and the just flat-out-inappropriate jokes, McCain continues to credibly crawl toward the White House? If so, then Free Ride: John McCain and the Media proves to be indispensable reading (not to mention that it is one of the two books that will be discussed at next Tuesday’s first-ever meeting of Reading Liberally NYC!).

As authors David Brock and Paul Waldman convincingly assert, John McCain has a singular, privileged relationship with the media-- one that allows all of his numerous scandals and gaffes to be overlooked or, worse, miraculously incorporated into his constructed image as a "maverick" a "moderate" and a "straight-talker." As the authors put it in their online follow-up to the book: "When a candidate changes his position as a response to the politics of the moment and the press ignores it, he's lucky. When he changes his position and the press goes out of its way to say how principled he is for not changing his position, he's John McCain."

Incredibly, despite the alternative media’s constant coverage of McCain’s falsely positive press presence, the mainstream news continues to turn a blindly accepting eye. Take, for example, how the LA Times reported McCain’s spin on his previous comment on the “disgrace” that is social security, rather than his initial words. Add to that the Associated Press’s sustained failure to report on McCain’s changing immigration policy , and a clear pattern begins to emerge—one that Waldman and Brock delve into extensively (almost redundantly) in their work.

Essentially, Free Ride delivers a one-two punch: first illuminating the mythological public image of McCain, and then knocking it to the ground with facts about McCain’s actual policy decisions and personal flaws. What emerges from all the rubble is a John McCain that is a far cry from the glowingly imagined anti-politician: a McCain who is (hypocritically) opportunistic and scheming, who is prone to furious outbursts in which he calls his senate colleagues “shit head” and “fucking jerk.”

While the book is somewhat imperfect (it sometimes lacks clear organization, and occasionally throws in so many examples of media hypocrisy that the evidence for each individual case falls flat) it certainly achieves its ultimate point: readers will see a McCain stripped of his media halo, who seems to be an unfitting and even dangerous candidate for commander-in-chief.

Blogging Liberally: Who needs comedians when you have John McCain?

1.) Daily Kos’s update on the FISA debate: Votes are going down today. Stay tuned for more of what Professor of Constitional Law Jonathan Turley terms the "evisceration of the 4th Amendment"

2.) John McCain once again proves how funny jokes about killing Iranians can be. Good thing Cindy was there to poke him in the back this time, so he could alert us all to his awe-inspiring sense of humor.

3.) If only this were also a joke: John McCain shows some confusion about the concept of social security.

4.)Forget TextTwist—Slate has a fun, interactive and even educational game that lets you narrow down the vice presidential candidates!

5.) Speaking of entertaining election-themed distractions, it’s fun to watch Open Left’s maps get increasingly democratic as they predict the benefits of an Obama/Edwards partnership.

6.) If you don’t like to think that your mom might have a more active sex life than you do, this article isn’t for you. For everyone else, check out Alternet’s article on middle-aged women finding random sex on Craigslist.

How to Enjoy a Dubiously Progressive Film

I should probably preface this post with an admission: I absolutely loved The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Despite the abysmally low expectations set by the first Narnia attempt, I sat through Caspian in a state of gleeful enthrallment. And from an entertainment perspective, it was a surprisingly great movie: the landscape was crafted with Peter-Jackson-level expertise, the Pevensie children have become less insufferably whiny, and the sexual tension between characters Susan Pevensie and Prince Caspian was cringe-inducingly hilarious.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the original story, Prince Caspian weaves the tale of the Pevensie children’s return to Narnia after The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Since their last visit, over a thousand years have passed in Narnia and things have gotten really rough: a neighboring land has taken over everything, and all Narnians have been killed or driven into hiding. Enter attractive yet bizarrely accented Prince Caspian, the exiled heir to the throne—and Narnia’s only hope. Essentially, magical hijinks and epic battles ensue as good battles evil for power over Narnia.

Overall, Caspian is a satisfying fantasy adventure--which is not to say that the film is even close to being flawless—there were many moments when it veered into being ridiculously overwrought, unintentionally inspiring several hearty guffaws. Like the first moment that Aslan appears, beams of light triumphantly shooting out of his mane, in a blatant "Thank God! It’s Jesus!" moment. (C.S. Lewis’s original Narnia stories were modeled after Christian parables, with Aslan the lion serving as an obvious Jesus figure).

The movie versions of the tales are produced by Walden Media, financed by notoriously conservative Christian billionaire Philip Anschutz. Which had me, a staunch athiest, pseudo-maliciously poised to pounce on any thinly-veiled attempts at conversion. Of which there were surprisingly few. Most of what could be associated with a religious purpose was ambiguous. For example, a scene in which a river swells into the shape of a giant man, who then swallows the enemy army, is simultaneously a reference to the parting of the red seas and a harmless demonstration of cool Narnian magic.

(click "Read More" to see the rest of this post)

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