Archive - Mar 2005



Well heck, it's been almost a week since I last blogged. Not good.

Well, it's been crazy lately. The Collage Conference in Iowa City was nonstop intensity, fun, and thoughtful but energetic conversation with really smart people from all over the world. It was really great. I don't have time to say much more except that I got far too little sleep and so shortly after, I got sick. I'm getting over it now but am still full of snot and just sort of feeling crappy. Anyway I took a bunch of photos at the conference. I hope to write a little more about in the detritus blog later.

So, now I'm scrambling to whip my Juarez film into good enough state to at least be able to show it to a small select group of people I trust to give me constructive advice about how to finish it. I'll send them copies and then jet off to Guatemala and in 2 months come back and finish it, taking into account all the wondeful and wise suggestions i'm sure they'll have. :-)

Meanwhile other preparations for my trip are gradually coming together. Medications, mosquito stuff, etc etc. This time next week, I will hopefully be on a black sand beach on the pacific coast of Guatemala, and especially important, I hopefully will not be worrying about anything.

Start of Collage Conference

I'm sitting at the Java House in Iowa City killing a little time before the beginning of the Collage Conference, In about 45 minutes. It's been a busy day, and the next 2 will be busy also. I was out late drinking with the Tape-beatles after their show in Cedar Rapids. Then had to get up early to drive to Davenport to get a prescription for malaria pills. Next I got here a little early to have lunch with a friend. Now I'm online and I just saw like 3 things that I would probably blog about if I had a more normal amount of time. Which I have not in a long while. Even if I was back at the homestead I would be working away on the documentary. As it is I feel frustrated to have to take a 3-day break from that in order to be at this conference. I'm reluctantly going to focus on art and neglect videoactivism for a weekend, basically. Although I am excited about some of the more politically-oriented panels in the conference, like the one about collage and neo-colonialism. It should be fun and fascinating, and maybe a little break to think will be good for the documentary project.

Juarez Doc Moving Along

still working on the juarez doc
I have pretty much been spending 90% of my time working on this documentary. It's really a good feeling, actually, especially now that I'm done with all the not so fun preliminaries: the logging, transcribing, paper edit, capturing, etc. On Saturday I finished capturing all the footage I needed. What a huge project. On Sunday I started doing the first edit, simply following the paper edit. Of course lots of problems have surfaced but that's good. Today I think I'll finish the first assembly, the very very very rough draft, and I can watch it all the way through and really get a feel for what I have here.

Sunday I thought about going to the anti-war manifestacion in Iowa City, but I really felt like I should just keep working on the video. Plus, I realized that I'd be burning 120 miles worth of gasoline to go to a protest of a war that's about oil, so I decided that was not right. But I was very curious to see how big the thing would be in Iowa City.

Anyway, like I said I feel really good about just spending ALL my time working really hard on this Juarez project. This is what I want to be doing; editing video, full time. (For a project that's mine and that I care about a lot. I'm sure if I was editing cooking shows, like a friend of mind does in San Francisco for a living, I would be less into it.) It's really been great to take this time, sort of like an artist's residency at my parents' house, where there's very few distractions, and just concentrate on this project and bang it out. There's really nothing to do, nobody asking me to go to a movie or have coffee at a neighborhood cafe, just me editing video, or looking out the window at the dead cornfields.

I only wish it was possible to completely finish it before I leave here, but in less than 2 weeks I'm flying to Guatemala. However, I think I can get a 2nd or 3rd draft done, and then think about how to finish it as I travel, and send copies to a few people to comment on.

Against Microfinance

Recently I received in the mail, probably due to me being on some mailing list of potential donors to socially responsible charities, a brochure about an organization called Finca - Foundation for International Community Assistance. The front of the brochure has a picture of an indigenous latin american woman making a clay pot and the words "This woman doesn't need your charity... (turn page) all she needs is a chance." This organization arranges small loans to poor people around the world so they can start small businesses.

I just have to call bullshit on this. But this is one of those issues where I don't quite have the ammunition to explain why it's wrong, and there's not much information out there about why it's wrong, even in places you would think it would be (like Indymedia).

But I know I've heard and read before that microcredit/microfinance is bad. I just can't remember where. And I know in my gut that it is, too. Let's look at some points I can think of right off the bat about microcredit in general and about this organization FINCA specifically, and their marketing scheme:

  • credit and borrowing (especially with interest) is just bad in general. Just look at how USians spend their lives in debt, buying stuff they can't afford.
  • There's worldwide campaigns to forgive poor countries their debts. The World Bank and IMF are globally hated. People know it's a trap. Why would shrinking the debt down to household-sized chunks be any better? (The World Bank actually has microfinance projects going on.)
  • the poor do need charity. That's clear. They don't need to get hooked into an endless cycle of debt. Actuallly the global south, if anything, needs the global north to pay them back -- but everything taken by the first world from the third over the last 600 years was not borrowing, it was permanent theft.
  • The brochure goes on to say things like "we need to trust the poor to help themselves" and "they're ready to take responsiblity for their own finances". But wrapping an appeal for money in social-darwinist dogma is just bullshit. Once you give them a loan, probably with awful terms and no education or training to go with the money, to help them do the project they want to spend the money on, and say "now it's up to them," then it's easy to say "oh it's their fault that they are poor," once they fail and default on the loan.
  • The really hypocritical scam of it all is that FINCA is asking for a handout, for donations from the normal person reading this brochure, so that they can go and loan the money and get interest on the loan.
  • finca means "plantation" in spanish. Slaves work on plantations.

A couple other critiques of microfinance can be found at:

  • this znet review of a book on "deglobalization" which says:
    in late 2001 the Wall Street Journal wrote that, "To many, Grameen proves that capitalism can work for the poor as well as the rich" but then had to unhappily concede how Grameen's recent "steep losses" and unethical accounting practices had left the international microcredit industry "alarmed" (in spite of Grameen's more assertive debt collection method: removing tin roofs from delinquent women's houses).

  • a paper by a geography professor at University of Toronto studies how microcredit is an expression of neoliberalism, normalizing the idea the State does not have a responsibility for the welfare and economic opportunity of its citizens but that they have that responsibility to themselves. The paper also discusses how microfinance is a gendered system for transforming rural life - almost everythign about microfinance i've seen has stressed that women are getting these loans. This is because women are more productive in agrarian societies and more likely to pay back loans. As the paper states, "microcredit as a governmental strategy is all the more pernicious in its appropriation of feminist languages of empowerment and solidarity to alternative (and fundamentally conservative) ends."

It's interesting, from a google search i'm finding very little negative comment about this and seeing several references to the idea that even anti-globalization types should like microcredit schemes. Like on this page about a project in Guatemala there's the boldface line (and lie): '"These women are smart, strong and capable" she urges. "They are only held back by a lack of access to credit and education"' No. They're held back by corrupt right-wing neoliberal governments that want to pass treaties like CAFTA, paramilitary death squads, murderous narcotraficantes getting rich from the nostrils and bongs of the global north, and tools of global capitalist domination like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They're held back by imperialism, neocolonialism, racism and greed.

If only people working so hard on these microfinance pipedreams would put their effort into campaigns that really attacked the root causes of global poverty, then we'd be getting somewhere. Instead they're just enslaving these people to, at best, crippling monthly bill payments to some bankers.

Am I missing something? Am I wrong? Let me know. I invite comments and positive analysis of microfinance from credible sources. Leave a comment, please.

Donations needed for Bolivia Computer Project

I just sent out a status report and donation request for the Computers for Bolivia Project. I've been working on this project for so long and now we're again seeming to get really close. But we just need a little bit more money. The great news came a few days ago when a grant I requested from the Global South Fund was approved. That helped a lot. But we're still not quite there. If everyone on the list I just sent to gave 10 or 20 bucks we would probably have enough. If doesn't happen in the next 2 weeks, then it probably won't happen in the next 2 months or more, because I'm leaving the country again.

So frustrating. I guess I'm just too mobile. I keep planning things and then planning to travel right after I think those things will be done, and then it isn't and I feel either massively let down or like I'm dropping the ball, or both. grrrr.

The Paper Edit

the paper editI should have been at this stage a couple of weeks ago, but at any rate, today I am doing the paper edit of my documentary about the femicides in Juarez. For the last 2 days I've been cutting photocopies of my footage logs into little slips of paper and categorizing them into different subtopics, with an envelope for each of those subtopics.

Now today I'm arranging all this stuff into a rough flow for the film. It's overwhelming, in more ways than one. For one thing, it's the most technically ambitious video project I've ever done. As you can start to see in the photo, there's hundreds of footage fragments and more than a dozen subtopics. I'm going to run out of table soon.

Secondly, it's emotionally staggering to deal with this subject, and has been from the beginning, but as I see it start to come together and get focused into these concentrated facets, with all my interviewees starting to talk in unison about the same dark subjects... it begins to really hit me almost harder than ever before. I think the only harder time was actually being in Juarez at the Day of the Dead mass or at the Algo Donero where 11 of the bodies had been found. If I finish this film the way I intend, it's going to be really good but it's also going to be really gut-wrenching. Hopefully I will succeed in making it inspiring and motivating as well.

Degreed Jobless

Here I am linking to another indyblog blog entry but it can't be helped because this is really important and interesting. It's a link to an article in the LA times about how college degrees aren't doing much for people that have them. This is so interesting because I've recently been thinking a lot about how my little brother is planning to go back to college to get a bachelor's, after getting an associate's degree he's not using. And he wants to study English, that most useful of degrees. Plus I just talked to an old high school friend with a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing who's never made more than 10K a year, ever. Though he seems happy. Read more>>>

My review of "Recipes for Disaster"

I just posted to Portland IMC's site my review of Crimethinc's newish book, Recipes for Disaster, which I just recently finished, or finished enough of to form an opinion. It's the sort of book for which it's not extremely useful to read every single thing - it's divided alphabetically into different topics, and some of the topics are just not going to be anything I will get involved with in the near future, and if I do, I can read that section at the time. I actually still read several entries that I don't expect I'll need ever (or if I did I wouldn't be admitting it here) like sabotage and surviving a felony trial. In fact the sabotage one was really interesting, especially the example given (a hit on a mink research facility in Michigan) and is by Rod Coronado of Earth First! who lives in Tucson and who I heard a lot about when I was just down there.

Anyway, read the review for more about the book. I liked it.

A Study of Cuteness in Japan

An interesting study by Sharon Kinsella looks at the "kawaii" phenomenon in Japan - the "cute" craze that includes Hello Kitty and all that stuff.

Pretty fascinating, and reminds me of an essay called 'Cute Formalism' from a few years ago by the clever pop singer Momus (who appears to have a nice new website, and a a blog - I wonder if he writes less essays now that he has a blog?).

The interesting thing about Kinsella's research is that she finds that the cute thing was not a top-down, corporate-created trend, but began as a grassroots youth movement with 'cute handwriting', which was actually a rebellion against traditional japanese culture. Then later companies like Sanrio moved in and capitalized on the trend.

Iowa City

I'm at Java House in Iowa City, which is halfway between my Dad's place near Cedar Rapids and my Mom's place in the Quad-Cities. I just had lunch with Kembrew, ,who's a professor here at the University of Iowa, and then I had coffee with an old friend from high school who I hadn't seen for like 6 years. It was great. We had a really great conversation. It's cool to know that someone who was one of my favorite people 20 years ago is still a really really interesting person.

Not much more to report. Oh, it snowed last night. That's it for now.