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In a film about war, can you leave the politics out?

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Still from film The Train of Salt and Sugar

The film The Train of Salt and Sugar, set in 1988 during Mozambique’s civil war, depicts a journey by rail from the city of Nampula, in the northeast of the country, to Cuamba, near the Malawi border. The train’s travelers tell a variety of stories; there are traders hoping to make good money selling salt from the coast for sugar, a rarity during the war; while others are hoping to be reunited with family. Then there is Rosa, a nurse who is on her way to her new job. The travelers are accompanied by a military battalion that is there to protect the train, its passengers and the merchandise. Yet these soldiers turn out to be as dangerous and violent as the combatants who are hidden in the bush.

The film is a Mozambican production, based on a book written by Licínio Azevedo who also directed the film. It is also the first Mozambican submission to Hollywood’s Academy Awards. Following his film, “Virgin Margarida” (2012), about the post-independence re-education camps, Azevedo takes up another controversial topic in Mozambique: the civil war.

The civil war was fought within the context of the Cold War and lasted from 1976, shortly after independence, until a peace agreement in 1992 between the then Marxist-Leninist FRELIMO government and RENAMO, a rebel movement supported first by Rhodesia’s white minority government and then apartheid South Africa, both Mozambique’s neighbors.

The violence of that war is generally silenced. Very little of the war’s history has been written down. Azevedo tells one of these stories, or many in one. At the same time, he manages to turn the movie into a captivating Mozambican western, including a duel and a tragic romance.

The film’s pace is slow, as excruciatingly slow and suspenseful as the pace of the train on its dangerous journey during which, the viewer immediately understands, confrontations with an enigmatic enemy are inevitable. The soundtrack consists mostly of the whistling and rhythmic sounds of the train. The camera lingers on the tense faces of the passengers and moves along through the desolate as well as breathtaking landscapes. The quiet travel scenes are alternated by intervals of sudden shoot-outs with a largely faceless enemy. 

The Train of Salt and Sugar highlights RENAMO’s terror tactics, the military’s brutal treatment of alleged collaborators, the abuse of women by soldiers and the magic of war. The fact that the commander of the “enemy” is able to transform himself into a monkey makes a very topical analogy with the alleged abilities of RENAMO’s leader Alfonso Dhlakama to turn into a bird. The movie’s military commander, “Seven Ways,” seems to have some similar tricks on his sleeve.

Yet politics is left out of the movie. The warring parties, representing the armed forces of the FRELIMO government and the rebels of RENAMO, are not mentioned by name. “Brothers against brothers, not knowing why they fight,” one of the lead characters says at a certain point. This illustrates the film’s message about war as the pointless destruction of life and dreams. It is, as most a film about war or an anti-war film. It shows how both sides are violent, corrupt, and eventually losing, and how the civilians who cross their paths lose even more. 

Yet, while avoiding the politics of war in Mozambique, the film was released last year at a time when the country finds itself at war again. Once more trains have been under attack by armed combatants of RENAMO. This time it is not trains of salt and sugar that are under siege, but the coal trains running from the mines — carrying minerals for multinational corporations — in the center of the country to the coastal ports. This rapid economic and social change in Mozambique comes with poverty, corruption and exclusion, creating new struggles along the “old” lines of unresolved conflicts. This is the larger tragedy of The Train of Salt and Sugar: whereas for some Mozambicans the film is about a distant past, for other Mozambicans it relates a much more recent reality.

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jad
3 hours ago
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Rockville, MD
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Lurking In Your Bed

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Lurking In Your Bed

As you guys may or may not know, my first really big piece on Tedium was a takedown of sorts on hipster mattresses. It pondered the idea of how the companies came to prominence, as well as what it would take to start up a company just like this. It was absurd, but it was fun to write. It’s currently the top-ranking item on Google for the term “hipster mattress.”

Since then, I’ve gotten, somewhat like clockwork, repeated emails asking if I might add links to my website to promote either other mattress companies, or websites that review mattresses. I have a general policy against adding links to old articles for non-editorial reasons, and I’m certainly not changing it for the purpose of improving someone else’s search engine mojo.

Perhaps that’s why I was truly excited when I saw Fast Company’s takedown of the hipster mattress phenomenon. While they never used the term “hipster mattress” in the piece, author David Zax definitely showed a deep understanding of the business, and why it might in fact have a dark side.

Long story short: The potential for affiliate revenue greatly influences the reviews on mattress review sites. And companies like Casper and Tuft and Needle tried to take advantage of this to influence the bloggers, by promising them extra money if they played ball.

And bloggers who didn’t play ball, who rated some of these brands negatively? Well, they got sued. They became the subjects of link attacks. And in some cases, they even got bought out, all in an effort to influence the commentary you see on these mattress brands.

Literally just yesterday, I got an email from one of these review sites, asking me to add a link to their “in-depth guide on how to buy the right mattress for your needs.” I immediately declined. There is simply no reason to encourage this sketchiness.

The fact of the matter is this: mattresses are basically the perfect product to buy through the internet if you’re a manufacturer. First off, they’re expensive; second off, they’re hard to return—even if you choose to go the charity donation route; and finally, the margins are such that they’re incredibly attractive from the standpoint of the marketer, who stands to make as much as $50 from a single sale. That means they can be marketed heavily, and it creates an entire ecosystem around it.

It’s a highly valuable product that can singlehandedly push around a lot of dollars in the digital economy. And for that reason, it’s good to be skeptical, no matter how comfortable the mattress actually is.

An honest review of a hipster mattress is hard to come by.

(keresi72/Pixabay)

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jad
3 hours ago
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Rockville, MD
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How prisons inflate white voting power in downstate Illinois

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in one of its most anticipated cases, Gill v. Whitford. The subject of the case – gerrymandering. A practice of manipulating district boundaries to control political results, gerrymandering has been a part of American electoral politics since the early 1800s. The practice inflates the votes of some citizens at the expense of others.

News reports and analyses focused on the potential swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Few, however, are talking about another type of gerrymandering that makes some votes count far more than others. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, prison gerrymandering highlights the ways that an overgrown prison system undermines democracy.

Prison gerrymandering counts incarcerated populations as residents of the often rural localities in which they are confined. These inflated population counts are then used as a basis for creating electoral maps.

The Supreme Court justices are considering the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting in Gill v. Whitford. Leaders of the state legislature redrew the electoral map in secret; the bill passed along partisan lines. The effects were immediate, shaping the outcome of the 2012 elections. Although the state’s Republican Party received only 49 percent of the statewide vote, it gained 60 percent of the state Assembly’s seats.

So, how is this related to prison gerrymandering?

According to The Sentencing Project, the nation’s prison population has grown 500 percent over the past four decades. Largely because of institutional discrimination, like the “War on Drugs” waged in “inner-cities” of America, the incarcerated are disproportionately blacks and Latinos from urban spaces. However, the prisons built to accommodate the growth in incarceration have most often been built in rural spaces, otherwise predominantly white and conservative. The boom of mass incarceration, as prison policy analyst Tracy Huling argues, created demand for a boom in rural prison construction.

The recent report we co-authored with colleagues at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy documents the broad reach of prison gerrymandering in Illinois and its clear violation of democratic principles and racial justice.

In Illinois, about 90 percent of the prison population of 50,000 is incarcerated outside of Cook County, even though Cook County accounts for three out of every five prisoners. This spatial mismatch is a consequence of political decisions about prison growth. All of the state’s prisons built after 1941 are located at least 100 miles from Chicago, and the average distance between Chicago and a state prison is more than 200 miles.

Where are prison populations in Illinois concentrated? These counties have proportional prison populations that are at least 10 times the state average.
Illinois prison population map

Data: Census 2010

This is the spatial story of Chicago and Illinois. And this story is a racial one as well. While seven out of 10 incarcerated by the state identify as black or Latinx, about 95 percent of the prison population is located in counties that are overwhelmingly white. Of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of prison residents, for example, eight of them had general populations that were at least 85 percent white.

When lawmakers use census counts like these to draw electoral districts without regard for prison gerrymandering, the effects are clear. White votes in downstate Illinois are inflated at the disproportionate expense of folks of color in the Chicago area.

These political decisions don’t just punish individual voters convicted of crime. They punish whole communities, even those innocent of any wrongdoing. Crime victims who disproportionately reside in urban areas are more likely to have their collective political power deflated from diminished voting blocs as a result of prison gerrymandering — adding not only insult to injury but injury to injury.

There’s a simple solution to the problem of prison gerrymandering: Count inmates as residents of their home communities, not their prison cells. But this methodological flaw is unlikely to be corrected prior to the 2020 Census. And no other federal action can be expected at the current political moment. Therefore, the onus is on state and local governments to make change.

In Illinois, there is reason to be hopeful. On Jan. 11, 2017, State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford introduced House Bill 205 — otherwise known as the “No Representation Without Population Act.” It calls for the Illinois Department of Corrections to collect data on inmates’ place of legal residence outside their prison cells, so that population counts and redistricting efforts can be adjusted accordingly.

Our hope is that the legislature adopts this bill or one just like it. The cornerstone of the democratic governance, “one person, one vote,” very well depends on it.

The 10 counties with the highest percentage of incarcerated populations and their racial profile:

Data: Census 2010

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jad
4 days ago
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Rockville, MD
bibliogrrl
4 days ago
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Chicago!
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State Borders

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A schism between the pro-panhandle and anti-panhandle factions eventually led to war, but both sides spent too much time working on their flag designs to actually do much fighting.
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jad
5 days ago
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Rockville, MD
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3 public comments
mxm23
1 day ago
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Give Point Roberts, WA to Canada too. Unconnected peninsula.
San Rafael, CA
satadru
3 days ago
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Let's be honest, that Alaskan border would make a whole lot more sense if we had just taken 54° 40' or Fight in another direction.
New York, NY
Covarr
5 days ago
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Something needs to be done about that giant canadian gap between maine and minnesota.
Moses Lake, WA
stefanetal
5 days ago
3 wars and that gap is still there. And we never got to use War Plan Red, even once the UK stopped plans for this eventuality. And at least one of my ancestors faught on the Canadian side against the Fenian raids. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenian_raids https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Plan_Red

Watch UW's Computer Science Chair Slam Facebook on Las Vegas, Racist Content, and Russia

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"They've got to be able to do better." by Sydney Brownstone

According to Recode, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is in Washington D.C. this week to try and smooth over concerns that the social media company has not taken responsibility for the flourishing of Russian disinformation campaigns and fake news that demonizes Black Lives Matter on its website.

But back in Seattle, at the GeekWire tech summit, University of Washington computer science and engineering chair Ed Lazowska had this to say about Facebook: "Give me a break."

In the interview with GeekWire, Lazowska said that Facebook needs to take responsibility for its problems, then dig in and solve them. "And I just think it's fallacious for them to argue that they don't have a responsibility and that they haven't had influence," he said. "You can't wash your hands of this."

Lazowska expressed concern about Facebook's revenue model, which relies on information it harvests from users and ads. He also cited Facebook ads selling bump stocks days after the Las Vegas shooting as evidence of a continuing problem.

"They've got to be able to do better," he said.

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jad
5 days ago
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sappholopoda: cloudfreed: workfornow: thecringeandwincefactory: lesbianshepard: if an...

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sappholopoda:

cloudfreed:

workfornow:

thecringeandwincefactory:

lesbianshepard:

if an archaeologist says an artifact was probably for “ritual purposes” it means “i have no fuckin clue”

but if they say it was for “fertility rituals” they mean “i know exactly what it was for but i dont want to say ‘ancient dildo’”

Back in the day I worked at a certain very famous and very high caste art museum in the US as a junior curator. Part of my job was to catalog the objects in the museum database. This includes details like provenance, measurements, and a visual description of what the object looked like.

Like I said, the museum was a pretty snotty institution. It’s got a LOT of objects it’s way famous for possessing, but nobody knew about the absolutely massive collection of Moche erotic pottery it had because the curators were totally embarrassed by this stuff.

Some examples:

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Pretty hot shit, right? They never, ever put any of this stuff on public view or published it in any catalogues but - we legit had like several hundred pieces of Moche ceramics in the “dirty pots” category. Anyway, I was left alone to just do my job with regard to the database for several years, ok? And I figured, well, these’re accessioned objects in the museum’s collection - better get down to bidness. 

I catalogued every goddamn bestiality, necrophiliac, cocksucking, buttfucking, detached penis, and giant vulva drinking cup in that collection. I’d be like, 

A drinking vessel in form of a standing man wearing a tunic and cap. He holds an oversized erection in his hands and stares into the distance (note I did not say “like he’s hella-constipated”). The vessel has a hole at both the tip of the penis as well as around the rim of the figure’s head, thus forcing the drinker to drink only from the penis or risk spilling wine all over themselves from the top of the vessel. Red and orange slip covers the surface of the piece.

Pretty straightforward, right? Apparently the deep seated fear of these objects that the curators exhibited was meant to spread to me as well, but - no one ever gave me that memo, because I guess Midwesterners reproduce asexually. When the curators understood that I had catalogued all of these objects in addition to the other, non-sexy pieces in the collection, they were apparently livid, but knew they had no legs to stand on in terms of getting pissed at me for it. 

I visited the museum’s online public access database a few years back and - every single description I wrote of these pieces has been totally neutered to say something like Male figural vase

Long story short? Just call a dildo a fucking dildo. It’s all gonna be ok, I swear.

This is absolutely the MOST unusual reblog I have ever tagged with what is probably my second-favorite tag, “talk to me about your work.”

Plus it’s hilarious.

I love ancient art history !!!!!

@lowercasetrashwriter

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jad
7 days ago
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Rockville, MD
bibliogrrl
7 days ago
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Chicago!
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fxer
6 days ago
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love the holes in the headgear so you have to drink from the penis, they didn't even bother inventing the wheel, this was more important
Bend, Oregon
jhamill
6 days ago
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Puritan society scared of old pottery because sex is bad, mkay?
California
MotherHydra
6 days ago
Those naughty pre-Columbians too.
jhamill
6 days ago
Pretty sure everyone before the Puritans were a little naughty.
MotherHydra
6 days ago
This reminds me of the Confederados, mostly white Southern folks that left the United States for Brazil after the Civil War. Imagine their shock at folks that show ankles and *GASP* don't wear hats. Also the earliest mention of a g-string, insomuch as my history explorations go.
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