The Assault on New and Alternative Media

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“Typing computer screen reflection” by Almonroth

-By Eric Scott Pickard

The Internet has been often likened to the printing press; a new technology that revolutionized communication and the freedom of information. But like the printing press, the Internet has also been the target of restrictions by those in the halls of power, who see freedom of information as a threat to their positions of privilege.

Why is this, exactly? What could possibly be the harm in having an informed populace? The danger, of course, is that people can find out what the agendas of their leaders are – and they, throughout history, have very seldom been aligned with the interests of those who are ostensibly lead.

In recent years there have been many attempts to restrict a free and open internet. Often framed as copyright protection laws, these plans would limit the options of internet users the world over and place control in the hands of corporate entities. There is also the issue of privacy, as government agencies monitor and collect communications, ostensibly in the interest of “national security,” and corporate groups gather data in order to sell advertising, and thus products. These are serious, dire issues, issues that we must have a continuing conversation about, and practices that we should resist. But this is not my current subject of concern.

My concern here is the freedom of the press. Lauded in the United States as something that is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of that country, freedom of the press I see, rather, as a basic human right. It is a basic facet of humanity that we possess language, and we communicate complex ideas via this natural capacity for communication. The limitation thereof, it almost always seems, is in the interest of the powerful, and indeed the powerful have always imposed these limitations, even on to the modern day.

Recently, we saw alternative media outlets being shut down in France in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as a crackdown on protest during the climate summit. Additionally, we have this piece discussing a planned Israeli deal with internet giant Google (and their subsidiary YouTube) to censor information coming out of occupied Palestine.

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ISIS or Frat Boys: The Case of Youngstown State University

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(Photo Credit, Emily Wire, Youngstown OH)

Youngstown State University students at the college’s campus in Youngstown, Ohio went to class Monday morning to find their collegiate signpost, “The Rock,” covered in pro-D’aesh propaganda, featuring slogans such as “France Deserves Destruction,” “YSU Supports ISIS” and “We’re Coming.”

Full disclosure: I go to this university. My wife and partner recently graduated from this university. I was born in a hospital that is roughly two miles away from this university, and I grew up (and currently live) in a house four miles away from this university on the South Side of Youngstown. So, perhaps, I am choosing to write an opinion piece on this issue rather than hard news, simply because I am so close to it. Bear with me.

First, “The Rock.” This is one of those college traditions. We live in a glacial area, and YSU is an engineering and geology school primarily; this was a chunk of erratic rock dredged up somewhere in the Mahoning Valley and deposited on campus, and generations of YSU students have been painting it ever since. It is painted for sports rivalries, it is painted for big campus events, it is painted for student union elections and homecoming elections and yes, it is painted by various student groups for holidays and activist purposes. I anecdotally was told by one professor that the thing is roughly twice the size it once was due to the layers of paint, and once I took a pocket knife into this monument and I can tell you, the paint runs deep. So, that’s the “Rock” of YSU.

Monday morning, students came to campus to find “The Rock” painted in the colors of the French flag and covered in pro-ISIS propaganda. This came after a bomb threat to the university the previous Friday, so tensions were running high indeed. Immediately, local news sources swarmed the area, and the story went on to outlets such as Fox News. As I write, I’m sure the vultures are gathering around, looking to make a story out of this… Hell, I am myself.

Perhaps the best response to this I saw on social media, among locals, was that this was likely done by some kids looking to get out of class. The Thanksgiving break and it’s classic workload is looming, and students are tired of being in class. This was, almost certainly, a frat boy “prank,” some misguided youths looking to get a rise out of people… and they have, certainly. Here’s a gem of a comment from a user of the website of the local paper of record, the Vindicator, a depository of people who just barely made it through their journalism classes:

“Here’s an idea; paint the rock over and station sharpshooters on top of Kilcawley. Then, when the heathen brown-skinned ragheads come back, we simply shoot ’em”

“Kilcawley” being the campus building directly next to the rock in question. Lovely. Here’s another:

Covering over the pro-ISIS rhetoric with WHITE paint. How very appropriate!!!”

I should note that my hometown isn’t filled with white supremacists. Really,we are a pluralistic community. YSU is a multi-cultural campus with many people of color, including a large Muslim student population. I do fear that some of the more reactionary members of our community – who are, as they ever are, very vocal – will misguidedly blame our Muslim friends for this idiocy, but we will see what becomes of that in the coming days. Take another random comment from a local:

Ummm…I thought Hussein said that “ISIS” was “contained?” Apparently he meant that the campus at YSU “contained” ISIS terrorists! And of course he wants to take in Syrian reinforcements…oops, I mean refugees! C’mon man….these muslim terrorists are obviously here, among us, and the guy who claims to be the C.I.C. wants to bring in more?”

“Hussein,” here, clearly a reference to the middle name of President Obama, a man known mostly for winning a Nobel Peace Prize and dropping bombs on Muslim children. How this man could possibly be a coordinator of some Muslim invasion is beyond the comprehension of any sane person, but the comment does serve to stoke my concern for my Muslim neighbors and friends in this current climate.

The university did indeed begin releasing text alerts about this issue, starting at 11:14 am EST. I know, I got one. I won’t go forth and list a great many of these, but here is the latest official release from the university, created for the press:

“Messages were found painted on the rock on the Youngstown State University campus core on Monday, Nov. 23, that were found to be of concern. YSU Police are investigating the situation. The FBI was contacted as a precautionary measure. No threats have been validated at this time. Police are continuing to look into the matter. There is no credible threat to the campus at this time.”

I have indeed heard that the local FBI were out in force today, and that they are investigating the matter. They certainly are going to be pulling surveillance tapes of the campus, and I imagine that even as I type this, there is some frat boy getting shoved to the floor, his beer bong spilling all over the shag carpet of the half-falling down house on the North Side of town that his parents are paying his share of the rent for.
Campus maintenance later sprayed the “Rock” white, and a group of students banded together to paint an American flag and various patriotic slogans on it. A number of Muslim and Arab students were present as well, with one, Mohamed Mishmish, writing “peace” in Arabic and English on the rock.

YSU01.jpg(Photo Credit – Joe Bethuy, Youngstown OH)

Several local student veterans took their pictures with patriotic signs in front of this display, and kudos to them – honestly. We have a great veteran group on campus and I greatly respect their ordeal and service. And I admire the sentiment, though a French flag would perhaps have been more appropriate, given the context. But we shouldn’t lose sight of one thing, and that is this: this was some group of assholes, trying to take advantage of a horrible event for their own ends, in this case, getting out of class.

Sounds pretty similar to world governments, taking advantage of a terrible tragedy, for their own ends… doesn’t it?

From The Soil to the Sky: Thoughts on “Symphony of the Soil”

The soil, the raw Earth, the meat of our world that lays atop the bones… here is the vitality that underlays all life.
I recently watched the documentary “The Symphony of Soil” which I will further embed below because it so impressed on me once again the importance – and the mystifying complexity – of the ground beneath our feet.

 

Soils formed in a hundred different ways, all with their own chemical composition, and all with their own life. One facet of our massively complicated global ecosystem, each tiny portion so intimately vital to the other. Mycelial networks stretching hundreds of miles, bumping into other networks, forming this intricate dance like a natural Internet, the first Internet, transmitting details of weather patterns and other ecological “news” all through their spread. It is an overwhelming idea, a transcendent, beautiful idea –
And our system of global agriculture and capital is destroying it.

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The Thread of History – Reactions to Paris

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-By Eric Scott Pickard

I reacted to the recent attacks in Paris like most of the world; with horror, with sadness, and with anger. At the time of the attacks, I was already feeling very maudlin. I was watching a documentary series on the history of the United States, and there was France, Omaha Beach, soaked in blood.

There was the Holocaust.

There was the bomb, and the architect of its destructive terror, Oppenheimer, the man who so loved literature and poetry, quoting the Bhagavad Gita – “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” I thought then about how the tread of history is so tenuous, and how we are balanced on its rickety edge. How many tiny things could have been done to prevent Hitler’s rise to power? If the Treaty of Versailles had been based on lifting up all of Europe, rather than punishing Germany, how would things have played out? If some art teacher had admitted a young Hitler into art school, would he have spent his life in obscurity? What about Munich? What about, what about, what about, over and over again. If one thing seemed apparent to me then, it was that in the course of human history, we have stumbled so many times. We have been wrong, so many times, or rather, those who lead us, who lead the apparatus, what author Mark Corske calls the Engine of Domination, have been wrong so many times. As I thought these things, ruminating, there was Paris.

I spent that night watching the body count roll in. I spent the next several days absorbing the developments and reading the opinion pieces and the social media posts, ranging from lucid and complex thoughts on foreign policy to the reactionary rants of racists and fools. But my mind just kept going to back to the thread of history.

Not Just Paris, but the World.

We must remember that just the day before there was another horrid attack in Beirut, ostensibly conducted by actors of the same organization, the Islamic State. Further, vicious assaults on the innocent were conducted in Africa, in Southeast Asia, and of course, Palestine. None of these attacks received anywhere near as much international media attention. In fact, attacks all over the world in the last years have barely been covered. Domestic attacks in the United States, mass shootings, happen with such shocking regularity that are hardly even worth a mention on the evening news, and turmoil across the Middle East is so routine that the worst of the atrocities go unnoticed by the West. The world, it seems, is rent in fire and blood. Orwell has gone from being a writer and social critic to being a prophet; war is indeed now the new peace. This is the context in which we find ourselves.

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