XyberTimes

Curious Bits From a Curious World

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The US, Race, and Soviet Propaganda

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There will be a major spoiler for an 80 year old movie.

Circus (Tsirk) is a musical comedy produced in the Soviet Union and released to audiences in 1936. It was colorized in 2011 and is currently available on the Amazon video service. To this day it remains a well regarded film, first with the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation as well as wider audiences. The story follows an American vaudeville performer, Marion Dixon, who uses a cannon during her routine touring Moscow with her German manager. It turns into an extended tour as the local director wants to produce a similar act for the Soviet Union and Marion falls in love with a Russian engineer.

Throughout the film there are references to a terrible secret that Marion holds. This secret is responsible for Marion’s international touring as she feels she cannot return to the United States because of it. In turn her manager is shown to use this secret as leverage in an attempt to keep her in line. There are a number of song and dance routines, some romantic tension and lightheartedness and then the big reveal. Marion’s manager not happy with losing control of his meal ticket decides to tell everyone in attendance at her performance her dirty little secret… she has a black baby. The Soviets in attendance respond at first with absolute bafflement, “So what?”, they say. They cannot understand why this German or anyone else should care what race this child is and begin to ridicule this buffoon before an extended lullaby segment where the breadth of Soviet Union ethnicities are displayed.

One of the Soviet Union’s favorite avenues for criticism of the United States was race. Whenever the US was attempting to bring international pressure against the USSR on the basis of human rights, among other things, the USSR would shoot back, “Who are they to criticize us? Do you see how they treat the blacks or the asians? These things don’t happen under communism, we are all brothers.” To them it was just further validation for the vilification of the corrupt capitalist system that allows for a few to keep down so many. While the Soviet Union was producing Circus this is what the US was up to via American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960:

1930

The Hays Code prohibits depictions of miscegenation in Hollywood films. (Brown and Stentiford, 533)

Nation of Islam founded in Detroit, Michigan. (Brown and Stentiford, 566)

Mississippi – Education [State Code]
Required schools to be racially segregated, and the creation of separate districts to provide school facilities for the greatest number of pupils of both races. In addition, authorized the establishment of separate schools for Native Americans. (Jim Crow History.org)

Mississippi – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a felony. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited marriages between persons of the Caucasian race and those persons who had one eighth of more Asian blood. (Jim Crow History.org)

1931

Georgia – Public carriers [Statute]
Motor common carriers could confine themselves to carry either white or colored passengers. (Jim Crow History.org)

Scottsboro Boys trial. (Gilmore, 118)

1932

Third International Conference on Eugenics. (Brown and Stentiford, 530)

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment lasts from 1932 to 1972. (Brown and Stentiford, 307)

First use of “racist” as a noun in the English language. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected president. His promise of a New Deal and a “Black Cabinet” in 1933 attracts many negro voters to the Democratic Party. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

Louisiana – Miscegenation [State Code]
Outlawed interracial marriages. Nullified interracial marriages if parties went to another jurisdiction where such marriages were legal. Also prohibited Negroes and Indians to marry each other. (Jim Crow History.org)

Louisiana – Residential [State Code]
No person or corporation shall rent an apartment in an apartment house or other like structure to a person who is not of the same race as the other occupants. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Public accommodations [Statute]
All circuses and tent show must provide separate entrances for white and black customers. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Education [State Code]
Required racially segregated schools. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Miscegenation [State Code]
Miscegenation declared a misdemeanor. Also forbid marriages between persons of the Caucasian and Asian races. (Jim Crow History.org)

1933-1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration

1933

Georgia – Education [State Code]
The board of education was responsible to provide instruction of black and white children in separate schools. (Jim Crow History.org)

NAACP begins its legal campaign to desegregate education. (Gilmore, 2)

Negroes launch the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” economic campaign. (Brown and Stentiford, 246)

The act which establishes the Civilian Conservation Corps forbids discrimination on the basis of race. (Brown and Stentiford, 162)

1934

Louisiana repeals its poll tax. (Brown and Stentiford, 632)

Indian Reorganization Act overturns the Dawes Act. (Brown and Stentiford, 209)

Tydings-McDuffie Act promises independence to the Philippines, strips Filipinos of citizenship, and caps immigration at 50 per year. (Nugent, 273)

The Nation of Islam comes under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress. (Brown and Stentiford, 196)

1935-1950

A domestic ideal of racial tolerance, necessitated by the demands of fighting fascism, becomes the “American way.” (Gilmore, 3)

1935

Arkansas – Public accommodations [Statute]
All race tracks and gaming establishments were to be segregated. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Miscegenation [State Code]
Illegal for a white to marry anyone but a white. Penalty:Felony, one to two years imprisonment. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Health Care [State Code]
Separate mental hospitals to be established for blacks. (Jim Crow History.org)

Georgia – Public Carriers [Statute]
Required segregation on all public transportation. (Jim Crow History.org)

South Carolina – Education [Statute]
Required school bus drivers to be of the same race as the children they transported. (Jim Crow History.org)

Texas – Health Care [Statute]
Established a state tuberculosis sanitarium for blacks. (Jim Crow History.org)

Texas – Public carriers [State Code]
Directed that separate coaches for whites and blacks on all common carriers. (Jim Crow History.org)

Delaware state law requires racial segregation in public education. (Brown and Stentiford, 105)

A repatriation act is passed that pays Filipinos their passage back home on condition they never return. (Nugent, 273)

Ethiopia, the last African nation under native rule, is attacked by Italy. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

The National Council of Negro Women is formed. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

W.E.B. Du Bois publishes Black Reconstruction, a book that reinterpreted Reconstruction to highlight the gains that came about for negroes. (Brown and Stentiford, 251)

Segregation of CCC camps. (Brown and Stentiford, 162)

Costigan-Wagner federal anti-lynching bill defeated by Southern opposition in Congress. (Brown and Stentiford, 196)

1936

Pearson v. Murray, Maryland Supreme Court orders the University of Maryland Law School to admit negro students. (Brown and Stentiford, 112)

Opening prayer at the Democratic National Convention delivered by a negro. (Roberts and Klibanoff, 26)

Samuel Dickstein’s (Jew) House of Un-American Activities Committee becomes a permanent feature of Congress. (Gilmore, 171)

First use of “racism” in the English language (from the French term, “racisme,” in 1935). (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Berlin. (Brown and Stentiford, xxvi)

via American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960

I bring up an eighty year old movie because as I take a look at events in the world and at home I see the US losing it’s moral high ground. We could debate all day as to whether or not it ever truly had it, but there was a time when United States strove to do better. A time when we as Americans could say things aren’t perfect but we’re working on it and they’re getting better. These days there are so many unwilling to accept the realities of life in this country for so many others that there will come a moment sooner rather than later when all of those negative factors amassing around the globe will force a decision upon them. Do they want to lead the world in doing what’s right or would they rather follow along that long path to damnation.

Further Reading:

African Americans – Racial reform and cold war ideology

Did the Soviet union ever take advantage of the racial tensions in cold war america? particularly with blacks in the south?

Circus (1936 film)

Why was there so much racial inequality in the USA between 1929 and 1945?

African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on

American Racial History Timeline, 1900-1960

Race Relations in the 1930s and ’40s

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Hollywood’s Ghost In the Shell and Personal Identity

Ghost_in_the_Shell_1995_logo

In no way do I intend this piece as a defense of Hollywood or its myriad disappointing practices.

Since Scarlett Johansson was announced to play the lead in the Hollywood adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell (GIS) series there has been no end to the criticism by individuals who believe that the character of Major Motoko Kusanagi should be played by a Japanese actress or at least an Asian actress. While the “whitewashing” of popular media is a serious problem I think that decrying the casting of GIS is ignoring the larger philosophical underpinnings of the series. For instance, the titular “ghost in the shell” refers to human consciousness within technological constructs. This in turn leads to greater questions seeking to define what exactly it means to be human.

Those calling for a casting change should know that in GIS, Major Kusanagi does not have a biological body. She received a full prosthetic body when she was extremely young, how young depends on the particular story you are referencing but they all have her as several years preteen when her consciousness is first transferred to a prosthetic body. She has a 100% cybernetic body, a state of being that is extremely rare in the GIS world. Ignoring for the time being that we are dealing with a fictional character, what is the nationality or ethnicity of a manufactured body? In a world where consciousness can be transferred from body to body how much of an individual’s personal identity is connected to their physical appearance? Perhaps physical identity becomes a completely separate aspect from overall being once people can simply change a body whenever they need or want to.

Nationality is the easier of the concepts to define and attach to an individual. At its core nationality is just a matter of belonging to a particular nation. No conscious effort has to be taken and so inanimate objects can have a set nationality as well as animals let alone people. If you consider prosthetic bodies purely as manufactured trade goods, then there is no philosophical conflict. Nations routinely produce trade goods and many of those are restricted products due to various intellectual property concerns. Wandering into the realm of intellectual properties (IPs) things begin to get complex. Even in our current state there is a lot of discussion regard the nature of IPs. Copyright laws are already Gordian Knots attempting to spell out who owns what in regards to IPs. Now imagine adding the extra layer of having those IPs be the residence of a separate intellect. Let’s say that a Japanese citizen is in a horrendous accident and has to have their consciousness transferred into a prosthetic body. Most people would agree that this individual is still Japanese, that’s not the real issue. Let’s say that a Japanese citizen is in a horrendous accident in France and has to have a consciousness transfer. The doctors perform the transfer with the prosthesis they have on hand and once the Japanese citizen is healthy they attempt to return to Japan. Here we have a problem. The prosthesis that the French doctors provided to the Japanese citizen are restricted trade goods. When our Japanese friend’s consciousness was transferred to this body did it then become Japanese through presence? Since the body would be an integral part of this individuals continued life, common sense should dictate that the nationality would transfer from sentience to the current body. Corporate and international laws have very little in the way of common sense so situations like this would be a matter of real consideration in a world where individuals aren’t locked to any one body.

All things considered, nationality is a fairly simple concept to sort out. Nationality is at its core just a matter of lines on a map. Ethnicity is a completely different matter and here is where I think the more important questions surface. Ethnicity means belonging to a particular social group based on a shared cultural tradition. This is how a person could, for example, be a British national but ethnic Chinese. This matters because in this world of everyday cyborgs and impermanent physicality new ethnicities are being created. Obviously a person whose had cybernetic augmentation is going to have a different life experience from someone who has not. Even within a family the differences could be extreme. Imagine how differently your day to day life might be if you had a relatively simple cybernetic augmentation like one that would let you see in the dark. On the surface it seems like a pretty innocuous thing, but really think about how many lights you have to turn on during the course of a twenty-four hour period and how much you can’t do in the dark. So would someone who could see in the dark share the same cultural experiences as someone who couldn’t? What if they had a more advanced augmentation, maybe one that let them interface with computers directly? A pure flesh and blood human would not fair as well in an office environment working with people that didn’t need to use keyboards and monitors to get things done. This would lead to an even greater cultural rift and the list goes on. People like to think of ethnicity as a static ideal but it’s actual a fluid and relative concept. Ethnicity is all about differentiation, reds and blues, us and them.

In the GIS future the augmented humans are an ethnicity unto themselves and within that group there are even more divisions. Ghost in the Shell is all about attempting to define what is human. Is humanity a matter of appearance? Perhaps being human comes down to one’s actions instead. How about belief, is believing that you are human enough to make it so? When it comes to Hollywood’s new Ghost in the Shell movie, the question isn’t why is a Caucasian actress playing the role of Major Kusanagi. The real questions are, is Major Kusanagi Japanese? Is she human? That is where the spirit of Ghost in the Shell shines.

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Pioneer One Proves That Small Budgets Can Do Big Things

Pioneer One

Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama
Director: Bracey Smith
Year: 2010, Six Episodes
Unofficial Tagline: No, it’s weirder than that.
Would Own: Yes

A mysterious crash spreads radiation across the Montana-Canadian border. A bedraggled group of Homeland Security agents are dispatched to investigate a possible terrorist action. What they find may rewrite human history. Pioneer One is classic Sci-Fi storytelling, the kind of production that seems to only be capable on the small scale these days.

Pioneer One was a crowdfunded web series. The episodes were produced as funding was received. I remember watching their website week to week watching the funding progress until the next episode. It was money well spent. The pilot and subsequent three episodes were filmed for about $26,000. Overall the production took in about $100,000 in funding. Compare that to the $500,000 minimum of your run of the mill network drama, and the feat becomes that much more impressive. The care that everyone took in this project is apparent in each episode. You’re never left feeling as though someone was just phoning it in or not giving it their all. In this series you have actual actors practicing their craft for your benefit as the mystery unfolds bit by bit.

There are no obnoxious explosion sequences, running gun battles, or car chases. Pioneer One is nonetheless a triumph of small budget story telling through compelling characters and an engrossing mystery. The cast and crew have managed an amazing thing, and I for one would love to see them in other projects. The creators have released the entire series for free on YouTube so you really have no excuse for missing out. At the very least, do yourself a favor and watch the first episode/pilot.

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Predestination acknowledges the paradox and plays it to great effect

predestination-film

Genre: Sci-fi, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Michael and Peter Spierig
Year: 2014
Most Notable Feature: It’s commitment to the paradox
Would Own: Yes

Predestination is the story of a Temporal Agent, Ethan Hawk, as he attempts to take down a time jumping terrorist for his final assignment.

On the surface this movie has all of the elements needed for dry mediocrity. Time travel is nothing new, nor is the retiring protagonist with a villain only they can stop. The Spierig brothers take these tired elements and do something special with them. If you are a fan of Daybreakers, the 2009 film directed by the brothers, then you will not be disappointed by their work on this project. In the same way they took tired vampire tropes and cobbled them into a coherent world the Spierigs take the paradox and run with it.

There are several temporal paradox theories. In time travel movies the two that are most evident are the predestination and grandfather paradoxes. With the predestination paradox, the event that happens is caused by the time traveler’s actions in the past. With a grandfather paradox the time traveler prevents an event from happening which removes the need for anyone to prevent the event which in turn means the event occurs. For Predestination the Spierig brothers take the idea of the paradox and use it to tell a gripping story about a man, a woman, destiny and fate. Like any time travel tale there arise a few questions without clear answers, but they are smoothed over by gripping storytelling. If you’re a fan of time travel or just good movies make sure you don’t miss out on this gem.

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Rubber – Greatest movie (possibly) ever

The movie Rubber, is the greatest movie I’ve seen in a very long time. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s a movie about a murderous tire, yes a tire as in from your car. Somehow the filmmakers pulled it off, they managed to instill the proper amount of comedy, suspense and depth. To me, the primary purpose of a movie is to entertain, and in that regard Rubber succeeds magnificently. Watch this movie you will not regret it.