Wednesday 30 April 2008

Election News: Obama vs Wright

More trouble for Obama's campaign in the shape of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The controversies surrounding Wright's vocal beliefs and his historic connections to Obama have already flared up on this campaign, but now they're dominating all coverage of the race. See the New York Times, Salon's analysis of "The Democrats' God Problem", and The Root's profile of Wright. Below, video of Wright's appearance at the National Press Club yesterday and Obama's recent criticism of his former pastor.

Monday 28 April 2008

News: Wesley Snipes and Nuwaubianism

The actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to 3 years in prison last week for tax evasion. It is said that Snipes claimed to have $8,824 in his bank account despite having assets of at least $25m; during the three years he filed no tax return, Snipes earned an alleged $13.8m, which would have made him liable for $2.7m in taxes.

Newsworthy in itself, the story has an even more intriguing side. It is widely claimed that the Hollywood star of Blade is associated with the Nuwaubians, said to be an arcane, quasi-religious, anti-government, anti-taxation sect. Is Snipes a Nuwaubian “tax-resister”?

More importantly, who are the Nuwaubians? This little-known organization, headed by Malachi Z. York, is said to have its origins in a black muslim movement back in the 1970s. Over time they have assimilated a dazzling range of (loosely) New Age beliefs and ceremonial imagery derived from ancient Egypt. According to the Nuwaubians, they are able to reach truth through the science of “Sound Right Reasoning,” a sort of linguistic mysticism.

According to the New York Times (14 January 2008), back in 2000, “Mr. Snipes sought a federal permit for a military training compound on land next to the Nuwaubian camp; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rejected the request.” The alleged land deal has been the basis of attempts to link Snipes to the Nuwaubians since. Could the alleged association be the basis of Snipes’ tax troubles?

Any quick dip into the subject pulls up a bunch of interesting allegations. Widely-circulated assertions attributed to leading US tax specialist JJ McNab claim to link the Nuwaubians to a wider, loosely associated tax resistance movement in America, and seem to imply that the cult learnt tax-dodging techniques from a Montana-based anti-government movement. For their own part, the Nuwaubians hotly deny being anti-government or promoting tax-resistance at all, and insist that they are law-abiding - see their own site, here, or this repudiation:

Whatever the truth about the more bizarre end of this debacle, Snipes’ legal team successfully defended him against the most serious charges brought against him, including fraud and conspiracy, and he was eventually convicted on the lesser charge of failure to file a tax return. However, probably reflecting the opinion of prosecutors that he was a "notorious" and "inveterate" offender Snipes was given the maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.

Research Seminars: Sarah Churchwell

After last month's postponement, this week's research seminar will feature Sarah Churchwell who will be presenting the paper: '"What's the big idea?": Re-Reading Screwball Comedy.'

Wednesday 30th April, 4.30pm, A2.51. All welcome.

Plus: in advance of the paper, there will be a screening of a screwball comedy tonight (Monday 28th April). 3pm, A2.86. All welcome.

Transitions: Student Opinions Wanted

AMS is currently undertaking a project to investigate the skills and expectations students bring with them to university. The research for this project is funded by a prestigious UEA Teaching fellowship and aims to investigate ways in which we can adapt and build on our existing study skills provision to make the transition from sixth form, college, or Access course as stress free as possible.

We are looking for students to participate in an approximately 1 hour long informal small group discussion to let us know about their experiences moving from sixth form, college or Access courses to degree level study and to suggest ways in which we could make this transition even smother. Tea and coffee will be provided!

Please contact Sarah Garland ( if you would like to participate.

Thursday 24 April 2008

News: Gone With the Wind Musical Opens

On paper, it would seem like an easy sell. At a time when musicals are experiencing a popular renaissance on prime time television, how could an adaptation of one of the bestselling novels and biggest grossing films of all time fail? Given that Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind has long supported a veritable industry of commerical spin offs, surely there's room for one more? And yet, it looks like the latest attempt to put the novel on the stage might not be open for long. Yesterday was press night for the Trevor Nunn directed adaptation, written and composed by first-timer Margaret Martin. The reviews are in, and they're not pretty. Worse, they're dragging out the puns :

Election News: The Race Goes On

So Hillary Clinton won by a large enough margin in Pennsylvania for the Democratic nomination race to continue. What's next? And what's the internet saying about it?

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Election News: Crunch Time in Pennsylvania

As Pennsylvanians head to the polls, Andy Rudalevige offers his insights into the ongoing race to the White House:

Some thoughts on a “Bitter”-ly Fought Pennsylvania Primary

Today Pennsylvania Democrats finally go to the polls. Pennsylvania, whose frequently dysfunctional state government failed to agree on how to join the February primary frontloading bandwagon, has benefited greatly from this failure – it became not less important to the process but far more. For six weeks the candidates have criss-crossed the state’s diverse topography and demography, dropping millions of dollars (almost $10 million by Obama on TV ads alone) along the way.

It has not been a pretty sight. Indeed, ABC News’ campaign blog, The Note, concludes that “History will record that the Democratic primary campaign descended into full pander-a-thon mode somewhere in Pennsylvania” – centered mainly on the notion of “authenticity,” with the candidates trading shots of whiskey and beer chasers at various rural taverns that they would, in “real life,” avoid like the plague. Does Hillary Clinton – whose family, tax returns reveal, has earned $109 million since President Clinton left office - really spend her free time in a bar? Could Barack Obama really have managed to avoid bowling alleys his whole life? (It would appear so. But at least he drinks Yuengling, the pride of central Pennsylvania.) In any case there has been serious pandering on the issues too, especially around the issue of free trade. As in neighbouring Ohio, each candidate has kept up attacks on trade pacts such as NAFTA; Senator Clinton now says President Clinton was wrong to sign it.

Against this background, Senator Obama, in a clumsy (at best, clumsily worded) effort at sociological analysis, suggested – in San Francisco, of all places – that small town white Americans were “bitter” about their economic prospects and the broken promises of successive presidents, not least the Clinton administration, to repair them. He suggested that as a result they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” The point, he later sought to clarify, was that such voters often respond to divisive social policies; but the result has been to give his opponents – who by now certainly include GOP nominee-in-waiting John McCain – another brush with which to paint him as elitist and out of touch. From the tone of the ABC News debate last week in Philadelphia, the media will be very happy to avoid questions of substance when given the chance. (Of course, the Clinton campaign would suggest that Obama’s record on substance is weak too, as her most recent ads make clear. See here.)

The most recent polls (here and here) show Clinton with a six point lead or so, just outside the margin of error. The polls vary in how many undecided voters remain – from six to fourteen percent of likely voters, larger in some regions. This could matter a lot. So will the spin of the outcome – how large a margin does Clinton need to “win”? The UK press reports without comment that it must be 10 points or more (see here, for example), but this is assertion, not fact. It is true, though, that a close race overall probably suggests a very small net gain in delegates for Clinton – since, as in other states, delegates are awarded by Congressional district, not by the statewide vote total. So it is possible that huge Obama wins in southeastern Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and its suburbs) could net him half the overall delegates available. If so, as in her quasi-win in Texas, the Clinton victory will do little to change the underlying math of the race.

And yet another poll - this time a national one - suggests that math is getting harder for Sen. Clinton. She needs her party’s superdelegates to decide she is the most electable Democrat in November. Hence her campaign’s constant rhetorical stress on her victories in “swing states” – as if the Democratic primaries in those states were useful in foreshadowing how a Democratic candidate would do against a Republican candidate given a wholly different election and electorate. Yet this poll’s results suggested this message has not taken hold: by a bizarrely-huge 62% to 31% margin respondents picked Obama as the stronger candidate against John McCain. Senator Clinton has been hurt by broadening perceptions of her campaign’s negativity. Only 39 percent of respondents in the Post/ABC poll viewed her as “honest and trustworthy,” meaning that she must surmount a high foundation of scepticism in her statements and attacks. While 63 percent of Democrats respond affirmatively, only 39 percent of independents and a tiny fraction of Republicans (16 percent) do so. There is a gender gap here, as might be expected, but the problem is not limited to men – 53 percent of women doubt her sincerity too. Full poll data, with historical baselines for the same questions, can be found here.

Monday 21 April 2008

Research Seminars: Melissa Burrage

At this week's research seminar, Melissa Burrage from the UEA will be talking about: "From Hon' to Hun: The impact of WW1 on German-American and Brahmin Relations in Boston."

Wednesday 23 April, 4pm, A2.51. All welcome.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

News: Capital Punishment Moratorium Ends

In November last year, we reported on the capital punishment moratorium in America. Now, AMS student Kirsty Callaghan reports on recent updates in the case:

In a 7-2 decision, the US Supreme Court has ruled today to continue allowing the use of the three-drug protocol in the execution of prisoners. The case, put to the Court in autumn 2007, was based on the claim that the combination of three drugs administered to prisoners was in violation of their Eighth Amendment rights, protecting against “cruel and unusual punishments”. The ruling ends the moratorium on executions in place since the case was put to the Court and executions can now proceed in the 35 states which use capital punishment. However, Justice John Paul Stevens, whilst concurring with the majority, wrote that he saw the ruling not as the end, but as the beginning of a debate on the use of what he views as a punishment in need of proper examination and deliberation.

More information about the ruling can be found here, here and here.

Research: Website of the Week: Documenting the American South

In the latest instalment of an ongoing series, this week's featured on-line research aid is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's excellent Documenting the American South. Still in development, this site already provides digitised versions of an extraordinary wealth of texts crucial to the development of the American South - primarily, but not exclusively, literary texts. They run chronologically from colonial times (John Smith or William Byrd, for example) up until the edge of copyright in the early twentieth century (Ellen Glasgow or James Branch Cabell, for example). Essential for all of those working or interested in the history of the South.

Monday 14 April 2008

Research Seminars: John Coyle

At this week's Research Seminar, John Coyle from the University of Glasgow will be talking about: "Ravelstein's Keys: Bellow, Bloom and the Epistemology of the Closet.

Wednesday 16 April, 4pm, A2.51. All welcome.

News: Welcome Back

As a welcome back to everyone in AMS, and to inaugurate a new season of American Studies blogging, here's a quick round-up of stories that might be of interest to you and yours:
Anything here catch your attention? Any other stories that you think are worthy of mention? As ever, feel free to leave a comment.