Friday, November 09, 2007

If this does not scare the crap out of you and prove we have lost our freedoms whenever "they" decide we have, I don't know what will.

The price of fear over freedom. We get the government we deserve.

Security, liberties clash in 'Strange Culture'

An artist's plight in the face of the War on Terror sounds the alarm for Americans to ponder the curtailment of freedom of expression.

By Carina Chocano Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 9, 2007

The conflict between policies that support national security and those that protect civil liberties are embodied in the bizarre, terrifying story of Steve Kurtz, an artist, activist and State University of New York at Buffalo professor for whom a personal tragedy led to a Kafkaesque nightmare courtesy of the War on Terror.

On May 11, 2004, Kurtz was days away from shipping his latest installation to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art when his wife and collaborator, Hope, died in her sleep of heart failure at age 45. A distraught Kurtz called 911, but when police found petri dishes of bacteria in his apartment, they alerted the FBI, which had a field day with the tin foil on the windows (to block out the light for daytime sleeping) and an invitation to an art show that contained "Arabic writing."

Kurtz was removed from his home, his cat was locked in the attic for days without food or water, and agents in hazmat suits trashed the place like fraternity brothers on a bender. His wife's body was flown around the country and subjected to several autopsies, and although it was found that she died of natural causes unrelated to the harmless bacteria Kurtz had purchased on the Internet, Kurtz was labeled a "bio-terrorist" as the government strained to come up with criminal charges.

Eventually, Kurtz and his collaborator, Robert Ferrell, a genetics professor at the University of Pittsburgh, were charged with federal mail and wire fraud, civil charges that the government was able to pursue as criminal under the Justice Department's expanded powers over American citizens.

Lynn Hershman-Leeson made and released "Strange Culture" before Kurtz's case went to trial, and the film is as much a rally for attention to Kurtz's plight as it is a sounded alarm for Americans to ponder the severe curtailment of freedom of expression and information by the government in the name of security. Among the dangers the film warns us about are the ways in which the umbrella of national security can be used to promote other agendas, particularly corporate and government interests that are sometimes challenged by artists, activists and other citizens.

Kurtz, a founding member of a collective called the Critical Art Ensemble, had for years worked on exhibits aimed at educating Americans on the political, scientific and economic realities of the genetic modification of foods -- something that affects all Americans but that few of them know very much about -- and attempts by corporations to patent and control life forms. What's chilling about the case is that government officials persevered in the face of no evidence of criminal behavior because his work was inconvenient.

Because Kurtz's case has not yet gone to trial and he is forbidden to discuss the facts of the case, the part of Kurtz is played by an actor, Thomas Jay Ryan. Tilda Swinton plays Hope, Josh Kornbluth plays a colleague of Kurtz's who is denied tenure because of his political views and Peter Coyote speaks for Ferrell, who in the course of the case suffered a stroke. Swinton and Coyote also discuss their views, as themselves, regarding how the expansion of the Justice Department's powers under the Patriot Act threatens to gag American freedom of expression. In one chilling scene, Kurtz's students refuse to sign a petition supporting him for fear that they'll end up on a government list and see their careers thwarted. As sad as it is to realize that youth activism in this country is dead, it's sadder still to find yourself agreeing that they have a point. Just look at what happened to Kurtz.

"Strange Culture." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. In limited release.

The original review/article is here:,0,1989258.story

Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund ......

And: Where oh where the fuck is the obnoxious, lazy, asshole mainstream media (especially broadcast) on this one? Those corporate ass-kissing, lazy, faux-journalist, dollar-fuckers. If you still aren't convinced, we are on the fascist speed boat to hell. It's our turn to rot there the same way we have condemned millions of others before us in our shameful history: (bye bye democracy in Iran, Burma, Pakistan, Russia, Chile ...) what a bunch of hypocrites we, the-police-states-of-america remain.

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