Saving Brinton takes us into the history of cinema and invites us to look at what’s really important.

May 22, 2018 — By Thom Haines

Are you “weary of the detached frivolousness of a hollow mass culture”?* Do you seek a deeper meaning than what we find in the fire hose of coastal media that can drown us in crazed insignificance?

I’m weary, and I seek deeper meaning. That’s why Saving Brinton, a documentary co-directed by Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne, is such a cinematic breath of fresh air. It slowed me down, steeped me in beautiful images and values of the Midwest, and awakened in me an appreciation of cinematic history.**

The film reminded me to continue in the footsteps of Midwesterners Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, and Marilynne Robinson and challenge the mainstream narrative.   

In From Warm Center to Ragged Edge, Professor Jon Lauck recounts how the cultural center of the United States moved from the agriculture-based center of the country to New York City. He thinks, and I agree, that it would be a very good thing if “the stories of regions such as the Midwest will be heard again, not as distant echoes from the ragged edge, but in the form of rooted voices from the solid center of the nation.”

Saving Brinton does just that, sending out a clarion call to value what is valuable.  

Thom Haines is an Assistant Carver County Attorney in Minnesota and a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ Global Justice Advocacy Team in Minneapolis. Thom is a regular contributor at Newspeak Review. 

*Professor Jon Lauck, From Warm Center to Ragged Edge

**For a beautifully written account of the cinematic history component of Saving Brinton, see Michael Judge’s piece in The Smithsonian, Thought Lost to History, These Rare, Early Films Survived Thanks to a Crafty Showman and a Savvy Collector.” 


Disclaimer: The author and publisher are related to co-director Tommy Haines as father and brother, respectively. For national reviews of the film, like this one from Frank Scheck in The Hollywood Reporter (“anyone who loves movies is bound to love Mike Zahs, the genial Iowan at the center of this documentary co-directed by Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne”), visit the film’s website at www.brintonfilm.com.  




What’s In a Name, University of Minnesota

By JT Haines, April 17, 2014

Hail to Minnesota (photo credit JT Haines, of brother Tom)

Hail to Minnesota (brother Tom Haines and band at first Gopher TCF Bank home game)

Last weekend, I cheered the Minnesota Gopher men’s hockey team in their dramatic efforts at the NCAA Frozen Four. Everyone in my family has a degree from the U, mine from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and I get goosebumps every time the band plays the alma mater.

I proudly wear the M.

Today the University and Humphrey School are hosting a “Distinguished Carlson Lecture,” featuring Condoleeza Rice. In support of the event, which has drawn significant opposition from those who feel that accountability, context, and authentic exchange are lacking in the presentation, University President Kaler has stated that “we can’t have true academic freedom at the University of Minnesota by denying a stage to those we disagree with or disapprove of.” The Humphrey School’s Dean Schwartz added that Rice is but one of “about 20 speakers of differing perspectives that the Humphrey School will have hosted over the course of the year.” Supporters point out that the Carlson Family Foundation is paying Rice’s $150,000 fee.

Unfortunately, Condi Rice is, among other things, an intellectual author of torture, and the aspects of her legacy I find most relevant (and troubling) are, at best not part of the University’s presentation and at worst whitewashed by it.

In an open letter opposing the framing of the event, over 200 University of Minnesota professors say this:

“In that very spirit of free expression, however, and in our commitment to the principles of truth and the common good that are inscribed above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium where Dr. Rice will speak, we object to the circumstances of this particular visit. While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights – the theme of this year’s lecture series – is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror. Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let’s not ignore her record.” 

I agree with them. (If you do as well, please sign their letter here.) I wish that my school was, if not putting forward a narrative I could get behind, at least facilitating a framework of expression worthy of our name. Howard Zinn famously said you can’t be neutral on a moving train. I hope that we all have Howard in mind today because the Carlsons aren’t the only ones paying for this event. I’m paying with the M on my chest. And so are you.

Update: Good related piece in Salon on Condi at Rutgers. Well said.>

An excellent post from Steady City (quoting David Roberts), which relates directly to my recent post on the Forward on Climate rally. Regarding the Revkin pieces that Steady City and Roberts address: I highly doubt that a single person who was out there protesting the Keystone pipeline, or etc, (myself included) disagrees that a multifaceted Apollo-level effort to truly address the energy issue would be lovely (if not immediately required), or that other sources of energy (like Nigerian oil) may also be problematic, or that cutting existing energy waste is a good idea. Do we have a current effort equal to the task? No. Are any of these reasons to not protest the Keystone pipeline? Of course not. If anything, the opposite is true. Revkin’s reactions reflect a failure of vision. (Also, I’m glad he recognizes the perils of an energy oligarchy and costs of extraction, but his conclusion that he “would rather have the oil that we do use coming increasingly from responsibly managed and regulated sources here than the ends of the Earth and countries where oil wealth benefits few and the costs of extraction are borne by many” badly obscures a number of things including the reality that we have those problems at home as well.)

Steady City

David Roberts responds to Andy Revkin’s piece in the New York Times calling the Keystone fight “counterproductive”. I think it’s one of the most important pieces of writing on the climate movement so far this year:

If you want to argue that activists shouldn’t focus on Keystone, you can’t just establish that rallying around and/or blocking Keystone won’t reduce carbon emissions much. So what? Why not try it? Something’s better than nothing, after all. Even if it’s a total waste of time, that may be unproductive, but it’s not counterproductive.

There are benefits to an activated, impassioned constituency and the social and political machinery that brings them together in large numbers. It’s what the right has: an intense core, fighting on behalf of the status quo (using the status quo’s money), that has captured one of America’s two political parties. It’s what the fight against…

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