Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 23, 2011

David Gibbs replies to Marko Attila Hoare

Filed under: cruise missile left,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

David N. Gibbs Replies to Marko Atilla Hoare

This posting is a follow-up on an extended debate that I have been having with Marko Atilla Hoare, on the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. For those interested in the full set of comments, you can find them here https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/david-gibbs-answers-marko-atilla-hoare/. This debate actually began on Modernityblog, but I have decided that Louis Proyect’s website is a much better venue for my comments. I thank Louis for allowing me to post on his website.

Let me begin by noting that Hoare seems to have an obsessive interest in my 2009 book, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, 2009). Over the past two months, Hoare has written three lengthy attack reviews of my book on his own website, which (when printed out) run to some eighteen single-spaced pages; in addition to several dozen postings to Modernityblog, in debates that directly address my book. And he promises that there will be yet more attack reviews, to add to all this. One wonders if the man actually has a job, or if attacking me has become a full time endeavor. Either way, I am impressed by the sheer volume of his output.

In what follows, I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges. What I will show however is that Hoare’s writings contain major and systematic errors of fact that would, in any normal situation, discredit him.

One of Hoare’s most persistent charges is that my book whitewashes Serb atrocities, notably the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In reality, this is nothing but a smear, based on an extended series of factual errors. Several examples follow. In Modernityblog (29/12/10), Hoare writes:

“in your sections on Srebrenica (pp. 153-154, 161-162), you falsely portray the Srebrenica Muslims as the ones principally guilty of the violence in the Srebrenica region, and of ‘creating the hatred’ there – despite the fact that most of the killing in the region was the work of the Serb forces.”

Wrong. This is what my book actually states (p. 161):

“the capture of Srebrenica led to atrocities that were far larger in scale than anything that had occurred during three years of fighting… the Serb armies began by expelling the town’s women and children, producing yet another act of ethnic cleansing. And then the Serbs proceeded to murder some eight thousand military age Muslim males. According to the Dutch investigation of the massacre: ‘Muslims were slaughtered like beasts.’”

Later in the debate (5/1/11), Hoare changes tack and makes the following statement — which contains new factual errors:

“Your account of the background to the Srebrenica massacre presents the Muslims/Bosnian army as the ones principally guilty of the atrocities in the region, and of having ‘created the hatred’ there (pp. 153-154).

You then claim ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (p. 160)

So while you do not deny that the massacre occurred, you a) deny that it was genocide, and b) blame the victims for it.” [emphasis added]

The key point here is the claim that I supposedly “blame the victims” for the Srebrenica massacre. This is a straightforward factual error. In reality, my position is the following:

“Without question, the Bosnian Serb army and their political and military leaders must bear the overwhelming burden of guilt for having orchestrated this calamity. However, the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović must bear some of the blame as well. Contrary to popular belief, Bosnia’s Muslim-led government was in fact quite ruthless and some of its actions helped lay the groundwork for the massacre. Specifically, the Izetbegović government followed a clear policy that aimed to maximize casualties of its own civilians, a strategy adopted to elicit the outrage of international public opinion, and thus leading to Western military intervention against the Serbs and in favor of the Muslim.” [emphasis added]

This quote was taken from the following article, which was posted twice to Modernityblog:  D. Gibbs, “The Srebrenica Massacre After Fifteen Years,” Foreign Policy in Focus, July 30, 2010, (www.fpif.org/articles/the_srebrenica_massacre_after_fifteen_years).

In short, I never state that the 8,000 Muslim victims were responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. On the contrary, I put primary blame on the Serb forces, and secondary blame on the Muslim government (which is not the same as the Muslim massacre victims). Hoare’s inflammatory claim that I blame the victims is a factual error.

Hoare’s above statement contains yet another error, attributing to me the quote “created the hatred” – which implies that I believe the Muslims not the Serbs had created the hatred in the Srebrenica area. In reality, the phrase “created the hatred” appears nowhere in my book or in any of my writings.

A central claim by Hoare is that I engage in “genocide denial.” Indeed, his first review of my book was given the unsubtle title, “The Bizarre World of Genocide Denial” (Greater Surbiton, 6/12/10).  The origin of Hoare’s charge is an endnote in my book (p. 281), in which I presented an extended quote from an article by Katherine Southwick, in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. The quote criticizes the Krstić decision by the international tribunal at The Hague, which had originally defined the Srebrenica massacre as a case of genocide. The cited article strongly implies that the court had erred in defining that massacre as genocide. Based on the evidence in the Southwick article, my endnote concluded that Srebrenica was closer to a war crime than to a genocide. This endnote became the initial basis of Hoare’s entire claim that I am a supposed genocide denier.

If I cannot cite and agree with an article in a Yale law review without being attacked like this, then there obviously is something wrong with the way this discussion is taking place.

When the above was pointed out on Modernityblog, Hoare responded (29/12/10):

“The Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal article by Katherine G. Southwick that you cite, unlike you, does not blame the genocide on the victims.” [emphasis added]

This is another factual error since, as noted above, I never blame the victims for the Srebrenica massacre.

Another point of contention concerns the lead-up to the Srebrenica massacre. Hoare claims my book “suppresses the history of Serb mass killings of Bosniaks in east Bosnia in 1992” (7/12/10). Wrong. Here is what my book actually says (122):

“As war began [in1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, talking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.”

In short: With regard to the issue of Serb atrocities, Hoare’s claims are an extended misrepresentation of my position, based on a long string of factual errors.

And there are still more errors. With regard to my sources, Hoare claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis” (Greater Surbiton, 6/12/10). He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited (and criticized) in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is in error.

And in a later posting to Greater Surbiton (24/12/10), Hoare discusses at great length my book’s criticisms of his own work – thus contradicting his previous claim that my book had ignored his work. And he also discusses a quote from my book that discusses Serb atrocities in northeast Bosnia in 1992 (see my block quote above). This contradicts his previous statement that my book “suppresses the history of Serb mass killings of Bosniaks in east Bosnia in 1992.” Finally, I will note that Hoare’s third long review of my book contains a factual error in its very title of the review: “First Check their Sources 2: The Myth that Most of Bosnia was Owned by the Serbs before the War.’” In reality, the quoted phrase (“Most of Bosnia…”) appears nowhere in my book or in any of my writings.

The above should give the reader a sense of Hoare’s “style” of argumentation. No doubt this posting will be followed by yet another blistering attack on my work, penned by the ever-eager Mr. Hoare — presenting yet more factual errors. I wonder if his cumulative attacks will eventually exceed several hundred pages.  Perhaps Hoare should consider publishing all of his attacks of my work as a separate book; or even an encyclopedia.

January 21, 2011

Sins of South Beach

Filed under: crime,literature,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:34 pm

I return to NYC tomorrow after a wonderful time in South Beach, especially the time spent with Alex Daoud, the author of the must-read “Sins of South Beach”. I plan to write a longer and more analytical review but this amazon.com review I wrote should be sufficient to persuade you to get your own copy.


If “Sins of South Beach” accomplished one and only one thing, namely to show how corruption works in politics, then author Alex Douad would have performed an enormous service to our country. There is hardly a week that passes by without someone like Tom DeLay being sentenced for money laundering. Americans really need to know how and why such a thing happens.

As someone who spent 18 months in a federal prison for bribes taken while mayor of Miami Beach, Douad is uniquely positioned to describe his own sins and those who he came in contact with, including some of the area’s most powerful politicians, real estate developers and bankers. Given the power of some of these individuals, it is something of a miracle that the book was ever published. It is also all the more remarkable given that it is likely the very first book ever written by a politician who has fallen from grace. In light of the state of American governance, this honest, insightful, courageous and beautifully written memoir is worth all the self-serving memoirs of public officials put together, including that of George W. Bush.

But “Sins of South Beach” is more than this. It is also a spell-binding tale that is written with a experienced novelist’s touch, one in which the reader can’t wait to get to the next chapter to find out what happens to the tarnished hero Alex Daoud. Indeed, this is the kind of book that would have made me miss a subway stop in my hometown New York City. But here in South Beach, where I am vacationing, the same thing happened. I took the book down to the beach with me with the intention of spending two hours under the sun while getting the low-down on what was happening here in the roaring 80s. But I became so riveted by the action that I lost track of the time and got myself a good sunburn! Oh well, that’s a small price to pay for getting immersed in such a gripping tale.

As someone with a background in politics and law, Alex Daoud is a remarkably gifted writer. “Sins of South Beach” has a cinematic quality, evoking “The Godfather” in some ways as well as classic tales of an honest man seduced into doing wrong, like “Double Indemnity” or “Body Heat”. In Alex Daoud’s case, the seducer was not a beautiful woman but a wealthy establishment in Miami Beach that bought and sold politicians like they were condominiums. Although the author is unsparing with himself, one cannot but note that the bribes he took harmed nobody except the rich men who were buying favors, and for whom such monies were almost pocket change. By comparison, Jack Abramoff hurt Indian tribes and non-unionized sweatshop workers in his quest to achieve wealth and power.

It should be understood, however, that Alex Daoud does not try to whitewash his career here. Despite being mayor at a time when Miami Beach was making great strides forward as an art deco cultural center and a fabulous place to spend a vacation, the book is focused almost totally on his sins. They say that Catholics are great both at sinning and at confessing. When a Catholic (a Lebanese Catholic in Daoud’s case) has a talent with the pen, such as St. Augustine’s Confessions, the result can be a classic of literature. While it would be a bit much to compare Alex Daoud to St. Augustine, I can say with conviction that this is the finest memoir by a public official that I have ever read and a book that I will recommend to friends and associates for the rest of my life.

Our Hero

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

January 20, 2011

LBJ orders pants

Filed under: comedy — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

January 19, 2011

Milton Rogovin, radical photographer, dead at 101

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 1:36 am

NY Times January 18, 2011

Milton Rogovin, Photographer, Dies at 101


Milton Rogovin, an optometrist and persecuted leftist who took up photography as a way to champion the underprivileged and went on to become one of America’s most dedicated social documentarians, died on Tuesday at his home in Buffalo. He was 101.

He died of natural causes, his son, Mark Rogovin, said.

Mr. Rogovin chronicled the lives of the urban poor and working classes in Buffalo, Appalachia and elsewhere for more than 50 years. His direct photographic style in stark black and white evokes the socially minded work that Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks produced for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression. Today his entire archive resides in the Library of Congress.

Mr. Rogovin (pronounced ruh-GO-vin) came to wide notice in 1962 after documenting storefront church services on Buffalo’s poor and predominantly African-American East Side. The images were published in Aperture magazine with an introduction by W. E. B. Du Bois, who described them as “astonishingly human and appealing.”

He went on to photograph Buffalo’s impoverished Lower West Side and American Indians on reservations in the Buffalo area. He traveled to West Virginia and Kentucky to photograph miners, returning to Appalachia each summer with his wife, Anne Rogovin, into the early 1970s. In the ’60s he went to Chile at the invitation of the poet Pablo Neruda to photograph the landscape and the people. The two collaborated on a book, “Windows That Open Inward: Images of Chile.”

In a 1976 review of a Rogovin show of photographs from Buffalo at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the critic Hilton Kramer wrote of Mr. Rogovin in The New York Times: “He sees something else in the life of this neighborhood — ordinary pleasures and pastimes, relaxation, warmth of feeling and the fundamentals of social connection. He takes his pictures from the inside, so to speak, concentrating on family life, neighborhood business, celebrations, romance, recreation and the particulars of individuals’ existence.”

Milton Rogovin was born on Dec. 30, 1909, in Brooklyn, the third of three sons of Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania. His parents, Jacob Rogovin and the former Dora Shainhouse, operated a dry goods business, first in Manhattan on Park Avenue near 112th Street and later in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. After attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the young Mr. Rogovin graduated from Columbia University in 1931 with a degree in optometry; four months later, after the family had lost the store and its home to bankruptcy during the Depression, his father died of a heart attack.

Working as an optometrist in Manhattan, Mr. Rogovin became increasingly distressed at the plight of the poor and unemployed — “the forgotten ones,” he called them — and increasingly involved in leftist political causes.

“I was a product of the Great Depression, and what I saw and experienced myself made me politically active,” he said in a 1994 interview with The New York Times.

He began attending classes sponsored by the Communist Party-run New York Workers School, began to read the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker and was introduced to the social-documentary photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.

Mr. Rogovin moved to Buffalo in 1938 and opened his own optometric office on Chippewa Street the next year, providing service to union workers. In 1942 he married Anne Snetsky before volunteering for the Army and serving for three years in England, where he worked as an optometrist. Also in 1942, he bought a camera.

Returning to Buffalo after the war (his brother Sam, also an optometrist, managed the practice in his absence), Mr. Rogovin joined the local chapter of the Optical Workers Union and served as librarian for the Buffalo branch of the Communist Party.

In 1957, with cold war anti-Communism rife in the United States, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee but refused to testify. Soon afterward, The Buffalo Evening News labeled him “Buffalo’s Number One Red,” and he and his family were ostracized. With his business all but ruined by the publicity, he began to fill time by taking pictures, focusing on Buffalo’s poor and dispossessed in the neighborhood around his practice while living on his wife’s salary as a teacher and being mentored by the photographer Minor White.

His wife, a special education teacher, was a collaborator throughout his career and helped him organize his photographs until her death, in 2003.

Mr. Rogovin’s photographs were typically naturalistic portraits of people he met on the street. “The first six months were very difficult,” he recalled in a 2003 interview, “because they thought I was from the police department or the F.B.I.

But he gradually built trust, giving away prints of portraits in exchange for sittings. He never told his subjects what to do, allowing them to pose in settings and clothing of their own choosing.

“These aren’t cool sociological renderings but intensely personal evocations of a world whose faces are often missing in a culture that celebrates the beautiful and the powerful,” Julie Salamon wrote in The Times in 2003 on the occasion of a Rogovin exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.

Mr. Rogovin began his Storefront Church series in 1961 at the invitation of a friend, William Tallmadge, a professor of music at the State University of New York at Buffalo who was making recordings at a black church on the city’s East Side. The success of the series encouraged Mr. Rogovin to devote more and more time to photography and persuaded him that photography could be an instrument of social change.

In 1972 he earned a Master of Arts in American studies from the University at Buffalo, where he taught documentary photography from 1972 to 1974. The next year he held his first major exhibition, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

In the next years his photographs were published in several books and widely exhibited; a show of his work is currently on view at the Gage Gallery in Chicago. Many are in the collections of museums, including the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Library of Congress acquired his archive in 1999.

In addition to his son, of Forest Park, Ill., Mr. Rogovin is survived by two daughters, Ellen Rogovin Hart of Melrose Park, Pa., and Paula Rogovin of Teaneck, N.J.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In his later years, as his health declined, Mr. Rogovin used a wheelchair and no longer took photographs. In 2009 he was nominated for a National Medal of Arts but was not selected.

His activism, however, was undimmed — he attended political rallies and antiwar protests into his final years — and his social conscience remained acute.

“All my life I’ve focused on the poor,” he said in 2003. “The rich ones have their own photographers.”

January 17, 2011

A government of national unity?

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 11:45 pm

If you read between the lines, you will have no trouble figuring out that the Obama administration is trying to exploit the shootings in Arizona to bolster its political power. Unlike the leftwing of his party, however, the president is not accusing the Republicans of indirect responsibility. The World Socialist website interprets this failure as “providing amnesty for the right wing”:

Obama went on to repudiate those among his liberal supporters who have pointed to the role of right-wing ideology in inspiring the Tucson massacre, calling for “a good dose of humility, rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame.”

The conclusion of his remarks was an attempt to cover up the deepening social tensions in America and present a saccharine picture of US political life that is entirely divorced from reality.

The Democrats are cowardly and evasive, forswearing or quickly abandoning any suggestion that the right wing should be held responsible for the direction of Jared Lee Loughner’s attack.

I am not exactly sure whom they are speaking to with this analysis. Most people with even the most superficial understanding of class society understand at this point that Obama is keen on creating a “government of national unity” that would include DLC type Democrats like him and the old guard of the Republican Party. The biggest obstacles to this maneuver are the Tea Party elements of the Republican Party and the malcontents in the Democratic Party who, for example, complained about the tax breaks for millionaires that the bourgeois press dubbed as a major victory for the “comeback kid”.

In the twisted Orwellian world of American politics, such a capitulation gets turned into its opposite. Of course, looking at the deal on a deeper level, one would have no trouble understanding that this measure was something that Obama not only could live with, but that was consistent with his pro-corporate orientation.

One of the signs of a rapprochement between the White House and key leaders of the Republican Party was Senator McCain’s opinion piece that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post. He wrote:

I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them.

Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.

This olive branch is not just about creating a new kind of civility that would preempt future tragedies like the Tucson shootings. It is a kind of de facto recognition that the ruling class politicians have to get together to push through major legislation that will continue the assault on the last remaining institutions of the welfare state. Just as Bill Clinton’s bromance with the Republicans resulted in the abolition of aid to dependent children, so we can expect the love-fest between Obama and the more “responsible” members of the Republican Party to produce mortal blows to Social Security and Medicare.

Obama’s radio address last weekend alluded to these urgent political tasks:

While we can’t escape our grief for those we’ve lost, we carry on now, mindful of those truths.

We carry on because we have to.  After all, this is still a time of great challenges for us to solve.  We’ve got to grow jobs faster, and forge a stronger, more competitive economy.  We’ve got to shore up our budget, and bring down our deficits.  We’ve got to keep our people safe, and see to it that the American Dream remains vibrant and alive for our children and grandchildren.

When you cut through all the bullshit from Obama and McCain, you are really left with the obvious intention on both sides to implement a stepped up attack on working people and the poor. When Obama talks about shoring up the budget and bringing down deficits, he can mean only one thing after the spectacle of tax breaks for millionaires. He intends to pick the pockets of working stiffs and put the money into the bank accounts of the Lloyd Blankfeins of the world.

The coming together of the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Obama himself and his new chief of staff Bill Daley, and the old guard of the Republican Party, including McCain, Oren Hatch and other such reasonable reactionaries, is calculated to produce an irresistible political force that can drive through legislation urgently needed in American capitalism’s current accumulation cycle.

Keep in mind that the big banks are sitting on mountains of cash as Huffington Post reported:

JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s second-biggest bank by assets, beat estimates in reporting $4.8 billion in income last quarter, a 47 percent jump, as the bank largely benefitted from choosing to not set aside cash to cover future losses.

The firm said profits for 2010 reached $17.4 billion, a record for the lender.

The firm’s revenues were up 13 percent last quarter, reflecting increased loan demand from businesses and households, and two percent for the year. Consumer loans were up eight percent. Mortgage applications rose 33 percent versus the same period last year.

JPMorgan Chase is largely seen as a barometer for the health of the economy, particularly when it comes to households. It’s the third-biggest home mortgage lender, according to data compiled by Mortgagestats.com, and it has the third-most domestic deposits of any bank in the U.S., according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The firm is also a leader in credit cards and personal loans.

While Obama talks about the need to “grow jobs” (buzzwords associated with the country’s better business schools), this is not the sort of thing to keep Chase Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon awake at night. The profits of Fortune 500 corporations are sacrosanct and have little to do with the unemployment rate. Indeed, it would matter little if the unemployment rate went up to 20 percent as long as the quarterly earnings reports of these companies looked good to investors. The only thing that stands in the way, of course, is the determination of working people and the unemployed to raise hell in such circumstances.

Over the next two years social tensions will remain high but the Obama administration stands a good chance of pushing forward with its agenda as long as the Republican Party old guard puts the class interests of the bourgeoisie over its own narrow interests. That is the nature of electoral politics in the USA. It is much more of a business than a public service. Politicians seek office in the same way that real estate developers seek tenants. It helps to pay for that vacation home in Vail or the Hamptons. So, if Obama is hyped as a capable leader two years from now, the Democrats stand a good chance of holding on to the Presidency and increasing their numbers in the House and Senate.

In some ways, ruling class politicians would be better off combining the two parties into the Democrat-Republican Party and avoiding all the nasty in-fighting that the average person interprets as “politics”. With such a unified electoral framework, the ambitious young Ivy graduate or corporate lawyer like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama or George W. Bush could run for office in the same way that somebody competes for a partnership at Goldman-Sachs.

After all, there is not much difference.

Remmy Ongala, Tanzanian Musical Star, Dies at 63

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 6:14 pm

NY Times January 16, 2011
Remmy Ongala, Tanzanian Musical Star, Dies at 63

In 1990, as the AIDS epidemic was gathering strength in Africa, the Tanzanian songwriter, singer, guitarist and bandleader Remmy Ongala released an ebullient dance track called “Mambo Kwa Soksi” (“Things With Socks”). Its lyrics called for men to use condoms (“socks”) to prevent AIDS, and it stirred up controversy; Radio Tanzania refused to play it.

But it became one of Mr. Ongala’s best-known songs in a career as Tanzania’s most beloved and influential musician, on and off the dance floor, with songs that had both a groove and a conscience. He sang serious thoughts about poverty, corruption, mortality, faith and Tanzanian pride, and he called his music “ubongo beat” — “ubongo” is Swahili for “brain.”

Mr. Ongala died on Dec. 13 at his home in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. He was 63. His death was announced on the Web site of Real World Records, for which he recorded. No cause was specified.

He was a superstar in East Africa, and in the 1980s and 1990s he reached European and American audiences with albums for Real World, a label founded by Peter Gabriel, and international tours that included many appearances at Mr. Gabriel’s Womad (World of Music and Dance) festivals. He jokingly called himself “sura mbaya” (“ugly face”), but fans gave him the honorific “Doctor.”

Ramadhani Mtoro Ongala, nicknamed Remmy, was born in 1947 in what was then the Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). His hometown, Kindu, is near the Tanzanian border. After both parents died, Mr. Ongala started working as a musician in his teens, playing drums and guitar in the Congolese style called soukous: dance music with intertwined guitar lines and an Afro-Cuban lilt. As he sang with bands in Zaire and Uganda, he was already writing songs with messages.

In 1978 he moved to Dar Es Salaam and began performing with Orchestra Makassy, a band led by his uncle. With that band, he wrote his first hit single, “Sika Ya Kufa” (“The Day I Die”).

Mr. Ongala is survived by his wife, Toni, an Englishwoman he married when she was teaching in Tanzania, and four children.

When Orchestra Makassy relocated to Kenya, Mr. Ongala remained in Tanzania, joining and then leading Orchestre Super Matimila, named after the patron who bought the band its equipment. That group mingled soukous with Tanzanian and Kenyan elements.

As Mr. Ongala’s popularity grew, his songs stayed forthright. At one point the government considered expelling him, but it later granted him Tanzanian citizenship, and a district of Dar Es Salaam was named after him.

A British friend brought one of Mr. Ongala’s cassette recordings back to England, where organizers of the Womad festival heard and admired it. They first booked Mr. Ongala and Orchestre Super Matimila for the 1988 Womad Festival in Reading, England. Mr. Ongala began making studio albums in England for Real World, which released “Songs for the Poor Man” in 1989 and “Mambo” (a Swahili word for observations or comments) in 1992; both albums contained songs in English as well as in Swahili. During the 1990s Mr. Ongala and his band toured Africa, Europe and the United States.

A stroke partly paralyzed Mr. Ongala in 2001, but he continued to perform as a singer from his wheelchair. In his last years he turned to gospel music. Following his mother’s wishes on the advice of her traditional healer, he never cut his hair during her lifetime. On her death he did cut it, then let it grown again until late in life, when he gave up secular music and cut off his locks.

King and Obama

Filed under: african-american,Obama — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

January 16, 2011

Judy Bonds, an Enemy of Mountaintop Coal Mining, Dies at 58

Filed under: Ecology,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:04 pm

NY Times January 15, 2011
Judy Bonds, an Enemy of Mountaintop Coal Mining, Dies at 58

Ankle deep in the stream by the house where his coal-mining family had lived for generations, Judy Bonds’s 6-year-old grandson, Andrew, scooped up fistfuls of dead fish one day back in 1996.

“What’s wrong with these fish?” he asked.

“I knew something was very, very wrong,” Ms. Bonds told Sierra magazine in 2003. “So I began to open my eyes and pay attention.”

Ms. Bonds soon discovered that the fish had been poisoned by debris from the mines in the mountains above the West Virginia hollow where her family had lived since early last century. Within six years, she and her Marfork Hollow neighbors had to abandon their homes.

That day in the stream, Ms. Bonds found her mission. Since then, thousands of people — neighbors, environmental activists, politicians, mining company officials, industry regulators and crowds at the rallies she organized — have heard from the short, round-faced woman known as the godmother of the movement to stop mountaintop-removal coal mining.

Ms. Bonds died of cancer — it had spread from her lungs — on Jan. 3 in Charleston, W.Va., at age 58, said Vernon Haltom, who leads the Coal River Mountain Watch, an advocacy group. He and Ms. Bonds had been its co-directors since 2007.

Based in a former post office in Whitesville, W.Va., the organization is dedicated to banning the mining process by which mountaintops are blasted off to expose coal seams, with tons of loose rock cascading into adjacent valleys and carbon dioxide billowing into the atmosphere.

The tumbling rock — called valley fills — clogs streams and rivers and leaches chemicals, previously sealed underground, into water systems.

“There are many things we ought to do to deal with climate change,” James E. Hansen, a climatologist at NASA and Columbia University, said Thursday, “but stopping mountaintop-removal is the place to start. Coal contributes the most carbon dioxide of any energy source.” Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun and prevents it from escaping the atmosphere.

In 2001, three years after she joined Coal River Mountain Watch as a volunteer, Ms. Bonds became the organization’s $12,000-a-year outreach director, a position she accepted after working as a waitress, then manager, at a Pizza Hut while a single mother.

In her new job, she began staging protest rallies, testifying at regulatory hearings, filing lawsuits, picketing mining company stockholders’ meetings, organizing letter-writing campaigns. A primary target was the Massey Energy Company, which owned the mines around Marfork Hollow and other Appalachian communities. Last April, an explosion at the Massey Company’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 miners in what was the nation’s worst mining disaster in 40 years.

“She became the voice for communities around the country fighting mountaintop-removal,” Mr. Haltom said of Ms. Bonds. “She spoke to audiences of one person to 6,000.”

One of her standard lines was, “Stop poisoning our babies.”

In 2003 Ms. Bonds received the Goldman Environmental Prize, an annual $150,000 prize that goes to unrecognized “grass-roots environmental heroes.”

“Her dedication and success as an activist and organizer have made her one of the nation’s leading community activists confronting an industry practice that has been called ‘strip mining on steroids,’ ” the Goldman Foundation said.

For years, Ms. Bonds had envisioned a “thousand-hillbilly march” in Washington. That wish was fulfilled last September, when about 2,000 people joined what was called the Appalachia Rising, leading to the arrest of about 100 protesters outside the White House. But by then she was too ill to join the march.

Julia (she preferred to be called Judy) Belle Thompson was born on Aug. 27, 1952, one of nine children of Oliver and Sarah Thompson. Her father stopped working in the mines at 65 and soon died of black lung disease. Besides her grandson, she is survived by her daughter, Lisa Henderson; two brothers, Ernie and Paul; and three sisters, Wanda Webb, Marilyn Thompson and Jamie Adkins.

Danger came with Ms. Bonds’s activism: phone threats, insults, physical attacks.

“She was walking right behind me when she got belted by a burly miner’s wife,” said Dr. Hansen, who in June 2009 joined a march at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, W.Va., to protest its proximity to a coal-processing silo and a slurry dam, parts of a 2,000-acre mountaintop-removal site.

“She fought to get a safe new school for the kids,” Mr. Haltom said. “In the old one, the kids breathe coal dust in class.”

But last April, he continued, “everything came together: a new school at a safe location about 10 miles up the road. The kids will start attending class there in the fall of 2012.”

January 14, 2011

Art Tatum

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 10:26 pm

People who saw him play were heard to exclaim, “My God! His hands are a blur!”

When Vladimir Horowitz, the famed classical pianist, was asked who the best pianist was, he responded with Art Tatum’s name.

Even Fats Waller, a very accomplished pianist in his own right and one of Tatum’s favorites, was reported to have said, “I’m just a piano player. But God is in the house tonight,” when he spotted Art Tatum in the audience.

Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, once said, “There’s a demonic, almost diabolical quality to his playing. The Furies must have gathered around his crib at birth, something infernal slipped into his mother’s milk.”

Top musicians in the 1930s and 40s and 50s would trek to Harlem clubs to hear him play — Gershwin, Horowitz, Godowski, Rachmaninoff, Geseking, Paderewski… Rachmaninoff told the press, “If this man ever decides to play serious music we’re all in trouble.”

Tatum did play serious music, it happened to be jazz. But Tatum was black in an era when the top concert draws were white.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini would always seek out Tatum whenever he came to New York to conduct. Toscanini was one of the fiercest and most strict conductors to have ever lived. He held his musicians to the highest of standards. (One time when he tapped his baton on his music stand for a rehearsal he noticed that the first-chair clarinetist’s chair was empty. “Where’s the first clarinetist?” he immediately demanded of the clarinetist in the next chair. The second clarinetist meekly replied, “Um, he died yesterday, sir.” Toscanini immediately shot back, “That’s no excuse!”)

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