Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 23, 2011

I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You

Filed under: Brazil,Film — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

“I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You” is a remarkable film being shown starting tomorrow at one of New York’s most remarkable institutions: Anthology Film Archives. First, some words about the film and then some about the institution.

As soon as I figured out what the film was about, my immediate reaction was to eject the screener from my DVD player. This Brazilian film, co-directed by Karim Ainouz and Marcelo Gomes, has only one character—a 35 year old unnamed and unseen geologist (Irandhir Santos) who is driving around northeastern Brazil in proximity to the site of a new canal that he works on. We see the desolate but beautiful flatlands from his perspective, mostly behind the wheel of a car, while listening to a nearly stream of consciousness voiceover about the people he knows in the region, as well as a woman named Blondie who he has just split up from. I was skeptical that drama could be eked out of what amounts to a single-character screenplay. Thankfully, I was rewarded by one of the more penetrating psychological portraits in a very long time, mixing existential angst with oblique reflections about the impact of environmental change of the kind that is transforming Brazil as radically as China.

In an odd way, the geologist has an affinity for the Brazilian underclass reminiscent of the artist Vik Muniz whose collaboration with the recyclers working in the vast landfill Gramacho elevated them to the same status as the artwork they recreated. Unlike Muniz, however, there’s a psychological gulf between him and the prostitutes, shoemakers and other characters he meets on his peregrinations. They describe their hopes and their fears to him, while he reserves his own for those viewing the film, those privileged to hear his self-doubts and fears.

Much of the film consists of silent vistas of the Brazilian countryside that is about as flat in this region as Texas. Indeed, I had the same sort of forlorn feeling that the geologist had as I used to navigate the back-country roads just beyond Houston in the mid-1970s. Unlike the geologist, I had a sense of solidarity with the socialists I had joined down there, although it was rapidly eroding.

The final scenes in the film consist of the geologist surveying the town that is about to be inundated with water, a necessary result of Brazil’s relentless modernization. He does not render a political judgment on the changes taking place but you cannot be left without a feeling that the changes—that he is in the vanguard of fomenting—leave him as empty as the love affair that has just ended in failure.

Defying conventional expectations of film-making, the directors have found exactly the right venue to present their work.

Anthology Film Archives was founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage. The website described this as “An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form.”

Disposable entertainment, indeed. As I look desperately for a movie in my own neighborhood at the local Cineplex, I often feel as frustrated as trying to find a book to read in an airport magazine stand.

Stan Brakhage died 8 years ago at the age of 70. I saw him present some of his films at Bard College in 1961 and was struck by the audacity of his vision, even if I did not understand the narrative. The experimental film of this period is largely a dead art even though its traces can be seen everywhere, including work such as “I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You”. In an interview with BOMB Magazine, director Karim Aïnouz describes his attitude toward film-making that is very much in the spirit of Stan Brakhage and the other defiantly non-commercial founders of Anthology Film Archives:

TC: You sometimes make short films, as personal exercises leading up to longer work. I saw one of those shorts about a small jail in an arid place and how characters both in and out of the jail relate to that space. Tell me about that creative process.

KA: There is a big contradiction in my relationship to filmmaking. Ultimately film is a means of expression and communication. You do a film so people can see it, and that’s why sometimes I think I’m in the wrong place. I have a really hard time letting my films be public. The film that you mentioned, Happiness Lives Here, was done in 1997 and I never fully finished it. Filmmaking for me relates to writing a diary. It’s a personal expression of what I believe, how I see the world, and how I relate to people. So those short exercises are the part of my filmmaking that I like to keep to myself. I like making feature films for different reasons: communication, working with a crew, making creative partners, and developing a project over time. Filmmaking is so much about the audience and the reception, and yet there’s something very personal about it that I can’t let go of.

Check http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/ for scheduling information on this most interesting work.

March 18, 2011

Korkoro; Korean American Film Festival

Filed under: Film,Korea,Roma — louisproyect @ 8:12 pm

Despite some problems, Tony Gatlif’s “Korkoro” (Roma for freedom) is one of the most important films scheduled for release in 2011 (it opens at the Cinema Village in New York on March 25th) since it is the first film to deal with the Nazi slaughter of the Roma people. In the closing credits, it states that perhaps as many as 500,000 of Europe’s two million “gypsies” died in concentration camps or on the killing fields.

To my knowledge, Tony Gatlif is the only director of Roma descent. Two of his movies are favorites of mine. The 1993 documentary Latcho Drom shows Roma musicians from every corner of the world performing their own music but with the influences of the country they are living in. The 1997 Gadjo Dilo (crazy outsider)  is a fictional study of a love affair between a gadjo and a Roma woman that is fraught with the expected cultural clashes.

“Korkoro” is set in rural France on the eve of WWII and begins with a small horse-drawn caravan traveling down a dirt road in a forest. When they stop for a rest, one of the men spots something in the distance and begins running after it. It turns out to be a young French orphan named Claude who prefers homelessness to the prison-like conditions of a French orphanage. After debating what to do with this gadjo, the elders decide to take him as one of their own.

They set up camp outside a small village in wine country, looking to get seasonal work as grape pickers or to sell their wares on the street. The village is divided between those who would welcome the nomads and those—who like today—would support their removal, or even their extermination. Two of the friendlier townspeople are the mayor Théodore Rosier (Marc Lavoine) a veterinarian by trade, and a schoolteacher named Lundi (Marie-Josée Croze) who also works as a clerk in city hall. In an early scene, she processes the tribe’s passports, a reminder that such papers were originally intended to control movements within a country. (I examined this history in a Swans article.)

One day in the course of his work as a veterinarian Rosier is injured by a horse on a road outside the village and lies helpless in deep pain, where he is discovered by members of the Roma band who perform first-aid using potent folk medicine. This binds him to the group, even to the point of selling them his father’s house for five francs. The fascists have made a nomadic existence punishable by imprisonment or worse and having a house protects you. The problem, however, is that the Roma view such a stationary existence as barely more tolerable than the jail Rosier rescued them from.

Lundi develops affection for the Roma children who are enrolled in her school. But like Rosier she discovers that they resent the discipline of traditional learning, a fetter that is in its own way as constraining as the house he bestowed upon them.

This is the central dramatic conflict in the film that serves as a counterpoint to the more deadly conflict between the fascists and the nomads. As members of bourgeois society, Rosier’s offer of a permanent location and Lundi’s of classroom discipline appear far preferable to the Nazis and their Vichy cohorts. As it turns out, the two are not exactly bourgeois. They are members of the French Resistance and are in as much danger as their devil-may-care wards.

Gatlif made a calculated decision not to develop his Roma characters with as much depth as the French couple or Claude, the young boy. Perhaps this was a function of any minority’s director and screenwriter’s belief that the majority audience member needs someone to identify with. However, this leaves one with the feeling that more had to be said about the Roma characters whose main role in the film is to play music (exceedingly well) and to serve as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on the dilo (crazy) ways of the French villagers who hate them.

Despite the Zionist establishment’s harping on a new holocaust, the only people who have reasons to worry about such a thing are Europe’s Roma who are facing the same threats as depicted in this movie—short of extermination, at least at this point. In an interview with the director in the press notes, Gatlif is asked “Do you think this film resonates with current times or is it just a historical recreation of the past?” His reply:

Writing it, I wanted it to echo what’s happening today. We’re living through the same thing today, only there’s no death in the end. There’s no more political extermination, but from a psychological and political point of view nothing has really changed. In Italy under Berlusconi, the Roma are still subjected to discriminatory laws. Same thing in Romania and Hungary. Even in France the Roma are often parked in unhygienic places, from which they are driven away and expelled. French law only authorizes Traveling People to stay in one place for 24 hours. The number of authorizations they need to be able to stop somewhere is incredible, which by the way enables them to be constantly tracked.

Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am a huge fan of Korean film. The good news for New Yorkers is that you will be able to see some recent work at a Korean American film festival (http://www.kaffny.com/) that began yesterday. I had the opportunity to see two of its scheduled full-length films that are confirmations, if any was needed, that this country is miles ahead cinematically even if its economy is sputtering. (Perhaps the two trends are related.)

The House of Suh” is a documentary that reminds one of Tolstoy’s epigraph in “Anna Karenina”: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This is a family tale that has the dimensions of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. A Korean military man decides to leave his native land after his young son accidentally falls off a roof and kills himself. He brings with him his wife and two other young children, a boy named Andrew and his older sister Catherine.

They move to the Chicago suburbs and begin the kind of life that appears conventional, at least on the surface. They are church-going and hard-working, a profile that matches practically any Korean dry cleaner in New York. But the father soon develops a conflict with Catherine, who develops an unruly streak in high school. She runs with a fast crowd and resents authority. Eventually the clash between father and daughter leads to bloody altercations at home. When he dies of cancer, she doesn’t even bother to pay her respects.

Eventually Catherine leaves home and becomes romantically involved with a man named Robert O’Dubaine who is as amoral as her. Both live for the moment and appear to be fairly representative of the kind of cocaine/disco culture that made the 80s so memorable. Her younger brother Andrew chooses another path and stays loyal to his mother who opens a dry cleaning business.

When Catherine and Robert clash over money and more intimate matters, she decides to kill him. Using her obvious power over her sibling, she persuades Andrew to shoot Robert. He is arrested shortly after the incident and found guilty of murder. Eventually Catherine is arrested as well.

Most of the film consists of Andrew speaking from behind bars, where he sizes up his family’s tortured tale and reflects on Korean immigrant values in general. While Korean Americans obviously do not have an Arthur Miller in their midst (and which ethnic group does, for that matter?), director Iris Shim does a very good job of transforming the raw material into a totally compelling tale.

Toru and Hyung Gu

Although “The Boat is nominally a gangster film, it has much more in common with the French Nouvelle Vague of the late 50s and early 60s, especially “Jules and Jim” or “Breathless”.

The main characters are two young men named Toru (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who is Japanese, and Hyung Gu (Jung-woo Ha), who is Korean. They work on a small boat that smuggles goods back and forth between Korea and Japan.

Their boss is a Korean who seems pleasant on the surface but is given to bouts of rage. Early in the film, Toru tells his boss that he would like to serve him as a dog serves his master. To drive his point home, he begins barking to the amusement of his boss—at least initially. After a minute or so, the boss glares at him and growls, “Do you think this is a joke?” It is a bit like the scene in “Goodfellas” where Joe Pesci intimidates Henry Hill at one of their first meetings: “Do you think I am funny?”

When the boss has Toru and Hyung Gu kidnap the daughter of an enemy and bring her to Japan, their loyalty to each other and to the boss is severely tested. While someone operating on more conventional grounds would emphasize the gangster elements of the plot, director Young-nam Kim is far more interested in how the two men, who barely understand each other’s language, begin to bond with each other. In one of the more memorable scenes, the two perform an off-kilter Karaoke number that is truly inspired.

Go to http://www.kaffny.com for scheduling information on these two films and what I am sure will be other top-notch offerings.

 

ACTION ALERT: Four Things YOU Can Do About Malalai Joya’s Visa Denial

Filed under: Afghanistan — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

http://www.afghanwomensmission.org/?p=1258

March 18, 2011

The U.S. Embassy this week denied famed Afghan women’s rights activist Malalai Joya a visa to the United States for an extensive speaking tour that was to kick off on Saturday March 19th. Americans are being denied the right to hear from an on-the-ground activist how the war is affecting ordinary Afghans, especially women.

Read AWM’s press release about it here.

FOUR THINGS YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT:

1. Have your elected representatives sign onto a letter urging the U.S. Embassy to reconsider their decision – DEADLINE: Friday March 18th 5 pm EST.

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) has drafted and signed a letter urging the US Embassy to grant Malalai Joya the visa. A draft of the letter can be found here.

Ask your Senator or Representative to add their names to this letter NO LATER THAN 5 pm EST on Friday March 18th. Have the staff in your Senator or Representative’s office contact Jessica Lee at Jessica.lee@mail.house.gov. (Do not contact Ms. Lee yourself). The more elected representatives that sign onto the letter, the greater the chance of that the U.S. Embassy will reverse their visa denial.

2. Sign an online petition demanding Malalai Joya be granted a visa to the United States
Click here to sign the petition. Then, send it to all your friends and post it on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

3. Attend one of the many events organized for Malalai around the country
Whether she gets to the U.S. or not it is imperative that the events go on as scheduled. If she is unable to be physically present organizers will attempt to have her speak to the audience via live video chat. Transform the events into “free-speech” events, to affirm your right to hear from people like Malalai Joya.

Details of Malalai’s tour are here.

4. Demand media coverage of Malalai’s Visa Denial

Contact local and national media urging them to cover Malalai Joya’s visa exclusion. The denial of a visa to Afghanistan’s most intrepid and well known feminist should make headlines! Point them to our press release for details.

Zimbabwe ISO’ers out on bail

Filed under: Africa — louisproyect @ 1:39 pm

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prisoners now released on bail! March 21 demonstrations remain urgent

Thanks in part to donations from supporters abroad, friends and family raised the $12,000 US needed to get the six prisoners released on bail on March 17. They are now back with their loved ones — but will be in court on March 21, standing trial for treason.

The international day of action in solidarity with the Zimbabwean activists remains as urgent as ever. Now the demand is even simpler: Drop all charges now!

Updates on Twitter from Shantha Bloeman — wife of Munyaradzi Gwasai, one of the prisoners — give supporters outside Zimbabwe a glimpse of this week’s developments from the inside. A few entries:

Another call. ZANU-PF youth raided room of one of the released. [This refers to the 39 prisoners released earlier in the month.-sm] Trashed room and took his things. He is now in hiding.

Police took detained for investigations. Want passports to explore possible foreign connections. Not sure if this will help or hinder bail.

Too late to get bail paid today. But hopefully will secure funds early tomorrow so we can get them out. Just one more night in detention.

Bought lots of lice shampoo. How will we ever get them out of Munya’s dreds? Will this mean a radical new hair cut and much arm twisting?

Big thank you to all for solidarity & support. We have enough for bail. So relieved. Hope they’ll be out by end of the day.

Hopewell’s wife just found out she is pregnant w second child. Tears of joy from all.

Workmates joke they should call child Treason. We propose Egypt.

(On Hopewell Gumbo, see Dave Zirin’s reminiscence quoted here.)

There is reason to think that earlier solidarity demonstrationts may have helped the prisoners get out. There are cases of Zimbabwean oppositionists in the MDC who have not released by the Mugabe regime even after they paid bail.

This underscores the need for broad, vigorous protests on March 21, when the six go to trial. Now more than ever, solidarity is a force for liberation.

March 16, 2011

Schoolteachers and the class struggle

Filed under: trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

Back in the late 70s, the Socialist Workers Party in the United States began a “turn to industry” that identified a number of sectors to be “colonized”. At one time or another, this included steel, rail, auto, coal, meatpacking, and garment. It pressured “petty bourgeois” elements like me to “make the turn” in order to save my soul. Despite all the usually overblown projections about what could be done in a given factory, the real goal was to “proletarianize” the membership and protect the revolutionary party against ideological deviations. Party leader Jack Barnes referred to those who questioned the turn as “Marielitos”.

As a computer programmer, I felt particularly vulnerable to charges of being “petty bourgeois” since I had worked at banks and insurance companies since the age of 23. But I was not the only one feeling the pressure. All sorts of trade union activists in the party had come under scrutiny because they were in the wrong industry, or—for that matter— not in industry at all. If you were a social worker, a librarian or a school teacher in New York City, you were instructed to leave your job and join a “fraction” in an auto plant in New Jersey. After Ray Markey, who had become a highly respected activist in the librarian’s union, refused to quit his job, he became viewed as just another petty-bourgeois element.

Of course, the entire basis of colonizing (love that word—what an unconscious adaptation to alien class influences) steel and all the rest was a schematic expectation that a new working-class radicalization would be a repeat of the 1930s. The SWP brass, particularly Farrell Dobbs who was an important leader of the Teamsters Union in the late 1930s, assumed that the blue collar workers in the UAW, USW et al would become the vanguard of resistance to attacks on labor.

Surprise, surprise. The crucible of struggle has been in exactly those trade unions that were dismissed as “petty bourgeois” by the SWP leaders, testifying once again to the folly of looking at the class struggle through the lenses of the past. In particular, the public school teachers of the U.S. have become targeted especially by both the Republican ultraright and their pals in the Obama administration with their devotion to charter schools. If you were expecting a repeat of Flint 1938, naturally you would miss a Madison 2011 with schoolteachers on the front lines.

Here are some recent dispatches from the public schools battleground.

The most egregious case of teacher hatred can be found in New Jersey with Republican Governor Chris Christie earning a love poem from the execrable Matt Bai in the February 27th NY Times Magazine section. Bai, an Obama supporter of the highest magnitude, has apparently found a new best friend. He told his readers:

And with political consensus building toward some kind of public-school reform, teachers’ unions in particular have lost credibility with the public. Forty-­six percent of voters in a poll conducted by Stanford and the Associated Press last September said teachers’ unions deserved either “a great deal” or “a lot” of blame for the problems of public schools.

And so, when the union draws a hard line against changes to its pay and benefit structure, you can see why it might strike some sizable segment of voters as being a little anachronistic, like mimeographing homework assignments or sharpening a pencil by hand. In a Pew Research Center poll this month, 47 percent of respondents said their states should cut pension plans for government employees, which made it the most popular option on the table.

The Times followed up this labor-hating item on March 9th with special pleading on behalf of the lily-white hedge fund managers in Bronxville who were trying to find ways to kick the teachers in the teeth. Titled Even a Wealthy Suburb Faces Pressure to Curb School Taxes, we encounter a truly odious fellow named Peter P. Pulkkinen, a 40-year-old investment banker with children in the first and third grades. In order to cut costs, he would “attack ‘structural’ expenses like tenure, the accumulation of unused sick days and the rising amount the school board pays for pensions and health insurance.”

But the main weapon has been the charter schools, a type of institution that draws from both public funding and donations from multimillionaires who see this non-union bastion as a market-based solution for a deeply entrenched social problem.

Last Sunday night, “Sixty Minutes”, a kind of harbinger for informed liberal opinion in the U.S., featured an episode on one charter school in New York titled Katie Couric on paying teachers $125,000 a year. The emphasis in charter schools is to reward good teachers and to fire bad ones, just as is the case supposedly in the private sector.

The charter school under examination in this episode is named appropriately enough as The Equity Project (TEP). It was launched by a former teacher named Zeke Vanderhoek who is a Yale graduate—no surprise there. The school has a 3-member board of trustees, one of who is Peter Cove who is described as “one of the nation’s leading advocates for private solutions to welfare dependency, ex-offender reentry initiatives and for meeting the needs of underserved, marginalized populations.” Cove is also CEO of America Works in 1984, a corporation seeking to “link private-sector investment and employment with welfare reform.”

(For a thorough debunking of Zeke Vanderhoek’s project, read this: http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/2011/03/relentless-self-promotion-of-zeke.html.)

In order to launch TEP, Vanderhoek drew upon funds he had accumulated from a company he started called Manhattan GMAT that provided instructions in how to pass a standardized test that will get you into business school. This makes perfect sense in a way since Mayor Bloomberg has become associated with the need for standardized testing, another specious way to improve primary schools that goes hand-in-hand with union-busting.

All you ever need to know about standardized testing can be found in a Monthly Review article by Dan DiMaggio, who put some time in at a place similar to Manhattan GMAT. This is what he observed:

Test scoring is a huge business, dominated by a few multinational corporations, which arrange the work in order to extract maximum profit. I was shocked when I found out that Pearson, the first company I worked for, also owned the Financial Times, The Economist, Penguin Books, and leading textbook publisher Prentice Hall. The CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino, ranked seventeenth on the Forbes list of the one hundred most powerful women in the world in 2007.

Test-scoring companies make their money by hiring a temporary workforce each spring, people willing to work for low wages (generally $11 to $13 an hour), no benefits, and no hope of long-term employment—not exactly the most attractive conditions for trained and licensed educators. So all it takes to become a test scorer is a bachelor’s degree, a lack of a steady job, and a willingness to throw independent thinking out the window and follow the absurd and ever-changing guidelines set by the test-scoring companies. Some of us scorers are retired teachers, but most are former office workers, former security guards, or former holders of any of the diverse array of jobs previously done by the currently unemployed. When I began working in test scoring three years ago, my first “team leader” was qualified to supervise, not because of his credentials in the field of education, but because he had been a low-level manager at a local Target.

In other words, just as we are dealing with all along the line, is an attempt to cut labor costs. This is what this is about. A god-damned rich bastard like Peter P. Pulkkinen refusing to pay $100 more per year in property taxes while he is making millions of dollars at Deutsche Bank. Or Michael Bloomberg, Chris Christie and Scott Walker trying to do to teachers what Reagan did to airline controllers. And all of it goes back to the 1930s when the auto companies were determined to make a profit over the maimed bodies of assembly line workers who could not even afford a modest bungalow.

Returning to the Socialist Workers Party, that has always had a tendency—even when Leon Trotsky was advising it (maybe I should say because)—to demonize the “petty bourgeoisie”, even the auto workers were fair game at one point.

In the 1950s, a group around Bert Cochran decided that a less sectarian approach was needed and split with the party in order to launch the Socialist Union. One of their activists was Sol Dollinger, who had been married to Genora Dollinger—the leader of the woman’s auxiliary in the great Flint sit-down strike. When the Cochranites left, the SWP leaders dubbed them as embourgeoisified workers who had gotten tainted by prosperity.

Sol Dollinger had this to say about that charge:

Three decades later, I am amused by the explanations made by Frank Lovell [SWP trade union leader] that you heard as a new member of the SWP. He contended that the members of the auto faction had become embourgeoisified by high wages in the industry. My position as a Chevrolet worker is not much different than other autoworker members of the party. We rented in Flint and when I quit after seven years my wages were under five thousand dollars a year. When Genora’s father died of a heart attack in front of the Buick gate where he worked as a janitor, he left his four children $700 each. Genora rushed out to make a down payment on a house with a $3800 dollar mortgage with monthly payments of $35.

At any rate, the goal is clear today. We have to everything in our power to make sure that the clock is not turned back to that time when auto workers did not have a pot to piss in. Thank goodness the school teachers, the librarians, and the social workers have the backbone to take on the bourgeoisie in the decisive early stages of the battle.

March 14, 2011

Solidarity With Zimbabwean Political Prisoners

Filed under: Africa,repression — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm
News and information on activities in the US to support Zimbabwean activists charged with treason for organizing a meeting to discuss the North African revolutions. Free them now! Join the international day of action on March 21.

Monday, March 14, 2011

 

APPEAL FOR INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY WITH ZIMBABWEAN POLITICAL PRISONERS

Six people in Zimbabwe are now imprisoned on charges of treason for organizing a meeting to discuss the mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt. For this “crime” they face a possible death sentence. They have been tortured and are now in solitary confinement. 

An international day of action to demand their release will be held on Monday, March 21, when they are scheduled for a court hearing.

Our message is simple and urgent: We demand that the government of Zimbabwe drop all charges and release them immediately.

Plans are underway for demonstrations in a number of countries. We urge concerned people everywhere to join us in organizing meetings and demonstrations in solidarity with the prisoners. Please translate and distribute this appeal as widely as possible. Let us know know what you are doing at the contact addresses below.

The worldwide significance of the struggle to free the Zimbabwean prisoners is reflected in a recent statement of support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions. “The Egyptian and Tunisian experience have inspired many workers and poor people all over the world to stand up and demand an end to dictatorship, corruption and injustice of whatever kind.”

The arrest and prosecution of the six may seem like only the latest round of repression by Robert Mugabe’s government against opponents. But it is also an attack on the spirit of Tahrir Square, which has inspired people all over the world. The six prisoners include trade unionists, intellectuals, and activists in the struggle for women’s rights. The effort to suppress them – and even to kill them, whether by execution or through torture and denial of medical treatment while in custody – is a vicious assault on all of us.

To learn more about the six prisoners and the struggle for their release, see the website Free Them Now! [ http://www.freethemnow.com/ ] and the Facebook group (open to non-Facebook users) Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists [ http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_178601402184959 ].

To join the March 21 actions, please send a message to both of these addresses: zimtreasontrial@gmail.com and solidarity@freethemnow.com

Posted by Scott McLemee at 10:20 AM

Joe Morello, Drummer with Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dies at 82

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm
NY Times March 13, 2011

Joe Morello, Drummer with Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dies at 82

By STEVE SMITH

Joe Morello, a jazz drummer whose elegant, economical playing in the Dave Brubeck Quartet sounded natural and effortless even in unusual time signatures, died on Saturday at his home in Irvington, N.J. He was 82.

His death was announced on his Web site, joemorello.net. No cause was given.

Mr. Morello was most famous for his tenure in Mr. Brubeck’s band, in which he was engaged initially for a brief tour in 1955. He became a member in late 1956, and remained until the group disbanded at the end of 1967.

Already popular for its work on college campuses during the 1950s, Mr. Brubeck’s group reached new heights with Mr. Morello, who handled with disarming ease the odd meters that Mr. Brubeck began to favor. In June 1959, Mr. Morello participated in a recording session with the quartet — completed by the alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and the bassist Eugene Wright — that yielded “Kathy’s Waltz” and “Three to Get Ready,” both of which intermingled 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures.

Less than a week later the quartet recorded Mr. Desmond’s “Take Five,” a breezy composition in 5/4, with an airy solo by Mr. Morello over a rigid vamp on piano and bass. The track became one of the most recognizable themes and most succesful singles in jazz, selling more than a million copies and reaching No. 25 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart in 1962. Those pieces, and others like “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and “Strange Meadowlark,” were featured on Mr. Brubeck’s most famous album, “Time Out.”

Before working with Mr. Brubeck, Mr. Morello had played with the guitarist Johnny Smith, the saxophonist Gil Melle and, briefly, Stan Kenton’s big band. From 1953 to 1956 he played in the pianist Marian McPartland’s trio, which worked frequently at the Hickory House nightclub in New York.

During Mr. Morello’s engagement with Ms. McPartland, Mr. Desmond urged Mr. Brubeck to hear the drummer, Mr. Brubeck said in an oral history recorded for the Smithsonian Institution in 2007.

“He was playing brushes,” Mr. Brubeck recalled in the interview, “and Paul just loved somebody that played brushes and didn’t interrupt with some hard licks with sticks and clashing cymbals.” In need of a substitute drummer, Mr. Brubeck approached Mr. Morello.

Mr. Morello’s reply, according to Mr. Brubeck: “I’m interested in your group, but your drummer’s out to lunch. I want to be featured.” By this, Mr. Brubeck said, Mr. Morello meant that he wanted to be allowed to play solos and experiment.

After the quartet disbanded Mr. Morello primarily worked as a drum clinician and teacher. His students included Jerry Granelli and Danny Gottlieb, both notable jazz drummers, and Max Weinberg, the longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen and the former bandleader for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

But Mr. Morello yearned for the bandstand. “I’m tired of saying to some student, ‘This is a stick.’ ” he told The New York Times in 1973. “I want to get out and play again.”

Play again Mr. Morello did. He performed sporadically in the 1970s and ’80s, including reunions with Mr. Brubeck in 1976 and 1985. During the 1990s Mr. Morello led his own group, which featured the saxophonist Ralph Lalama.

Joseph A. Morello was born in Springfield, Mass., on July 17, 1928. Sight-impaired from an early age, he took up the violin at 6 and performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra three years later. According to a biography on his Web site, Mr. Morello gave up the violin for drums at 15, after meeting his idol, the violinist Jascha Heifetz.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Taking Obama’s Measure

Filed under: Obama,swans — louisproyect @ 6:10 pm

Taking Obama’s Measure
by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Hodge, Roger D.: The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, HarperCollins, 2010, 259 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-201126-8

Ali, Tariq: The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, Verso, 2010, 153 pages, ISBN-13 978-1-84467-449-7

Street, Paul: The Emperor’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power Paradigm, 2010, 274 pages, ISBN 978-1-59451-845-4 (paperback)

(Swans – March 14, 2011)   Starting in 2005, just after things had turned completely sour in Iraq, a visit to your local bookstore would reveal a plethora of books about how rotten George W. Bush was. Eric Alterman’s The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America and David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush were fairly typical offerings, amounting to the printed version of what could be heard any evening on MSNBC.

While people like Alterman and Corn viewed Barack Obama’s election as a kind of Second Coming, it took not much longer than a year for disillusionment to sink in. Criticisms of Obama, however, do not go for the jugular as they did with Bush. No matter how many terrible things he does, there will be a lemming-like march in 2012 to line up behind him in order to stave off Republican control of the White House. Liberals have trouble understanding that it is exactly the “centrist” politics of the current administration that will lead to its ouster, if such an ouster takes place.

Given the abysmal record of the Obama presidency so far, which amounts to Bush’s third term in many respects, it is testimony to his continued hold on liberal America that only three critical books have emerged from the left. (The ones emanating from the right are exclusively crackpot exercises making the case that Obama is spearheading a drive toward socialism.)

Of the three, Roger Hodge’s The Mendacity of Hope is likely to be the only one for sale in Barnes and Noble or Borders. Published by HarperCollins, it has been widely reviewed in the mainstream press. The author was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, which has no connection to the publisher HarperCollins although they were initially part of the same company launched in the early 1800s by James and John Harper. Today Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owns HarperCollins, an outlet obviously calculated to make money based on whatever sells — right or left.

That being said, it is doubtful that HarperCollins would have had the slightest interest in Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome or Paul Street’s The Empire’s New Clothes, the two other books reviewed here. Ali and Street approach the Obama administration from the standpoint of Marxism, an ideology that will not get you in the front door at HarperCollins. Ali’s book was published by Verso, where he has been an editor for decades. Street comes to us courtesy of Paradigm Publishers, a left-oriented scholarly imprint that will likely never be able to afford a quarter-page ad in The New York Times Book Review or The New York Review of Books. That being said, readers trying to make sense of arguably the most reactionary Democratic president since Grover Cleveland should seek out all three books.

full: http://swans.com/library/art17/lproy66.html

March 12, 2011

Stephen King: pro-union

Filed under: trade unions — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Serbophobe General opposed to war against Qaddafi

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 2:51 pm

(This confirms the point I made that analogies with Kosovo were inappropriate.)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/11/AR2011031103244.html

Gen. Wesley Clark says Libya doesn’t meet the test for U.S. military action

By Wesley K. Clark
Friday, March 11, 2011; 8:00 PM

In March of 1974, when I was a young Army captain, I was sitting in a conference on civil-military relations at Brown University. Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) was onstage expounding on the lessons from Vietnam about military interventions. He then stopped and looked right at me and the four West Point cadets at my side. “You, the young officer and cadets sitting there – never in your lifetimes will you see us intervene abroad,” I recall him saying. “We’ve learned that lesson.”

For all his brilliance, Aspin couldn’t have been more wrong.

We have launched many military interventions since then. And today, as Moammar Gaddafi looks vulnerable and Libya descends into violence, familiar voices are shouting, once again: “Quick, intervene, do something!” It could be a low-cost win for democracy in the region. But before we aid the Libyan rebels or establish a no-fly zone, let’s review what we’ve learned about intervening since we pulled out of Vietnam.

The past 37 years have been replete with U.S. interventions. Some have succeeded, such as our actions in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf War (1991) and the Balkans (1995-2000). Some were awful blunders, such as the attempted hostage rescue in Iran (1980), landing the Marines in Lebanon (1982) or the Somalia intervention (1992-94).

Some worked in the short run, but not the longer term – such as the occupation of Haiti in 1994. Others still hang in the balance, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, consuming hundreds of billions of dollars and wrecking thousands of American lives. Along the way, we’ve bombed a few tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi himself, operated through proxies in Central America, and stood ready with fly-overs, deployments, mobility exercises and sail-bys across the globe.

I’ve thought about military interventions for a long time – from before my service in Vietnam to writing a master’s thesis at Fort Leavenworth to leading NATO forces in the Kosovo war. In considering Libya, I find myself returning to the guidelines for intervention laid out by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1984. The world has changed a great deal since then, so I’ve adapted and updated his vision to develop my own rules for when the United States should deploy its blood and treasure in operations far from home.

Understand the national interests at stake, and decide if the result is worth the cost.

We went into Lebanon with a reinforced battalion of Marines in 1982 because we believed that it was in our national interest to stabilize the situation after the Israelis had been forced out of Beirut. But after the terrorist bombing of their barracks killed 241 U.S. service members the next year, we pulled out. After the tragedy, any benefits seemed to pale in light of the cost and continuing risks.

In 1999, when we launched the NATO air campaign against Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, President Bill Clinton had to state publicly that he didn’t intend to use ground troops. He did so in an effort to limit the costs of an initiative that the public and Congress did not consider to be in our nation’s vital interest. The administration and I, as the NATO commander in Europe, were in a difficult position, and Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic knew it. But what Milosevic didn’t understand was that once we began the strikes – with NATO troops deployed in neighboring countries and the Dayton Peace Agreement to enforce in Bosnia – NATO couldn’t afford to lose. And the United States had a vital interest in NATO’s success, even if we had a less-than-vital interest in Kosovo.

(snip)

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