Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 17, 2012

Undefeated

Filed under: Film,sports — louisproyect @ 9:04 pm

As I work my way slowly through the more than 50 dvd’s I received from the studios for NYFCO’s 2011 awards meeting, a pattern emerges. The more a film is hyped, the more I find it lacking. Some I can sit through like “The Artist”, the recipient of NYFCO’s best movie of the year award, mostly out of a morbid sense of curiosity. Others, like “The Descendants”—a close runner-up, get tossed into the garbage can after 15 minutes or so.

Among those received from the major studios, “Undefeated” stood apart as a truly moving experience even though it was not hyped at all. A product of the Weinstein Company, it slipped into local movie theaters today even though it was submitted to us for a 2011 best documentary award.

Just to make sure there is no confusion, this is not the documentary about Sarah Palin with the same name. Instead, it is fairly straightforward account of a high school football team from inner-city Memphis that was traditionally the doormat of the league but managed to vie for the state championship in 2009 against all expectations. When you first start watching it, you will be instantly reminded of the plucky underdog human interest stories found on HBO’s Real Sports show hosted by Bryant Gumbel. It also evokes “Friday Night Lights”, a highly regarded weekly show about high school football on NBC that had its final show last year. Finally, there are similarities with “Blind Side”, the simply awful movie starring Sandra Bullock as a southern housewife who rescues a Black teenager from poverty in a calculated bid to help the home team win a championship. The same sort of thing happens in “Undefeated” but is totally devoid of the kind of paternalism found in “Blind Side”. The primary interest is not winning a championship but tutoring the kid so he can get into college on a football scholarship.

The thing that makes “Undefeated” so powerful is the personalities of the principal figures, starting with the volunteer coach Bill Courtney who looks like a young John Madden, especially around the girth. Courtney is a white southerner who loves football more than anything in the world. While driving to work one day, he noticed some kids on the football field at Manassas High School nearby the lumber yard where he worked as a salesman. After making some inquiries, he found out that they needed a coach and he applied for the job.

I saw the movie in November, at the peak of the anger and disgust over the Penn State pedophilia scandal. As repulsive a figure Joe Paterno was, the film reminded me of why he was also revered by so many football players and students. There is something about the bonds between a coach and young men that can bring out the best of all involved in athletics, even though I never participated in team sports myself and acknowledge the way that amateur sports in the U.S. follows the cash nexus and fosters bad behavior all around.

One scene in particular made this point for me in spades. One of Courtney’s players has tremendous anger issues. He has also just gotten out of jail. After a flare-up with another player on the team at practice, he decides to quit on the spot and begins walking home. Courtney drives up alongside him with two wheels on the sidewalk and two on the street. As the youth glowers in anger and refuses to engage with him, Courtney continues to plead with him about the good of the team and about how playing football will help him deal with other problems in life. It is far more compelling than anything I have ever seen in a movie about sports and a reminder of why documentary beats fiction films on its own turf so often. If you are interested in human drama, why waste time with artificial melodrama of the sort found in “Blind Side”. Ordinary human beings are far more interesting, especially the remarkable kids and adults in “Undefeated”.

“Undefeated” is playing at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on the Lower East Side and at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square Theater. Trust me, you won’t find a more powerful or a more likable film anywhere in New York right now.

February 16, 2012

El Sistema

Filed under: music,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

NY Times February 15, 2012
Fighting Poverty, Armed With Violins
By DANIEL J. WAKIN

CARACAS, Venezuela — Corrugated tin roofs, ramshackle cinder-block huts, labyrinthine streets caked with garbage and rubble, the possibility of random violence at any turn. And this section of the Sarría barrio is not even bad for Caracas.

But Sarría also plays host to a center of El Sistema, Venezuela’s program of social uplift through classical music. So just across the street from such blighted scenes young children with violins and French horns and trumpets filled the spaces of an elementary school on Tuesday.

A brass ensemble barked in a corridor open to the Caribbean air. A percussion group rumbled in a dirt courtyard nearby. In a classroom newly hatched violinists played a G major scale and simple Venezuelan tunes after a week of learning. At least two choirs were rehearsing.

The contrast was stark but also typical of El Sistema, which was founded in 1975 but became widely known only in the last five years thanks in part to the meteoric rise of its most famous product, the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Mr. Dudamel, 31, became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 and is now in Caracas with his orchestra for a cycle of the Mahler symphonies.

“It’s my goal to keep going, so I can be a great musician,” said Emily Castañeda, 10, who began playing French horn two weeks ago and was producing honorable sounds during a lesson. Or, added Emily, whose mother is a cleaning woman and who does not know her father, she might become a doctor.

El Sistema’s aim is to address a depressingly universal problem: how to remove children from poverty’s snares, like drugs, crime, gangs and desperation. The method, imagined by El Sistema’s founder, the economist and trained musician José Antonio Abreu, was classical music. Orchestras and music training centers around the country were established to occupy young people with music study and to instill values that can come from playing in ensembles: a sense of community, commitment and self-worth.

With nearly one-third of Venezuela’s population of 29 million under 14, the need is large.

Since the program’s founding, El Sistema estimates that it reaches 310,000 children in 280 teaching locations, called núcleos, said Eduardo Méndez, the executive director. About 500 orchestras and other ensembles, from preschool groups using paper cutouts of instruments to the world-class Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, fall under El Sistema’s umbrella. Mr. Abreu has said his goal is to reach 500,000 children by 2015.

The program has become the envy of the music world, inspiring similar programs in many countries and attracting influential proponents like the conductors Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle. It has prompted a number of books and documentaries, countless news reports and a steady flow of musicians and educators tramping through showcase núcleos.

The attention has made Sistema officials adept at playing host to visitors, who receive a warm but fairly controlled welcome, which is usually necessary in dangerous areas. These officials and Sistema fans speak in near mystical terms of Mr. Abreu and his program’s results.

The populist government of Hugo Chávez is also happy with the program, pouring 540 million bolivars, about $64 million, a year into it. Foundations and donors add various amounts each year as well as gifts of instruments.

The Sarria núcleo, on the city’s northern edge, is housed in a prekindergarten-through-sixth-grade school of 1,200. In an arrangement with the government it offers after-school activities from 2 to 6 p.m. for 600 children.

Sarria embodies many of the principles that seem to make El Sistema so successful. All instruction and instruments are free. No child is turned away, teaching is done in groups, and many of the instructors have passed through El Sistema themselves (and are thus committed to the movement). Public performance is ingrained from the beginning. The núcleo is within walking distance of the students’ homes.

All performers are given medallions that have the image of a violin on one side and the motto “Tocar y Luchar,” “To Play and to Fight,” on the other.

“From the time they start playing and performing for others, they feel they are proud of what they are doing,” Mr. Méndez said.

The Sarria orchestra was in the final throes of rehearsing for a concert this week. The núcleo’s director, Alejandro Muñoz, 32, was conducting. He is a stern figure who had already assigned some timeouts to talkative members. They were playing Handel’s “Water Music” and “Alma Llanera,” considered an unofficial Venezuelan anthem that every Sistema orchestra player learns.

“The main thing in our núcleos is the quality,” Mr. Méndez said. “We teach them with the best quality possible.”

Mr. Muñoz, a violinist, was himself born in a barrio and passed through a núcleo. “My mother thought it would be a safe place,” he said. He was identified as a conducting prospect and sent to a conservatory.

At Sarria the beginning violin teacher was Ismenia Molina, 51, who was one of the earliest members of the first Sistema orchestra, giving her the aura of a founder. She has been with El Sistema for 33 of her 51 years.

El Sistema also has choirs and programs to teach instrument-making and repair.

Things don’t always run smoothly in the program. Tensions sometimes arise between Sistema officials and the administrators of the buildings they use. The program’s growth sometimes outpaces the supply of teachers and instruments. Parents don’t always cooperate in getting children to rehearsals or lessons. Instruments are stolen in this crime-ridden country.

One fact sometimes overlooked is that Sistema is also open to people from middle-class or upper-middle-class families.

The Sarría núcleo’s founder, for instance, Rafael Elster, had a privileged upbringing. Mr. Abreu assigned him to set up the núcleo in 1999, and he spent 10 years there, suffering several armed robberies and the cleaning out of his house.

The majority of Sistema children do not go on to musical careers, but many come back and work for El Sistema anyway. Mr. Méndez, for instance, is a lawyer.

“Once you get touched by El Sistema,” he said, “you will never leave El Sistema.”

Was Lenin a lying manoeuvrer?

Filed under: Lenin,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 2:44 pm

Weekly Worker 901 Thursday February 16 2012

Falling out over a Cliff

by Lars Lih

Was Lenin a lying manoeuvrer? Were the Bolsheviks a cult led by an all-knowing leader and staffed by narrow-minded minions? Lars T Lih joins in the debate over Tony Cliff’s biography and debunks some myths held by both left and right

An interesting debate has broken out concerning certain issues in the history of Bolshevism. Pham Binh started things off with a vociferous attack[1] on the first volume of Tony Cliff’s biography of VI Lenin.[2] Paul Le Blanc leapt in to defend Cliff and to dismiss Pham’s criticisms.[3] Pham and le Blanc had a further exchange,[4] and Paul D’Amato also weighed in.[5]

My contribution to this discussion restricts itself to two specific issues: the 3rd Congress in 1905 and the Prague Conference in 1912. I feel compelled to make a statement because my work is cited both by Pham and Le Blanc; more to the point, I have familiarised myself with the original Russian-language sources for both episodes and therefore feel I have something to say. On one issue – the 1905 Congress – I will repeat a critique of Cliff that I have made twice before, since, insofar as I know, no-one has really responded to it. On the other issue – the 1912 Conference – recent study of primary sources has caused me to change my mind, with the result that I am cited in defence of views I no longer hold.[6]

full: http://cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004719

February 15, 2012

3 Idiots

Filed under: Film,india — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

I am not even sure how I discovered the 2009 Bollywood film “3 Idiots” buried under a trash heap of the typical Cineplex offerings on Netflix, but can recommend it as one of the best feature films I’ve seen this year. Indian audiences would agree with me as it is now the highest-grossing film in Indian history. Since “3 Idiots” was developed primarily for their domestic market—the Indian Cineplex, so to speak—it is of some interest that it is also the highest grossing film exported to international markets as well. If there’s any confirmation of the thesis of Andre Gunder Frank’s “ReOrient”, namely that China and India will eventually dominate the West once again, it is to be seen in a film like “3 Idiots” that is smarter, funnier, and more moving than anything coming out of Hollywood in years.

The good news is that the film can be seen on Youtube, as well as rented from Netflix:

While it incorporates the usual Bollywood elements of sentimentality, soap-opera like plots, broad comic situations, and song-and-dance routines, it is not the typical escapist fare that Indian audiences dote on. A typical Bollywood film might be about a love triangle, for example. But “3 Idiots” is about something very topical, namely the pressure-cooker environment of engineering schools and the mini-rebellion of three students against an ossified administration that values high grades and conformity over innovation. You can find echoes of “The Paper Chase” and even “Animal House” but in the final analysis it is uniquely Indian.

We meet the three main characters in their freshman year at the Imperial College of Engineering (ICE), the Indian equivalent of MIT that has the most competitive admission standards and the toughest classes in the nation. One “idiot” is Raju Rastogi (Sharman Joshi), who is the poverty-stricken family’s only hope for a decent life. His father is an invalid former postman, his mother the sole income provider who complains bitterly about not having bought a new sari in years, his sister a 28 year old single woman who will never get married because the family can’t pay for a car, a necessity for a dowry. When we first meet him in his dormitory room, he is praying fervently to a shrine of deities that he will succeed.

The second “idiot” is Farhan Qureshi (R. Madhavan), who comes from a relatively prosperous family but has little interest in engineering even though his father is determined that he make it in this profession. His heart is really with wildlife photography.

The third student is not an “idiot” by any stretch of the imagination. He is nicknamed “Rancho” by Raju and Farhan just before they become a closely bonded trio. Rancho is short for his ponderous full name Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad. When Rancho first shows up at the dormitory, he is ordered to strip down to his underwear by an upperclassman hazing the incoming freshmen including Raju and Farhan. After Rancho rightfully decides that he did not go to ICE to get hazed, he runs into his room and locks the door behind him. This infuriates the bullying upperclassman who warns him that if he does not come out of the room by the count of ten to get hazed, he will piss on his door—evoking “The Three Little Pigs” and the big bad wolf.

Like a clever little pig, Rancho cobbles together a metallic conduction device that is connected to an electrical outlet on one end and a spoon on the other that is pushed under the door. As soon as the first drops of urine hit the spoon, the upperclassman howls in pain after getting a good electrical shock. This turns Rancho into an instant hero to all the freshmen and a good friend to Farhan and Raju.

In his first week, Rancho runs afoul of the school’s dean, Professor Viru Sahastrabudhhe (Boman Irani), who is nicknamed “Virus” by the students. He is to ICE as Dean Vernon Wormer is to the Faber College of “Animal House”. Virus greets every freshman class with the same lecture. You need to get good grades in order to succeed. That will open all sorts of doors for you, including a well-paying job in the United States. When Rancho defies Virus by stating that the real goal of an education is to develop inquisitive minds and a love of engineering, he drags the impudent student into a large lecture hall and announces that they have a new teacher: Rancho. He is ordered to go to the podium and lecture the students.

Rancho then picks up the engineering textbook and glances through the pages for a few seconds. Then he faces the students and Virus, who is sitting among them, and asks them to define “Rajufication” and “Farhanimate”. They have five minutes to find the answer. Assuming that the words are in the textbook, they (including Virus) furiously leaf through the book trying to come up with the answer. When the five minutes are up, Rancho tells them that the words were made up out of his friends’ names. The students get the lesson that textbooks don’t always have the answer, thus embarrassing and infuriating Virus who thereupon begins to refer to the three friends as “the idiots”.

Rancho is played by Aamir Khan, who is one of Bollywood’s most inventive actors. He is best known for playing the anti-colonialist cricket player in “Lagaan”. Khan is simply brilliant as Rancho, obviously feeling a real affinity for a character willing to challenge conformity and snobbery.

Although the film is a light-hearted comedy for the most part, it includes some really dark moments especially the suicide of a fellow student who Virus has decided to expel for failing to complete a project on time. Even when the student tries to get an extension because he was busy tending to his sick father, it is to no avail.

While most Americans are aware of the frighteningly high number of student suicides at high-pressure institutions like MIT and Columbia, the numbers in India are even greater. On November second last year, the Times of India reported:

NEW DELHI: Here’s a compelling argument for education reforms in the country: student suicides have increased 26% from 2006 to 2010, with Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai accounting for most victims, in that order. And this is just the official data.

While 5,857 student suicides were reported in 2006, the figure jumped to 7,379 in 2010, according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. In other words, 20 students killed themselves every day in 2010, something both academicians and mental health professionals blame on a flawed education system where performance pressure ranks above all else. For the first time in five years, Maharashtra recorded the largest number of suicides in 2010, followed by West Bengal.

“The examination system and the selection process for institutions of higher education weigh heavily on young people,” says Shyam Menon, vice-chancellor of Ambedkar University in Delhi. “The volume of students passing out of the school education system and vying for admission to tertiary education has dramatically increased over the years, with competition levels increasing too. At a time when higher education can result in social mobility, the stakes are very high. Today, there is a greater link between employability and higher education.” Menon believes changes in the education system over the years reflect the changes in the Indian middle-class and their high aspirations, which push young people to perform or perish.

To dramatize the importance of creative thinking, the film ends with a demonstration of inventions at a school where Rancho holds sway. All of them have the same kind of DIY ingenuity manifested by the electric shock gizmo seen in the hazing scene and all of them are actual inventions by ordinary Indians:

The real brains behind 3 idiots

By: Vivek Sabnis

3 simple yet amazing inventions that debuted in the film have brought fame for their inventors

With the release of 3 Idiots, there are three innovators who have finally got due credit. We are talking about Jahangir Painter (49), a Maharashtrian, Mohammad Idris (32) from UP and Remya Jose (20) from Kerala who have given their inventions the scooter flour mill, cycle-based horse shaver and pedal-driven washing machine respectively for the film.

3 idiots has used these three innovations in the film for Aamir Khan, Madhavan and Sharman Joshi.

The inventions were sourced by Prof Anil Gupta, National Innovation Foundation, Honey Bee Network, Sri Raghvendra Institute of Science and Technology (SRIST).

Said Gupta, “3 idiots will not only bring the innovations before the masses, but Vidhu Vinod Chopra and his team have promised to create a fund for the three innovators after the release of the film.”

“We’re hoping that these innovations will be used by entrepreneurs in our country as Bollywood films have a wider audience and are viewed by people even in remote areas,” said Gupta.

Painter runs a small painting workshop in Jalgaon. He has earlier won a consolation prize for making a spray painting compressor device. Now that his scooter flour mill has made him famous, he is planning to invest in some more innovations.

February 14, 2012

What do the Autonomen want?

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

{MSZ – Gegen die Kosten der Freiheit (Munich) 2/1988}

The worldview of the Autonomen is quite simple. It is only them and the “pigs” with their “system.”
What do the Autonomen want?
With “hatemasks” and “slingshots” …

The “hate mask” is the identification badge of the Autonomen. Originally, covering the face only served the purpose of concealing their bourgeois identities from surveillance by state agencies, which define any criticism as a potential threat to the state and democracy, preventively recording and carefully filing away any halfway organized statement of discontent in order to be able to apprehend the persons concerned.

For the Autonomen, this defensive act of disguise has become a symbol of resistance, a bit of material that no longer hides the identity, but makes it recognizable: the identity of the Autonomen as “street fighters.” With it they distance themselves not only from the enemy, the state power, but also from everyone else who is not quite sympathetic to them. They pride themselves on practicing opposition to the existing state. Their “combativeness” distinguishes them from all other protesters:

“What sets us apart from others on the left are the stones in hand and the billy clubs against our necks. In the tear gas clouds we feel most autonomous. What holds us together beyond that, we do not know.” (Autonomen Berlin leaflet)

The “hate mask” is an essential part of Autonomen clothing which – supplemented by combat boots, clubs, cushioned leather jackets and helmets – makes up the uniform of the “Black Blocs.” The uniform represents not only their subordination to a common purpose and the absolute right to exercise force, it serves primarily to distinguish between friend and foe in battle.

With their meager protective clothing and “stones in hand,” they oppose “billy clubs against their necks,” clouds of tear gas, mace sprays, and the state’s other order-maintaining household cleaning products; at most, with “slingshots” that in bourgeois horror scenarios are built up with chilling admiration into “precision catapults.” The very basic military superiority of the opposing side is no occasion for the Autonomen fighters to consider whether this fight cuts the mustard.

full: http://www.ruthlesscriticism.com/autonomen.htm

Linsanity

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

Besides being Jewish, terminally neurotic and a bit of a clown, there’s one other thing I have in common with Woody Allen (of course, his clowning ended 25 years or so ago); I am a big fan of the N.Y. Knickerbockers. Now I would never be in a position to buy a ticket for $100, their going price, but I follow them closely even though it has been almost two decades since I was in the habit of watching them play. That was the team that included Patrick Ewing at center and John Starks at guard. While they never won a championship, they were in the words of Marlin Brando in “On the Waterfront”, a real contenda.

The Knickerbocker team that did win championships was about as accomplished as any team in the past half-century. That was the team with Willis Reed at center and Walt Frazier at guard that won championships in 1970 and 1973. In one of the most legendary games in the franchise’s history, Reed started game seven in 1970 despite a torn muscle in his right leg against the storied Los Angeles Lakers led by Wilt Chamberlain.

The Knicks went through a dry spell until 1985 when they drafted Patrick Ewing as the number one choice in the draft that year. Ewing was a real warrior who was born in Jamaica and starred at Georgetown University. Unfortunately he never had anybody of Walt Frazier’s caliber to co-lead the team. John Starks was a good shooting guard but often took ill-advised 3 point shots when he was cold, just as the case with Knick forward Carmelo Anthony today. Greg Anthony was the point guard who had even weaker shooting skills than Starks but was good on defense. In fact that was the best thing you could say for Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, they knew how to play defense.

Here’s John Starks’s most memorable play, getting past Michael Jordan to dunk in the playoffs with Chicago in 1993.

The Knicks went through another dry spell that has continued pretty much until now. James Dolan, the team’s owner, hired Isiah Thomas in 2003 to run the team. Despite Thomas’s great skills as a player for the team-oriented Detroit Pistons, he never had any sense of how to put a team together.

Thomas’s approach was to sign very expensive contracts with big-name players without regard to whether they complemented each other. While all sports require teamwork, there is none in my opinion that puts as much of an emphasis on it in order to succeed as basketball.

If the team was an embarrassment on the court, it was Thomas’s off-court behavior that really tarnished the franchise’s reputation almost beyond repair. In 2006 Anucha Browne Sanders, a top female executive for the Knicks, sued Thomas and Madison Square Garden, the team’s owner, with sexual harassment. Thomas and his boss James Dolan practically made a joke out of the suit. The court decided it was no joke at all, awarding Sanders $11.6 million.

Mike Lupica, a sports writer for the N.Y. Daily News with generally liberal attitudes on issues beyond sports, sized up the outcome on September 21, 2007:

Imagine Anucha Browne Sanders not thinking she was in the presence of true genius working with somebody like Thomas, who has the largest payroll in his sport and has had it for years and has not yet produced a single playoff victory.

“Stop talking right now!” Mills quotes James Dolan as saying to Browne Sanders in the famous meeting where he supposedly decided she wasn’t as smart as all the other geniuses in the room.

In that moment Dolan sounds like what he is and always will be: a spoiled rich boy. He eventually decided he didn’t want Browne Sanders around anymore and that was that, he didn’t need to listen to lawyers. And Thomas? You think he was ever going to listen to some pushy woman who refused to see things his way?

Here is a quote from a story Christian Red and T.J. Quinn wrote in this newspaper last year, about Thomas’ days running the Continental Basketball Association into the ground. It comes from a woman named Diane Bosshard, who owned the La Crosse Bobcats with her husband before selling the team to Thomas:

“He ruled with intimidation. It was just like, ‘If I swear enough or if I act like I’m tough enough you’re going to back down.'”

Anucha Browne Sanders didn’t back down at the Garden, doesn’t back down in 23A, where they want her job performance to be on trial. That shouldn’t put jurors to sleep. It should have them rolling in the aisle.

A year later Thomas was replaced by Donnie Walsh, a 67 year old former president of the Indiana Pacers who had a solid track record, even managing to get some use out of Isiah Thomas who coached the Pacers for a while before moving on to the Knicks. Walsh’s goal was to clean house at the Knicks, first of all by unloading the expensive but unproductive talent and secondly by enforcing higher ethical standards—a fairly easy goal to accomplish in light of the fact that anything would be better than the cesspool Thomas ran.

Walsh’s first executive decision was to hire Mike D’Antoni, the former coach of the Phoenix Suns. Although the Suns never won a championship, they were always in the playoffs. D’Antoni was committed to offense-oriented play that involved a high tempo running game and the so-called “pick and roll”. Rather than try to explain it, I’ll refer you to the clip below:

Not long after hiring D’Antoni, Walsh offered Amare Stoudemire, one-half of the Phoenix Suns’ pick-and-roll team, a fat contract. With a group of young, newly drafted talent, the Knicks were finally starting to look respectable. But in a calculated bid to lure people to the Garden, team owner James Dolan traded most of these new players to the Denver Nuggets in order to land Carmelo Anthony, a flashy shooter with few defensive skills. Once the Rockets unloaded Anthony, they began playing better than ever.

This year the Knicks started off abysmally, a function mostly of lacking a true point guard who knew how to distribute the ball. Lacking such a player, Carmelo Anthony got a green light to hog the ball, making other players less effective than last year, including Amare Stoudemire.

What the Knicks needed was somebody like Steve Nash, who was not only a terrific basketball player but politically courageous. In 2003 Nash had the guts to oppose the war in Iraq during a time of war hysteria that nearly ruined the careers of the Dixie Chicks and Bill Maher. Considering the close ties between professional sports franchises and the national-security state, Nash was putting his career on the line as Common Dreams reported:

APPARENTLY A COUNTRY music concert is the wrong place for a war protest, the Academy Awards show is OK as long as you keep it short, and a basketball game … well, that’s still up in the air for debate.

When the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks told a London audience that she was ashamed that she and President Bush are from the same state, many Texas radio stations refused to play the group’s songs. She quickly apologized. Former Santa Clara and current Dallas Mavericks star Steve Nash, though, has not apologized for his anti-war comments and said fan reaction to his stance has been “unbelievably positive.”

It all started with Nash wearing a T-shirt to All-Star activities in Atlanta that said, “No War. Shoot for Peace.” Nash continued his protest of the war, as reporters asked him about his shirt and his beliefs, up until and after the first U.S. bombs hit Iraq last week. Those who haven’t been receptive to Nash are those that don’t think a basketball player should be using his forum to speak out on politics, especially a Canadian basketball player.

“From the start, I spoke out just because I don’t want to see the loss of life,” Nash told ESPN. “People are mistaking anti-war as being unpatriotic. This has nothing to do with the fact that I’m from Canada. This is a much bigger issue. But now that we’re in battle, I hope for as many lives to be spared as possible (and) as little violence as possible before a resolution.”

The Knicks were short on money under a salary cap that NBA teams must adhere to, so their top choice for a point guard was one Baron Davis, who can best be described as someone from the remainder bin. He used to play with Lebron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers but has been inactive for over a year because of a herniated disk. In his place, the Knicks have used guards with no experience playing point, like Toney Douglas, or men with experience but who are over the hill like Mike Bibby. The net result was a dismal start that had fans clamoring for Mike D’Antoni’s firing.

Out of desperation, D’Antoni decided to let benchwarmer Jeremy Lin play the point guard position on February 4th. The results can be seen here:

Knicks commentator Walt Frazier can barely contain his enthusiasm.

In the five games that have featured Lin as point guard, he has achieved a status equal to some the greatest players of all times. The N.Y. Times’s Nate Silver came up with some revealing statistics:

The New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin has scored at least 23 points in each of his last four games, including 38 on Friday night against the Lakers. He has also recorded at least seven assists in each game, and he has been efficient, shooting at least 53 percent from the field each time.

Just how common is something like this? I searched basketball-reference.com for other streaks that were in the same general ballpark: players who scored at least 20 points, had at least six assists and shot 50 percent over a period of four consecutive N.B.A. regular season games.

Since the 1985-86 season, 41 players have had such a streak in addition to Lin.

It is an extremely impressive list. All but seven of the players made at least one All-Star appearance in their careers, with about two-thirds of them selected to the All-Star team multiple times. The list includes nine Hall of Famers — and a number of other players who are sure to make it once they retire. The players on the list account for 17 of the last 28 M.V.P. awards.

Now this would be impressive enough on its own merit, but the real eye-opener is how unexpected this all was given Lin’s background. He was a Harvard University graduate, where there is no such thing as a basketball scholarship. Most basketball players come from powerhouses like Duke, Michigan State and UCLA, not the Ivy League. Since 1954, there has only been a single professional basketball player from Harvard and that is Jeremy Lin.

The other remarkable thing is his ethnicity: Chinese-American. The last stand-out Chinese player in the NBA was Yao Ming, who was forced to retire because of repeated foot injuries. Lin’s background was totally unlike that of Yao Ming, who was part of China’s well-oiled basketball machinery heavily reliant on state funding.

The Times once again commented on how he came out of left field:

Some coaches have wondered whether Lin, who is of Taiwanese descent, did not receive a closer look by recruiters because of his ethnicity. Coaches have said recruiters, in the age of who-does-he-remind-you-of evaluations, simply lacked a frame of reference for such an Asian-American talent.

Another big reason for the lack of interest might have been because Lin never possessed jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism. That made it hard for recruiters to pick up on his quick first step, his passing skills or his uncanny sense for the game simply from watching him at an Amateur Athletic Union tournament or in a high school playoff game.

“I just think in order for someone to understand my game, they have to watch me more than once, because I’m not going to do anything that’s extra flashy or freakishly athletic,” Lin said in 2010.

Because he is a fervent Christian, some have been led to speculate whether he is going to be basketball’s Tim Tebow but if you listen to Lin’s comments after a basketball game, he tends to credit his coach and his fellow players rather than God.

There’s been a bit of a controversy growing out of boxer Floyd Mayweather’s twitter on Jeremy Lin: “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.” Well, maybe so, but they weren’t doing it for the N.Y. Knickerbockers.

UPDATE

Dave Zirin’s really good article on the differences between Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/166269/jeremy-lin-why-knicks-new-star-not-new-tebow

February 13, 2012

Occupy Oakland activists take up the question of decision-making

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 3:45 pm

http://oaklandradicals.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/openletter/

We are a group of radical Oakland activists who have been involved with Occupy Oakland from the very first days. We were previously unknown to each other and met as a result of our frequent participation in OO events and GAs.  Two of us (a married couple) moved in to the encampment on the second day at Oscar Grant Plaza (OGP) and have attended all daily camp facilitation meetings and most OO events since then. Another has been active in the POC Committee and Children’s Village/Children Parents, and Allies Committee. Another was involved within the labor community and in the early days of the Move-In Committee.

In our individualistic culture, it is rare when radical activists are able to pitch a big tent and draw in masses of people to the cause.  The early days of the Occupy movement provided one of those rare opportunities. Occupy was the spark for the emergence of a broad wave of anti-corporate, anti-repression sentiment in our society. We are concerned that the inclusivity that began this movement and contributed to its rapid growth is dying in OO as a result of the dominant insurrectionist tendencies and the “vanguardist” maneuvering and manipulations of some of its proponents. Dramatically shrinking numbers reveal that this ideology and organizing style either misreads the real political situation in Oakland, or else underestimates the importance of consolidating and advancing a broad, united and popular front. We all collectively must take responsibility for this “hardening” and shrinking of the OO ranks, and we must recognize that in trying to re-make OO in an ideologically purist vision, we are destroying our ability to garner the wide base of support and goodwill that will be necessary to successfully resist corporate and state domination.

Occupiers who have begun to question the decision-making processes involved in recent actions like J28 are being asked, in the name of unity, to maintain silence.  We have been told that our concerns will be dealt with, that there’s nothing to worry about, and that we shouldn’t speak publicly about them. Yet we feel that without transparency and open dialogue, the problems will only get worse. We are speaking to everyone who still believes in Occupy Oakland, but especially to those most active in the GA and various committees who have the ability to help us make the kinds of changes that would reassure the larger Bay Area community that Occupy Oakland is still a wise place to invest its energy.

The four of us decided to speak out because we have each been pushed to the margins of OO by ugly, ideological purification behavior that often now takes place at the GAs and in groups like the Move-In Committee, where dissenting voices are booed and jeered and “group speak” and in-group relationships now dominate. Please do not mistake our concerns as yet another attack on anarchism or Black Bloc; it’s not about that at all. It’s about the exclusionary strategies and tactics that alienate those of us who are interested in a slower, more solid, more inclusive approach of mass movement building.

What we are attacking is the acceptance and even rewarding of undemocratic practices, and the lack of a system to repudiate both these practices and the people who engage in them.  It has been clear for some time that a small group of people with similar insurrectionist leanings have been actively manipulating the process and promoting their own agenda. They have previous ties to each other and many have careers in academia which provide them the time and resources to devote their lives to the Occupy movement in Oakland. These academic insurrectionist leaders thrive in a climate of secrecy, and use vanguardist rhetoric and practices to seize control of actions and messages with which OO engages the public. Many of the most divisive and undemocratic actions undertaken in the name of OO can be traced back to this group, including: two non-sanctioned press conferences, including the one for J28 in which outrageous threats and juvenile rants were made in the name of Occupy Oakland; the secretive and exclusionary planning of the strategy for J28 in which community voices were systematically excluded from the inner workings; the hijacking of the General Assembly during the second Port Shut Down; and many smaller examples of non-democratic behavior.  The propaganda produced by these insurrectionist leaders reveals a very narrow scope and embarrassingly juvenile self-aggrandizement.  They even brag of trashing City Hall in this piece.  We strongly believe that the struggle in Oakland should not be used to produce what amounts to riot porn.  This only serves to subvert the will of the people here who are spending our time and energy to make OO something that serves the community.  It is safe to say that many of us local activists and community members feel a sense of anger and betrayal regarding the continued dominance of the collective agenda by these forces.

Many in leadership positions don’t seem to want the discussion about the future of OO or the Occupy movement to be about Black Bloc tactics. We don’t want the discussion to be about some false choice between Gandhian non-violence and “anything goes.” How about if we all agree to change the subject?

Let’s talk about our visions of what OO should be. We have one: OO could and should return to its origins as a broad mass of anti-corporate, anti-repression forces. Our vision for the future of Occupy Oakland is one of true radical inclusivity. We should think of creative ways to include, democratically represent, direct the energies of, and, yes, increasingly radicalize this amazingly diverse group. OO could evolve into a coordinating council for autonomous affinity groups, vetting, approving and organizing coordinated actions in OO’s name. This would allow political tendencies to form ideologically pure affinity groups if they wish, and to have a seat at the table. But we should all agree not to try to control the table.

We are asking for help from those of you who have been at the center of OO from the beginning and love the potential this movement has to create lasting, real change.  We understand that you all played a big role in pitching the Occupy tent, one that is unfortunately smaller now than it should be.  Help bring us all back inside. This is not a matter of individual personalities or power trips.  This is a profound historical moment in our community. This is a real political and ideological struggle with real consequences. The time has come for us to make choices, make the correct ones and make them now or the moment will pass. We are ready to help bring people back into the OO tent with you. We are excited about this moment, and our future.

February 12, 2012

The Forgotten Space

Filed under: Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 6:25 pm

New Yorkers have an extraordinary opportunity to see one of the most explicitly Marxist documentaries of this or any other age. Not surprisingly, “The Forgotten Space” will be showing at Anthology Film Archives, a showcase for the political and aesthetic leading edge for four decades. Opening on Wednesday February 15, it is simply not to be missed.

Directed by Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, the film is a probing examination of modern-day transportation systems like container ships that make global trade possible—their impact on workers, the environment, and more subtly the quality of life for city-dwellers living under its influence. When the Communist Manifesto first appeared in 1848, most on the left would have agreed with its authors that the development described in these words was deeply revolutionary:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

While no doubt agreeing with this observation, Allan Sekula and Noël Burch look at its dialectical negative, namely the tendency for capitalism to destroy human bonds of solidarity in its inexorable drive to turn the entire planet into a marketplace. On the film’s website, the directors lay out their perspective:

First and foremost, globalization is the penetration of the multinational corporate economy into every nook and cranny of human life. It is the latest incarnation of an imperative that has long been accepted as vital necessity, even before economics could claim the status of a science. The first law of proto-capitalism: markets must multiply through foreign trade or they will stagnate and die. As the most sophisticated of the 17th century defenders of mercantilism, William Petty, put it: “There is much more to be gained by Manufacture than Husbandry, and by Merchandize than Manufacture. A Seaman is in effect three Husbandmen.” (Political Arithmetick, 1690).

The contemporary vision of an integrated, globalized, self-regulating capitalist world economy can be traced back to some of these axioms of the capitalist “spirit of adventure.” And yet what is largely missing from the current picture is any sense of material resistance to the expansion of the market imperative. Investment flows intangibly, through the ether, as if by magic. Money begets money. Wealth is weightless. Sea trade, when it is remembered at all, is a relic of an older and obsolete economy, a world of decrepitude, rust, and creaking cables, of the slow movement of heavy things. If Petty’s old fable held that a seafarer was worth three peasants, neither count for much in the even more fabulous new equation. And yet we would all die without the toil of farmers and seafarers.

Covering just about every corner of the world, the film puts us in touch with the humble people who keep the machinery of trade going. They show us Filipino women who occupy the public space near a Hong Kong bank the one afternoon a week away from their jobs as maids. They play cards, gossip, make barbecue, and feel like free human beings rather than domestic slaves. They evoke Marx’s words in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844:

the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working.

They interview an Indonesian who works on a massive container ship, forced to go to sea after being unemployed for a year. He describes life on the ship, which consists of repainting rusted areas on a daily basis. There is little of the 19th century romanticism attached to a job like this, a complaint heard as well from a Dutch locomotive engineer who feels more like a cog in a machine than like Casey Jones.

While alienation is bad enough in itself, the more destructive aspect of global transportation systems is its tendency to accelerate the destruction of traditional societies and convert villagers into super-exploited assembly like workers. Without container ships, there is no supercharging of the Chinese economy, nor the transformation of Walmart into the 18th largest corporation in the world.

The directors not only question the dubious benefits of globalization socially and economically; they find its cultural legacy almost nonexistent. As a critic of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, I was delighted to see the museum eviscerated in the documentary. They reveal that the titanium metal used in most of the museum’s undulating exterior was bought dirt-cheap from the former Soviet Union during the “shock therapy” of Yeltsin/oligarchic rule. A Basque cultural critic tells us that the museum was virtually inflicted on the city, funded publicly but accountable only to its private owners, who count on Spain’s largest steel company for sponsorship.

Ironically, one of the directors—Allan Sekula—is the awardee of a Guggenheim fellowship. Biting the hand that feeds it, the film describes Guggenheim as a mining company that profited from the exploitation of Mexican and Chilean workers.

His co-director Noël Burch was born in San Francisco in 1932 and moved to France at an early age where he became a film theorist. As a committed Marxist, he has no problem ignoring the precept of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer: “Movies are for entertainment. If you want to send a message, send a telegram.” Considering the state of the world, it is not surprising that the local Cineplex features one escapist piece of crap after another while an intrepid but obscure theater like Anthology Film Archives is happy to show the unvarnished truth. The best thing you can do is go see “The Forgotten Space” and tell your friends about. (Schedule information is here.)

February 10, 2012

Another Socialist Left Is Possible: a Reply to Paul D’Amato

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 9:27 pm

Another Socialist Left Is Possible: a Reply to Paul D’Amato

February 10, 2012
by Pham Binh

The first response to my “Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists” piece written by a leading member of an American socialist organization is emblematic of what is wrong with the U.S. socialist left.

read full article here.

Black bloc attack on massive trade union demo in October 2011

Filed under: black bloc idiots,Greece — louisproyect @ 1:13 am

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