Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 23, 2012

Joaquin Phoenix appearance on the David Letterman show

Filed under: Film,popular culture,psychology — louisproyect @ 9:48 pm

From Christopher Glazek’s “Phoenixes: Hollywood’s Children” in the Summer 2012 edition of N+1:

“I’ll never forgive Joaquin Phoenix for overshadowing Two Lovers,” complained Richard Brody, the New Yorker’s film editor. He wasn’t the only one offended by Phoenix’s hijinks. In February 2009, shortly after the release of Two Lovers, Phoenix appeared on David Letterman’s show to promote the movie. By that time, however, he had transformed into something different from the hunky specimen of the Two Lovers trailer. As he slid into a chair opposite Letterman, bearded and glutted, chewing gum and wearing sunglasses, he looked less like Johnny Cash than a cross between Borat and Slavoj Zizek.

Phoenix’s comportment was equally bizarre—he was hostile, shaky, and seemingly on the verge of tears. He appeared either drugged or insane, or both. He insisted that he was serious about his rap career—he would perform under the handle “JP”—and asked whether Letterman would book him as a musical act. Caught off guard, Letterman fought back. “Tell us about your time with the Unabomber,” he suggested. Phoenix responded with scary silence.

Eventually, Letterman showed a clip from Two Lovers, a film in which Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a young man suffering from bipolar disorder. In his review of the film, Richard Brody called Two Lovers “majestic,” deeming it the fourth-best movie of 2009, tied with Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Two Lovers begins with a botched suicide attempt. After Kraditor’s fiancee discovers the couple is at risk for conceiving a child with Tay Sachs disease, she leaves him; Kraditor decides to jump off a bridge. The bridge isn’t very tall, and he survives. In the weeks that follow, Kraditor is confronted with two women apparently meant to correspond to the two poles of his personality: the wild side—played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who delivers an older, frumpier version of the crazy-person performance she gave eight years before in The Anniversary Party—and the subdued side—played by Vinessa Shaw, whose character is the scioness of a Jewish dry cleaning fortune.

Neither manic nor depressive, Phoenix’s Kraditor charms his love interests with arty oddness, conveying depths of sensitivity familiar to fans of Russell Crowe’s performance as the schizophrenic game theorist John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Deferring to a Hollywood tradition, Two Lovers in effect confuses bipolar disorder with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that wouldn’t undergo its own official glamorization until later that year with the Hugh Dancy star vehicle Adam.

Phoenix told Letterman he hadn’t bothered to see Two Lovers; Letterman huffed at what he took to be Phoenix’s charade. At the end of the interview Letterman said with disappointment, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”

But Phoenix really was there, and it’s tempting to believe he was telling the truth. To those familiar with the rhythms and cadence of actually existing manic depression, Two Lovers, otherwise a schmaltzy trifle, is indeed quite painful to watch. The irony is that at the same time Phoenix was badly impersonating a crazy person on screens across America, he was very successfully and disturbingly imitating a crazy person in his everyday life. The footage collected in I’m Still Here cannot be described as a mockumentary, not in the genial manner of a Christopher Guest project. In their zeal to uncover the “truth” behind the film, the critics missed the movie’s deeper truth: I’m Still Here exposes its audience to a spectrum of anger and pathos that forestalls the literal-minded question of whether Phoenix’s performance was motivated by a genuine mental breakdown, or by the impulse to recreate such a breakdown and map its public consequences.

The film’s effect is distressing. Its reality-style scenes resemble footage from Jackass or Cops rather than the fastidiously wrought images we associate with “cinema”—but instead of inducing the usual schadenfreude, these pranks leave the viewer feeling prickly and unnerved. The creatures who slither around Hollywood are insulated by fame, not oppressed by it. They worry about each other, not the public. Like other tacky rich people, they live in large and unglamorous structures in the hilly sections of Los Angeles. Actors, PR professionals, club promoters, TV reporters, hangers-on, and YouTube critics are all shown to be callow predators who flatter the powerful and devour the vulnerable.

In other words, Hollywood is exactly as depraved as any other sector of society.

“I live a really boring life,” Phoenix told a reporter in 2007. “I’m much more cliched, pathetic, and pretentious than you would probably give me credit for.”

Critics resented the stunt because they thought Phoenix and his codirector Casey Affleck were having a laugh at their expense. They were right to feel targeted, wrong about the hoax. There’s no cynicism in I’m Still Here. The film is an act of revenge.

October 22, 2012

Creeped out by Sandra Steingraber

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 8:30 pm

Over the past dozen years or so, I have written 620 reviews that appeared on Rotten Tomatoes, an aggregator of film reviews written by those regarded as a “top critic” (adorned by a star) like Anthony Lane of the New Yorker Magazine and the lowliest like me. Most reviewers, like my colleagues in NYFCO—a group by virtue of my membership allows me to post to RT—are appealing to the same reader, namely the man or women trying to figure out which movie to go see on a Saturday night. My reviews target an entirely different readership, those reprobates who are looking for a radical documentary or some neo-neorealist flick from the Third World, the grittier the better.

I would estimate that 80 percent of my reviews were based on a press screening or a DVD sent to my home by a publicist. And of those, about a half were accompanied by an invitation to interview the director or star, something that has never interested me until a couple of weeks ago when a publicist told me that Sandra Steingraber was in town for a tour promoting the new documentary based on her book “Living Downstream”.

Last June I wrote a highly complementary review of the book that started:

Anticipating that “Pink Ribbons Inc.” would deal with the question of the corporate role in making women sick, I read Sandra Steingraber’s “Living Downstream: an ecologist looks at cancer in the environment”, a book that I purchased in 1997 when it first came out. To give you a sense of its provenance, you can read this blurb by Richard Levins on the back cover: “Sandra Steingraber’s ‘upstream’ approach to cancer is imperative. It is about time someone wrote this book.” Levins, as you might know, is one of America’s most respected Marxist biologists.

Born in 1959, Steingraber grew up in rural Illinois surrounded by corn and soybean fields that were drenched by chemical pesticides and herbicides. In her 20s, when studying biology, she developed bladder cancer, a disease that is not usually found among the young but is endemic to the kind of workplaces that The Plastic Focus Group endured. The book is written as a kind of memoir and investigative journalism that revolves around her return to her hometown and the various places that might have led to her disease.

Despite my enthusiasm for her book, I had nagging doubts about the wisdom of doing an interview with a big shot celebrity. This is a distinguished professor from Ithaca College who has probably been interviewed on NPR dozens of times. She has also been the recipient of many awards. In the documentary you can see her receiving one of them before an audience of several thousand adoring people. I worried that she might regard 30 minutes spent with me as a waste of her precious time even though she probably understood that she was obligated to meet with me since the publicist had arranged it.

I went down to the publicist’s office in the West Village for a 2pm meeting last Friday during a driving rain. When I got up to the office, the publicist introduced me to Steingraber and the director Chanda Chevannes who were sitting at a conference table looking at me with an expression on their faces like Charles Manson’s parole board. I almost excused myself to go to the bathroom to see if my forehead had accidentally been smudged on the subway in the shape of a swastika.

Since I had brought my camcorder with me, I broached the subject of recording the interview, explaining that I would not put it up on Vimeo if they preferred not to. But I would like to have it for my own use in writing up the interview later on. The expression on Steingraber’s face changed at this point as she said, “No-no. I don’t want to do that.” This time she looked more like Julia Roberts being asked for her autograph by a stubborn fan following her down the street.

I was also told that the interview must end after 30 minutes. Fine, I replied, since I planned on getting straight to the point. I was starting to get a very bad vibe. I wasn’t sure whether the two were more aggravated by my obscurity or by my politics.

Keep in mind that my questions sought to clarify issues posed by the film and her writings. I didn’t plan to ask her, for example, how she felt during an exam at her oncologist. Let NPR take care of that.

Since we were nearing Election Day and since Steingraber blogs at Huffington Post, an Obama outpost like the Nation or MSNBC, I wanted to hone in on class questions. I asked her that since she credited Rachel Carsons with leading to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, what she made of Lisa Jackson, the current head of the EPA and an Obama appointee. One of the major concerns of “Living Downstream” is the carcinogenic nature of Atrazine, a widely used pesticide. It turns out that Jackson assembled an EPA panel that concluded that there was insufficient evidence to ban the chemical. I was also curious to see how Steingraber would react to Jackson’s statement before a Senate investigation committee that she knows of no instances where fracking led to contaminated water, an issue that Steingraber has taken up in recent years.

Her reply was to talk about the need of the federal government to protect its citizens. That’s about it. Despite her ability to make connections between the environment and our health, she was not able to tie both to the nature of the economic system we are living in. This is something that Chris Hedges does quite well but it does not lead to banquets and awards.

At two twenty-nine sharp, the director informed me that I had one minute left. She reminded me of Columbia University business school dean Glenn Hubbard telling Charles Ferguson in “Inside Job”: “In fact, you’ve got three minutes. So give it your best shot.”

As I was getting ready to put on my jacket and head back uptown, Steingraber asked me when my article would appear. I told her that evening. I planned to write it up when I got home. She then asked me for my email address. What for, I wondered? She told me that it was important to get the science of cancer causality and treatment correct so she wanted a copy of my article before it went up since corrections might be necessary. I didn’t mention it to her at the time—mostly because I was so stunned by the request—but I planned to write a film review not something to be submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine. I suspect that her real concern was politics, not cell mutation. Like most big shots she probably was anxious to control how she was perceived.

That evening I dashed off a brief email to her explaining that I was not going to write a review but simply post a notice about the showing of the documentary over at Lincoln Center the next day with a description from the film’s website. That would save her the trouble of putting my review under a microscope.

I also pointed out that she would have not had the nerve to ask someone like Anthony Lane to submit to such a vetting process, only someone at the bottom of the totem pole like me.

Whenever I am confronted by situations like this, I am always reminded of Michael Yates’s priceless account of going to an after-conference social hosted by Columbia University professors that appeared in his wonderful “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate”:

I had come to Manhattan to give a talk at one of Columbia University’s ongoing seminars. Faculty and outside scholars have organized these on a wide variety of subjects; the same one might run for many years. I was to speak to the Seminar on Full Employment. I walked through the great university’s gate at Broadway and 116th Street with some trepidation. I had never spoken at an Ivy League university, and I wondered if the group’s participants would be as brilliant as I sometimes imagined people at such schools were. We found our way to Faculty House, where we were to have dinner and where the meeting was to be held. We met the person who had invited me, a friendly elderly man of some renown. The first thing he did was inform me that I would have to pay for my wife’s dinner. I was astounded. I should have refused, but I gave him the money. Dinner was a lavish affair, with fine food and table settings. The dining room overlooked the slums of East Harlem. Everyone was white except the servers. The conversation revolved around trips these elite academics had taken and the research they were doing. When the talk turned to children, we silenced the polite chatter when we said that our three sons were cooks. Apparently no one could believe that a college professor had children who did such work. After dinner I gave my talk. It went well, but the questions were abstrusely academic and trivial. Later we were dragooned into going to a professor’s apartment, which overlooked Central Park, to watch a television show about the overboard spending of American consumers. The host served cheap beer; I got a half a glass. When the show ended we had to go around the room in order and make comments. These were so convoluted, egotistic, and laden with academic jargon that Karen and I wondered what we would say. I was glad her turn came first. She stated that the show was shallow and again that pretty much stopped the discussion. Thankfully we left soon after. As we walked out the door, we heard one person remind another that she owed a dollar for the short cab ride from the college to the apartment.

October 21, 2012

We are Legion

Filed under: computers,Film — louisproyect @ 11:26 pm

Like its name, and unlike Wikileaks that is known mostly through its founder Julian Assange, the hactivist group Anonymous is not easily tied to any particular individual. Operating in semi-clandestine conditions, its members have only made public appearances behind the famous V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks. Opening last Friday night at the Quad Cinema, Brian Knappenberger’s very fine documentary “We are Legion” not only interviews key figures associated with Anonymous but presents a fairly scholarly but riveting account of its origins, much of which should be of avid interest to the left. When so many gray-haired veterans of the left fret over when “fresh blood” will arrive, “We are Legion” makes it clear that help is on the way even if it does not exactly conform to past expectations.

Among the expert witnesses interviewed is Steven Levy, the author of “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution”. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say since my review of his book was the very first article I ever posted on the Internet, long before blogs existed—and for that matter, when the Worldwide Web was still in its infancy. Here’s an excerpt from my piece that will give you a flavor of how the earliest generation of geeks tilted left:

Some of the key pioneers in the personal computing revolution were not driven by entrepreneurial greed. For example, the Community Memory project in Berkeley, California was launched in 1973 by Lee Felsenstein. The project allowed remote public access to a time-shared XDS mainframe in order to provide “a communication system which allows people to make contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interests, without having to cede judgement to third parties.” The Community Memory project served as a kind of bulletin board where people could post notes, information, etc., sort of like an embryonic version of the Interenet.

Felsenstein, born in 1945, was the son of a CP district organizer and got involved in civil rights struggles in the 1950’s. Eventually, he hooked up with the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and became a committed radical. Lee’s other passion was electronics and he entered the UC as an electrical engineering major.

Felsenstein then hooked up with another left-of-center computer hacker by the name of Bob Halbrecht and the two went on to form a tabloid called PCC “People’s Computer Company”. Among the people drawn to the journal was Ted Nelson, a programmer who had bounced from one corporate job to another throughout the 60’s but who was always repelled by “the incredible bleakness of the place in these corridors.”

Nelson was the author of “Computer Lib” and announced in its pages that “I want to see computers useful to individuals, and the sooner the better, without necessary complication or human servility being required.” Community Memory flourished for a year and a half until the XDS started breaking down too often The group disbanded in 1975.

Defying the stereotype of adolescent boys sitting behind a keyboard in the parents’ basement, many Anonymous members are female. One of them is Mercedes Haefer who is facing a 15-year sentence for a “denial of service” type attack on Paypal after it stopped processing donations to Wikileaks. At the time Haefer was a 20-year-old student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the home of the “Running Rebels” basketball team, and a cashier at a Sony store. This is not exactly the typical profile of a Left Forum attendee but maybe it should be.

Haefer’s attorney Sidney Cohen, who works with the Center for Constitutional Rights, presented his legal strategy by comparing Haefer and her comrades to the civil rights activists who sat in at lunch counters in the South in the early 60s. While I wouldn’t dream of giving Cohen legal advice, I would remind him that the ruling class in the U.S. was divided over segregation back then. Today there are no such divisions, especially over the right of financial institutions to carry out their business unimpeded and especially the right to carry out their own “denial of service” to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Even when hackers are capable of paralyzing the website of a major financial institution or some government agency for only a day, the authorities consider such actions an act of espionage deserving the harshest punishment.

Anonymous’s history is really fascinating. They started out as totally disconnected and anonymous posters to a bulletin board called www.4chan.org, bent mostly on what amounted to trolling just for the hell of it. Somewhere along the line a creep by the name of Hal Turner showed up there and got under everybody’s skin, particularly the “anonymous” regulars. Turner was a neo-Nazi who ran a webcast radio show from his home in North Bergen, New Jersey. Spontaneously, the opposition to Turner made his life hell on and off the Internet, hacking his website and subscribing to all sorts of magazines in his name. This step up from trolling ultimately led to a victory over Turner and a sense of empowerment.

Once those involved developed the sense that they had common social and political goals, they began to work together on a fairly organized basis. The next big campaign was against Scientology that had filed copyright infringement injunctions against the posting of a totally embarrassing Tom Cruise interview on Youtube or elsewhere. This got their dander up and they launched a drive to get the video up all over the Internet (maybe I should contact them about my comic book memoir.)

This led to a pitched battle with Scientology and its lawyers employing the techniques that would make Anonymous famous (or infamous if you are against the left), taking their websites offline, jamming their phones, etc. If flooding a switchboard is a crime that carries a 15-year sentence, you can bet that Obama or some other big-time politician will have little to worry about when they invite you to do the same thing to his opponents.

The arrests of Haefer and company has undoubtedly had a dampening effect on hactivism or what the ruling class calls cyberterrorism. Given the nature of Anonymous, it is not surprising to see that their views on what Marxists call strategy are not to be found. This, of course, is the same issue with the black bloc. When you get into the business of challenging bourgeois legality, you have to expect the full might of the state to be used against you.

When I joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1967, I was told that I had to stop using illegal drugs. Since I had grown bored with pot, this was not that much of a sacrifice. Even if this kept our numbers smaller, it made a lot of sense especially in places like Houston, Texas where we had a branch. It was not unusual for an activist to face a stiff prison sentence when they were caught with a small amount of pot. Since we knew that there were informers in our movement, we had to be extra careful.

After the Scientology war ended, Anonymous turned to more and more political issues such as working with Wikileaks and giving technical support to fellow hactivists in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.

While most of what they do is commendable, there are some disturbing signs that the same kind of unaccountability that has characterized black bloc activism threatens to erode the good will that has been built up in the recent past.

While the ties between LulzSec and Anonymous were never clearly established, it can at least be said that most people regard them as part of the broader hactivist movement, including the people who made “We are Legion”. While engaging in political protest, LulzSec’s more overarching goal was to create mayhem. Their manifesto was an exercise in nihilism:

This is the lulz lizard era, where we do things just because we find it entertaining. Watching someone’s Facebook picture turn into a penis and seeing their sister’s shocked response is priceless. Receiving angry emails from the man you just sent 10 dildos to because he can’t secure his Amazon password is priceless. You find it funny to watch havoc unfold, and we find it funny to cause it. We release personal data so that equally evil people can entertain us with what they do with it.

Eventually the group’s leader was unveiled as an FBI informant who had entrapped a number of his comrades, who like Mercedes Haefer are facing stiff prison terms.

Recently Anonymous decided to break with Wikileaks after it began what Anonymous regarded as an intrusive fundraising:

Since yesterday visitors of the Wikileaks site are presented a red overlay page that demands they donate money. This page cannot be closed, and unless a donation is made – the content like GI Files are not displayed.

While they have promised not to attack the Wikileaks website, it is not good to see the two stalwarts of hactivism divided in this fashion.

Frankly, I have some trouble coming to grips with hactivism even though I spent nearly 5 years promoting leftwing computer programming efforts in the late 80s to early 90s through the auspices of Tecnica. Tecnica’s goal was just as radical as Anonymous’s but focused on supporting a government rather than challenging it. We sent hundreds of computer programmers to Nicaragua in order to train its citizens how to use spreadsheets, electronic publishing, databases, etc. as part of an effort to modernize the country and make socialism feasible.

Denial of service attacks on the Pentagon, the CIA and shitty financial institutions is obviously something I sympathize with but I am not exactly sure how the broader goals of the left and those of Anonymous can properly mesh. The closer I look at the left today, the more convinced I become that accountability and transparency are urgently needed. At the risk of sounding hackneyed, I suppose that the premium must be on worker’s democracy both in how we are organized and in our ultimate goal of transforming society.

If you have wrestled with these questions yourself, I strongly urge you to take a look at “We are Legion”, a film that sheds light on one of the more important developments in the past half-decade or so.

Darth Nader on Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm

By now it should be evident that the mainstream news outlets’ coverage of events in Syria is flawed, at best. Even those news outlets that are accused of being ‘sympathetic’ to the demands of the opposition only scratch the surface of what’s really happening in Syria. Headlines focus on military events, such as the seizing of government air bases by the rebels, or the recent tensions between Turkey, Russia and Syria.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2846

Bruce Springsteen victim of early Alzheimer’s

Filed under: aging,music,Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 2:56 pm

Black bloc activist defines ideology

Filed under: black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

October 19, 2012

Film after Film

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:24 pm

Film after Film, or What Became of 21st-Century Cinema” is a collection of articles by J. Hoberman published by Verso this year. Most of them appeared originally in the Village Voice, the N.Y. weekly that employed Hoberman for 33 years. With his termination in January of this year, the paper cut its final ties to the long and storied journalistic traditions that made it a must-read each week. As a social critic with Marxist leanings and a partisan of the cinematic avant-garde, Hoberman was a symbol of the paper at its best. The undistinguished bunch that has taken his place are mostly interested in advising the readers how to be entertained for $12 or so. As such they perform a function not that much different from the massage parlor ads at the back of the paper that probably provide most of its revenue nowadays.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/10/19/cinema-after-911/

Living Downstream, the documentary

Filed under: Ecology,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

Film Society of Lincoln Center – Mountainfilm Series
LIVING DOWNSTREAM by Chanda Chevannes
Canada, 2010, HD, color, 55 min.

Screening October 20 at 2pm at the Walter Reade Theater
Followed by a 45-min Q+A moderated by Mountainfilm director David Holbrooke.

Click here for multi-city US tour dates

National broadcast on Outside TV: November 2012

From the film website:

Based on the acclaimed book by ecologist and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Living Downstream is an eloquent and cinematic documentary film.

This poetic film follows Sandra during one pivotal year as she travels across North America, working to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. After a routine cancer screening, Sandra receives some worrying results and is thrust into a period of medical uncertainty. Thus, we begin two journeys with Sandra: her private struggles with cancer and her public quest to bring attention to the urgent human rights issue of cancer prevention.

But Sandra is not the only one who is on a journey—the chemicals against which she is fighting are also on the move. We follow these invisible toxins as they migrate to some of the most beautiful places in North America. We see how these chemicals enter our bodies and how, once inside, scientists believe they may be working to cause cancer.

Several experts in the fields of toxicology and cancer research make important cameo appearances in the film, highlighting their own findings on two pervasive chemicals: atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and the industrial compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Their work further illuminates the significant connection between a healthy environment and human health.

At once Sandra’s personal journey and her scientific exploration, Living Downstream is a powerful reminder of the intimate connection between the health of our bodies and the health of our air, land, and water.

October 18, 2012

Why you should contribute to Counterpunch

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,journalism,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

Jeff St. Clair

I just contributed $50 to Counterpunch’s fund-drive and strongly urge you to do so as well.

As many of you might have noticed, I began writing for Counterpunch recently and am thrilled to do so. The circumstances are fairly typical of my complex (to say the least) relationship to the magazine and the towering presence most identified with it, Alexander Cockburn.

A day or so after it appeared I made some rude remark on Marxmail about Mike Whitney’s CP hatchet job on Pussy Riot. Jeff St. Clair (who I was pleased to discover is a lurker) then dropped me a line inviting me to weigh in with my disagreements. He actually corrected me on one important point. I had complained about how the coverage was one-sided but he pointed out that Chris Randolph had already answered Whitney there.

That’s the thing about Counterpunch. It gets your juices flowing. This week people on Marxmail have got themselves all worked up over Israel Shamir’s love poem to Pol Pot, as if there was any great danger of his article actually winning people over to the Khmer Rouge’s cause. The consensus was that CP was wrong to give Shamir a platform.

I get a chuckle out of that because in some circles I am considered more of a reprobate than Shamir, given my supposedly Hitchenesque embrace of the Libyan and Syrian revolutionaries. Jeff shared an email he got over my maiden voyage on CP:

Why does Counterpunch keep running the thoughts of Chairman Louis Proyect on your site, since he is a guy who is a total discredit to all that marxism should stand for?  Why not republish works by Gus Hall instead, for at least he is no longer alive still censoring comrades for not being supposedly ‘marxist’ enough … OH! so politically correct as Proyect does on HIS so-called marxism list?  And Gus Hall at least is not currently working to promote NATO-Pentagon bombing of Syria over on Proyect’s new ‘Northstar’ blog either, which also censors off all contrary viewpoints being allowed there online same as on ‘marxism list’.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that it is better for people to talk about you even if they have nothing good to say than to be ignored. In fact the last $50 contribution I made to Counterpunch was out of gratitude for Alexander Cockburn’s diss:

Who says these days that in the last analysis, the only way to change the status quo and challenge the Money Power of Wall St is to overthrow the government by force? That isn’t some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden old hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.

Who cares if I am lice-ridden as long as I get my name out there?

On a more serious note, the best indication of the value of Counterpunch is the amount of articles I crosspost to the Marxism list. I doubt that a week goes by without me forwarding something (just by coincidence the last one is on “The Pussy Riot of Vietnam” by Linh Dinh that is just the sort of thing that more than makes up for Israel Shamir).

It is also important to underline Counterpunch’s utility as a research database for the left. On countless occasions when I have written something for my blog, I go to the search field on Counterpunch first to find articles that I can cite. For example, I will be preparing something on the nature of the jobs that have been created under Obama’s “recovery” and particularly the recent spike that cut the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent. I just entered “low-wage jobs” and “recovery” there and came up with an article by Eileen Appelbaum titled “Low-Wage Jobs and the Stalled Recovery” that I am sure I will consult. For the left to have such information at its fingertips is an incalculable asset.

It is surely worth a dollar a week, isn’t it? Go to Counterpunch (http://www.counterpunch.org) and read Jeff’s appeal. Then, without wasting any time, click this link (http://www.easycartsecure.com/CounterPunch/Donations.html) and support the voice of those struggling for a better world.

Death by Degrees

Filed under: Education — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

N+1 No. 14

Death by Degrees
by the Editors

[T]he AMA owes its authority to America’s most notorious robber barons, who invented philanthropy as we know it by establishing foundations capable of long-term, organized interventions in the country’s political and cultural life. The first foundations poured money into medical schools — but only if those schools followed the example set by Johns Hopkins, which in 1893 had introduced what’s now the standard formula: students attend four years of college, then four years of medical school. Institutions that didn’t follow this model did not get donations, and they also got denounced in a 1910 report sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation. After the Carnegie survey published its “findings,” scores of medical schools — schools whose students could not afford the additional years of study now required, and nearly all of the schools that admitted blacks and women — closed.

Today, we take it for granted that practicing medicine or law requires years of costly credentialing in unrelated fields. In the law, the impact of all this “training” is clear: it supports a legal system that is overly complicated and outrageously expensive, both for high-flying corporate clients who routinely overpay and for small-time criminal defendants who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, can’t afford to secure representation at all (and must surrender their fate to local prosecutors, who often send them to prison). But just as a million-dollar medical training isn’t necessary to perform an abortion, routine legal matters could easily, and cheaply, be handled by noninitiates.

The standardization of these professional guilds benefited undergraduate institutions immensely, a fact that was not lost on university administrators. College presidents endorsed the Hopkins model and the AMA’s consolidation of medical authority for good reason: in the mid-19th century, bachelor’s degrees in the United States were viewed with skepticism by the private sector, and colleges had a hard time finding enough students. The corporate-sponsored consolidation of the medical establishment changed undergraduate education from a choice to a necessity. Where once there was indifference, now there was demand: “I want to be a doctor when I grow up,” the child in the PSA says. “I want to go to college.”

full: http://nplusonemag.com/death-by-degrees

The Baffler No. 20

Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard
by Jim Newell

Wheeler came to Harvard to study English and left as a bit player in a twisted Dreiserian tragedy, exaggerated to hammy effect by a humiliated university covering its ass. He bought into Harvard’s great enabling social myth at face value: the notion that twenty-first-century meritocratic advancement is available to all through the procurement of a college diploma. Like any rational economic actor, he sought to procure a diploma from the finest college, with maximum efficiency. Wheeler’s crime, in the institution’s eyes, was that he saw Harvard degrees for what they are—items for purchase that cloak the owner with a manufactured prestige that, in our pretend meritocracy, automatically raises one’s market value upon the deal’s closing. The only thing propping up that value is the admissions office’s carefully maintained scarcity of supply—a luxury good ostensibly awarded to society’s most able. So Wheeler once more called the bluff of the Harvard admissions crew: he gave them whatever song-and-dance they were looking for, and, shockingly, came close to completing the purchase.

It’s quite apparent that Harvard administrators couldn’t merely expel Wheeler and demand he return the money when they finally noticed the obvious lies on his academic résumé. There was an urgent example to be set here, after all: enterprising young minds watching the news coverage might have reasoned that the people who run Harvard are utter morons who caught Wheeler only after a final fabrication so flamboyant that he must have wanted to get caught. With the great meritocratic ruse at last exposed in the light of day, young strivers might well give it a go themselves. Even better, forget going to Harvard—why not simply throw “BA, Harvard” on the ol’ résumé right now and start making tons of money playing financial computer games tomorrow? All Wheeler did, anyway, was spot major systemic inefficiencies and disingenuously exploit them for personal financial reward. And if Harvard is a place that would expel such a Capitalist of the Year, then it’s everyone else’s moral duty as Americans to pick up where he left off, and continue looting the place until it reaches a competitive market-clearing equilibrium: when looting a Harvard degree would no longer be worth the trouble—when Harvard, horror of horrors, becomes but one college of many!

full: http://thebaffler.com/past/adam_wheeler_went_to_harvard

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