Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 15, 2013

Bullying in the National Football League

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 1:15 am

As a sports fan since a young age, I enjoy listening to sports talk radio shows on WFAN and ESPN. Since October 30th the phone lines have been burning up over the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy. These are two offensive linemen (in Incognito’s case, a double entendre) from the Miami Dolphins National Football League team who are antagonists in “hazing” incidents that left Martin on leave for what amounted to a mental breakdown and Incognito suspended for role as chief hazer. Commentators have also referred to the actions as “bullying”, something that appeared confusing at first since Martin is 6’5” tall and 312 pounds. I was bullied in high school but I was shorter and weaker than the boys who bullied me. How does someone who makes a living colliding with other huge men become a victim of “bullying”?

There is also some question as to whether the term hazing applies since Martin is a second year player. Rookies are routinely harassed in institutions like private schools, fraternities, sports teams, and the military but once you have gotten past the first year, you are off the hook.

There is a marked contrast in identity. Both of Jonathan Martin’s parents are Harvard graduates with law degrees. The dad is a Cal State professor and the mom an attorney for Toyota. Their son could have easily gotten into Harvard but preferred to enroll at Stanford (a top school with a top athletics program) in order to pursue his ambitions as a football player while studying the classics.

Incognito was asked by the coach to “toughen” Martin up. Ordinarily when a football player is not playing up to expectations, he is supposed to go through some drills to improve his game, like blocking a dummy or running wind sprints. In this instance, “toughening” him up meant harassing him day and night. The first report on the “toughening up” campaign was reported on NBC Sports on October 30:

Glazer said Martin had an incident in the team cafeteria this week in which teammates jokingly said they wouldn’t sit with him, and that Martin’s reaction to the joke was that he “flipped out, smashed a food tray on the ground, took off, and they haven’t seen him since.”

You’ll note the “jokingly” thrown in here as if to say it was all in good humor, and the obfuscation as to whether they actually got up from the table when he sat down or just “jokingly” threatened to do so. The Glazer referred to here is Jay Glazer, a reporter who is close friends with and mixed martial arts trainer for Incognito. Just recently Glazer did an interview with Incognito that was anything but probing.

In the days following this initial report, much more information came out that painted an incriminating portrait of Incognito as an abusive twitterer and someone who left crazed and violent phone and text messages:

Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. [I want to] shit in your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your fucking mouth. [I’m going to] slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you

When Martin’s agent went to the team’s general manager, one Jeff Ireland, to complain about the mistreatment, Ireland’s response was to urge Martin to “punch” Incognito. This is the same general manager who asked a potential draftee in 2010 whether his mother was a prostitute just because she had spent some time in jail for selling drugs.

With management like this, it is no wonder that they would not only put Incognito in charge of “toughening” Martin up. His teammates were just as derelict as management, voting him onto the team’s leadership council in utter disregard of his long record as a miscreant. He was kicked off the team at University of Nebraska for various offenses both against opposing teams and his own, so egregious that he was sent to the Menninger Clinic for anger management treatment. He then transferred to the University of Oregon where he was kicked off the team a week after joining it. Once he turned pro, he went from team to team, always being forced to move on for the same kind of problems. In 2009, NFL players picked him as the dirtiest player in the league.

Since Jonathan Martin has not given an interview since taking his leave, we do not know his side of the story. In his interview with Glazer, Incognito argues that he was Martin’s most reliable ally on the team, which speaks more about the horrors he faced than anything else.

It does raise the question, however, why it might have been possible for Martin to put up with such abuse as long as he did. My own experience with bullying in high school tells me that you often put up with it in order to be accepted. When your ego structure has not been fully developed, you feel much more of a need to be approved by your peers, even if they have a sadistic need to humiliate and beat you. From what I have seen of Richie Incognito, it appears that he never grew up. Furthermore, despite Jonathan Martin’s blue chip upbringing and Stanford degree, he still felt the need to be “part of the crowd”. Maybe now that he is outside the sport he will find a different crowd not fueled by testosterone and volcanic fits of rage.

His off-the-field problems were just as serious.  In 2012 a drunken Richie Incognito stuck a gulf club into the crotch of a 34-year-old African-American female volunteer and then emptied a bottle of water in her face according to a police report. This is just what you would expect from a character that called for a team meeting in a strip club.

One might reasonably assume that Incognito is a racist based on the “half-nigger” tweet and the abuse of the Black volunteer but it is a bit more complicated than that. There is no apparent racial division on the team, with Black players considering him an “honorary Black man” according to the Miami Herald.  Furthermore, one of Incognito’s most diehard supporters is a Mike Pouncey, an African-American who plays center on the offensive line (his job is to hike the football to the quarterback), who apparently does not hold Incognito’s reference to him as a “nigger” in the Youtube clip against him. Pouncey has stated that he “loves” and “respects” Incognito.

We have to take into account, however, that Pouncey might not be the best judge of character since he is a close friend of Aaron Hernandez, the New England tight end that is awaiting trial on the murder of his sister’s fiancé. He is expected to testify in a grand jury on Hernandez’s illegal gun trafficking, transactions he was supposedly well aware of. Here is Maurkice Pouncey (r), also a pro football player, and his twin brother Mike (l) wearing “Free [Aaron] Hernandez” caps.

The brothers, who played with Hernandez at the U. of Florida, were with him at a Gainesville nightclub in 2007 on the night of a shooting that left two men seriously wounded. Hernandez was not charged at the time but cops are now looking at the possibility of adding this charge to the one for murder.

Pro football is continuously being roiled by controversies such as this for a good reason. The sport is simply a modern version of the gladiator games that were a hallmark of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. If the goal is not necessarily to kill your opponent, it is certainly implicitly a goal to maim them. That is why Incognito was drafted by a number of teams. His brand of aggression was considered key to a team’s success. One wonders whether Martin had any concerns as a classics student about what it meant to be a modern-day gladiator. That’s a question I would love to pose to him. Edward Gibbon, the author of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, wrote that “History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” Doesn’t that apply to American history as well?

The owners and the NFL officialdom will most certainly draft new rules against hazing but they do not really speak to the essence of the sport that values victory using any means at one’s disposal, just as is the case in warfare. Not too long ago, the NFL had to deal with the bountygate scandal. Gregg Williams, the defensive coach for the New Orleans Saints paid bonuses to any player who would inflict an injury on an opposing player severe enough to make him leave the game. In a rant to his team before a game with the San Francisco 49’ers, Williams told him to aim for wide receiver Kyle Williams’s head and “the body will follow”, an especially ominous statement given the 49er player’s history of concussions.

The NFL is also embroiled in scandals over its refusal to investigate the epidemic of  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, ALS, and early Alzheimer’s among players who suffered repeated concussions, the latest of which is Dallas Cowboy’s running back hall of famer Tony Dorsett. ESPN reported:

Two weeks ago, upon arriving in California for his evaluation and brain scan at UCLA, Dorsett described to “Outside the Lines” the symptoms that compelled him to seek testing: memory loss, depression and thoughts of suicide.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.

It is entirely conceivable that fear of concussion might dry up the well upon which professional football relies, at least among the more privileged players like Jonathan Martin not willing to exchange their brains for a hefty salary. Football might evolve into a sport like boxing in which the only participants are from the most poverty-stricken.

Like warfare, football always seems to find a way to survive. In 2011 Harper Collins published “The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football”, written by John J. Miller. Miller, a rightwing slug from National Review, portrayed Roosevelt as a savior of a sport that had not yet become professional, even though it was arguably a lot more brutal. A Wall Street Journal review ties the book to current events:

Today a major problem is concussions. One study sponsored by the NFL found that professional veterans over the age of 50 are five times as likely as the general population to suffer from dementia. Those numbers are bad, but consider the situation in 1905, when 18 people died on the gridiron. Back then, foes likened the game to gladiatorial combat in Roman amphitheaters and launched a crusade. Led by Harvard President Charles Eliot and joined by the Nation magazine and muckraking journalists, Progressive-era prohibitionists wanted to sack the increasingly popular sport.

At one point, Harvard actually quit playing the game. So did Columbia, Northwestern, Stanford, the University of California and several smaller colleges. Following the 1897 death of Richard Von Gammon, a fullback at the University of Georgia, the Georgia state legislature voted to ban football. The governor vetoed the bill, but only after hearing from Gammon’s mother, who urged him not to outlaw a sport that her son had loved.

Harvard’s Eliot was adamant. No honorable sport, he wrote in a 1905 report, embraces “the barbarous ethics of warfare.”

Roosevelt had little patience for such talk. “Harvard will be doing the baby act if she takes any such foolish course as President Eliot advises,” he wrote. Elsewhere, he worried about producing “mollycoddles instead of vigorous men.”

As is the case today, football was a vital part of a culture of Empire. In Roosevelt’s day, it was gunboat diplomacy; now we have drone diplomacy. If you have the stomach to watch the pregame ceremonies of a Super Bowl, you will be struck by the salutes to the troops, the overhead flights of jet fighters, the American flags, and all the rest. It is our version of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies.

On August 4, 2013, Michael Perelman posted an excerpt from his latest book titled “The Matrix: The Intersection of War, Economic Theory, and the Economy” on his blog that has a chapter titled “Muscular Christianity and Football” that you can read it in its entirety here. The first paragraph referring to a problem with “softness” might tell you that as long as there is capitalism and imperialism, there will always be professional football and the Richie Incognito’s who serve as its gladiators:

In the late nineteenth century, a fear about the softness of American society raised doubts about the capacity of the United States to carry out its imperial destiny.  This problem was associated with the final settlement of the frontier.  As important as the development of open space was to the expansion of the territory of the United States, the completion of the continental expansion brought an attendant fear that traditional masculinity was on the wane and would bring about a withering of the individual and the national body.  This fear spread to the church as well, where the result was thought to be a moral softening (Miller 2011, p. 38).  To make matters worse, waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were flooding American cities with foreign cultures.  This concern became so pressing that talk of “race suicide” became common.

November 13, 2013

Fela in performance

Filed under: Africa,dance,music — louisproyect @ 4:11 am

November 12, 2013


Filed under: Ecology,Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 10:23 pm

While most of my readers understand that the environmental crisis threatens humanity’s survival, that understanding revolves generally around issues that effect us as a species. This is typified by the loss of foodstuffs and the increase of catastrophic flooding such as demonstrated by the typhoon that just wreaked havoc in the Philippines–very likely the result of the wanton production of greenhouse gases.

But there is more to the equation than that. The environmental crisis also threatens the extinction of many animals, whose loss also affects us in a material way. When predators like the eagle disappear, carcinogenic chemical pesticides become the rule. But the extinction of animals such as the polar bear, the raptor, the orangutan, and the tiger also lessen us culturally. What would our world be if it is left with the pigeon, the rat, and us? It is the same as burning Rembrandts.

“Musicwood”, a documentary that plays at the Quad in NY through Thursday (the film is also available on ITunes and DVD), poses the question of what our world would be like if the great guitars became extinct as well. It turns out that the sounding board of a Gibson or a Martin (the top of the line of which can cost close to $200,000) relies on the Sitka Spruce tree that can be found in the Tongass National Forest of Southeastern Alaska on land that is owned by a First Nations corporation called Sealaska. Although I referred positively to the Inuit and to the tribes resisting the tar sands extraction of Canada as examples of the ecological Indian, I now realize I was being somewhat reductionist. In reality, native peoples have frequently made deals with oil, mining and lumber companies to profit from unsustainable practices on tribal lands. Sealaska unfortunately is one of the most egregious examples, allowing clearcutting of trees ranging from 300 to 600 years old with the raw materials shipped off to Asia where they become furniture or construction material. In the grand scheme of things, it is not much different than burning Rembrandts.

The film makes it clear that the beneficiaries of this wasteful practice are the tribal elite who serve on the board of directors of Sealaska with a couple of non-native men who have spent their careers in the lower 48 states supervising clearcutting operations. They are the moral equivalent of those who are responsible for mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

The two First Nations people on the Sealaska board who are featured in the documentary are hostile to Greenpeace since it has made preserving Tongass a priority. Rosita Worl, a Tlingit who serves on the board of trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian, sets the tone by referring to Greenpeace as the outsiders who want to “save the whale” at the expense of native peoples. As someone who has stood up for the right of the Makah to hunt whales against the interference of the Sea Shepherds, I might have been sympathetic to her objections but there’s a huge difference between a whale or two being killed by a tiny band of Indians desperate to maintain their cultural heritage as opposed to an entire rainforest being turned into coffee tables for sale at Pier One.

The ordinary Indian, who is a shareholder in Sealaska, has no problem seeing through the elite’s pretensions. One native woman shrewdly observes that not a single penny of the corporation’s profits has filtered down into her pocketbook. She and her family, like most other ordinary folks, survive by catching salmon and hunting deer while the Rosita Worls of their world go to cocktail parties in Washington and receive handsome salaries for serving on the board of Sealaska.

The nominal heroes of the film are a Greenpeace lobbyist and a group of guitar industry presidents who understand the need to preserve Tongass through the auspices of Musicwood (http://www.musicwood.org/), an advocacy group that is supported by world-class musicians such as Steve Earle and Ya Lo Tengo who are seen in the film. Unfortunately the guitar companies can be as easily seduced by the dollar as the native elite. We learn that the FBI raided Gibson Guitars for using unlicensed rosewood and ebony from Madagascar.

The struggle to preserve Tongass is ongoing. Like the equally essential “People of a Feather” I reviewed for Counterpunch last Friday, the film’s website points you in the direction of valuable resources. I strongly recommend the purchase of the film for high school and college classes since it poses the question of how capitalism pits people against each other without bludgeoning you over the head in didactic fashion. It challenges the student to think about how justice can be served in a period of declining expectations—mostly a function of the need to preserve corporate profits.

Director Maxine Trump has done an excellent job of making her material appeal to anybody concerned about the planet’s future. In the press notes, she states:

Working with our editor, we simplified the politics as much as possible without doing disservice to anyoneʼs issues, and let the passion, the music, and the spiritual essence of the film take over. We had to make sure we werenʼt taking on anyoneʼs agenda; we let the facts speak for themselves, and got to the truth of the situation.

She has succeeded admirably. Very highly recommended.

November 11, 2013

At Berkeley; Birth of the Living Dead

Filed under: Academia,Film — louisproyect @ 6:57 pm

Although his name is virtually synonymous with cinéma vérité, Frederick Wiseman disavows the notion that he adopts the perspective of the impartial “fly on the wall”:

All aspects of documentary filmmaking involve choice and are therefore manipulative. But the ethical … aspect of it is that you have to … try to make [a film that] is true to the spirit of your sense of what was going on. … My view is that these films are biased, prejudiced, condensed, compressed but fair. I think what I do is make movies that are not accurate in any objective sense, but accurate in the sense that I think they’re a fair account of the experience I’ve had in making the movie. (from Wikipedia)

I saw “Titicut Follies” in 1967, the first documentary Wiseman ever made at the age of 37. Now 83, the director came to filmmaking relatively late in life, having started out as a lawyer. The film was an indictment of the treatment of inmates at Bridgewater State Hospital for “the criminally insane” that allowed the doctors to be hoisted on their own petard through their callous treatment of their wards. Viewed as the ultimate dregs of society, the patients were the Guantanamo prisoners of their day, putting up with forced feedings and the like. You can watch the full film on Youtube:

There was little doubt about Wiseman’s intentions, which dovetailed with the goal of Michel Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization”, namely to view the asylum as an repressive institution no matter the lofty ideals associated with those who administer them.

“At Berkeley”, his 41st film now playing at the IFC and at Lincoln Center in New York, took me my surprise. With lingering memories of the anti-authoritarianism of “Titicut Follies”, “High School”, “Basic Training”, and “Welfare”, I came to it with expectations that it would expose the iron fist of authoritarianism that was concealed in the velvet glove of this elite university’s PR machinery. I was shocked to discover that the film was practically indistinguishable from that very machinery, focused on justifying administration resistance to student protests against a fee hike.

Frederic Wiseman

Before addressing the film’s editorial slant, it would be useful to identify some of the formal techniques that serve as the film’s substructure. They have been used consistently throughout Wiseman’s career and have become as stylized as Kabuki.

1. Long takes captured on a static camera:

I had forgotten how defiant Wiseman is of conventional expectations when the initial scene in “At Berkeley” timed in at what seemed like an eternity—a meeting of administration officers discussing how to balance the needs of a prestigious university against fiscal realities. I suppose it might have seemed like an eternity to me since the principals took 100 words when 10 would have been sufficient, not to speak of the self-congratulatory tone of officers who look at the university in the same way that Mark Zuckerberg might look at Facebook—a corporate fiefdom.

2. Intermezzi that connect one long take to another:

In between each scene, you spot campus workers mowing lawns, sweeping a stairwell, or pouring cement; students walking to class, etc. All this is calculated to remind you that not everything takes place in a faculty lounge. It is telling that Wiseman never includes a single scene of buildings and grounds people eating lunch with each other, discussing the impacts of one staff cutback after another.

3. A stubborn refusal to identify speakers:

Except for Robert Reich lecturing on organizational behavior (a quite lively episode), you will not recognize a single figure who plays a leading role in the film as well as Berkeley’s ongoing fiscal crisis. It becomes quite maddening when you want to know who it is that badmouths the students for not being as serious about their goals as he was when he protested the Vietnam War. I was determined to find the jerk’s email address and send him some feedback but did not know where to start.

At 244 minutes, “At Berkeley” is often slow-going, especially in the moments when deans, provosts, et al are discussing how to conduct a balancing act between running a university and keeping the finances from bleeding red ink. There are classroom scenes that will remind you why Berkeley has such a prestigious brand name. One professor does a close reading of Thoreau’s “Walden” that might inspire you, as it did me, to reread the classic. Another lectures about how time is perceived in terms both philosophical and scientific, leaving some doubt whether it is a philosophy or a physics class, thus adding to its allure. But all in all this is mostly about human beings not doing much of anything except talking.

The drama arrives after two hours when the university begins developing contingency plans to deal with a threatened student strike, all from the perspective of the “realistic” and “mature” administration officials. You see students marching, chanting, sitting in, and giving speeches (but only briefly) but never discussing their goals from within their ranks. When they finally occupy the campus library, Wiseman introduces intermezzi of students sunbathing or throwing Frisbees as if to say that the “radicals” were isolated. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve made 40 films and been lionized as a genius in the film industry. It goes to your head. It is called the Charlie Rose guest syndrome.

Some people, including me, would have seen this immediately, even the New York Times although unconsciously:

Mr. Wiseman has made his share of grim documentaries in which people are processed and oppressed by bureaucracy. “At Berkeley” is not one. Its cautiously upbeat attitude is expressed in a director’s note: “I think it is just as important for a filmmaker to show people of intelligence, character, tolerance and good will, hard at work, as it is to make movies about the failures, insensitivities and cruelties of others.” Amen.

For those who still believe that the term “processed and oppressed by bureaucracy” still apply to Berkeley, I strongly recommend a look at Frederick Wiseman’s “At Berkeley,” or, Seeing Like an Administration at the Reclaim UC blog.

One last consequence of Wiseman’s documentary technique, at least for our purposes here, has to do with what we could call a structural asymmetry of context. Nearly every reviewer remarks on a scene in a meeting among top-level university executives in which Chancellor Birgeneau details ongoing budget cuts, to the point that the state, which once provided 40-50 percent of the UC budget, now provides just 16 percent. These data act as a sort of mini-history of the institution, usefully framing the film as a study of the public university in crisis and locating it at the end of a long trajectory of what Birgeneau calls a “progressive disinvestment in higher education in the state of California.” It is a true, though partial story, one that students and workers have spent a lot of time and energy trying to correct. But what we want to highlight here is the differential between the administration on one hand and the protesters on the other. Because Wiseman spends so much time with administrators and especially with the chancellor, he affords them the chance to frame their own story. In this way, their actions are not only contextualized but through that context rendered reasonable.

In contrast, the protest—dismissed by administrators, ridiculed by director and reviewers alike—has no context. It appears out of nowhere, disconnected from everything that preceded it, further compounding the reviewers’ view of its “fragmented” and “disorganized” character. Although Wiseman appears to treat administrators and protesters on more or less the same formal plane, here the asymmetry is revealed. The chancellor constructs the administration’s present through a narration of its past. The protesters, on the other hand, lack the same position from which to narrate their own history. In part this is due to the difference between the univocal and stabile character of the administration, an institution defined by (and for that matter funded on the basis of) its continuity, and the polyphonic character of a protest movement, defined by multiplicity and change over time. But it also has to do with the film’s attachment to the chancellor and by extension to the administration. It leaves no place from which to tell the recent history of struggle at UC.

All this leaves me an a quandary over whether to rate this documentary as “fresh” or “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes. In the final hour or so, I became so fed up with the university’s officialdom that I wanted to scream at my television. It is “rotten” in the sense that it is based on a lie; it is “fresh” in that it is compelling cinema even if too “talky”. At the age of 83, Wiseman may be in the twilight of a long and distinguished career. So on that footing alone, his latest is to be recommended. Fortunately we have many young filmmakers who are stepping forward to keep his original vision going, the sort of people I try to bring your attention to on a regular basis. People like Rob Kuhns, the director of “Birth of the Living Dead” also playing at the IFC in New York.

Rob Kuhns, who has directed a couple of episodes on Bill Moyers’s hard-hitting PBS show, has made a full-length documentary encapsulating a point of view that many veterans of the 1960s, including me, have long held—namely that George Romero’s 1968 “Night of the Living Dead” was as much a product of its time as “Titicut Follies” or “Easy Rider”.

Leaving aside the politics for a minute, the film also has to be recognized as having invented a genre that is universal today, from “28 Days” to television’s “Walking Dead”. Before Romero’s film, the zombie was featured in movies set in Haiti or some other Caribbean Island far removed from reality. It was Romero’s breakthrough to make the film unrelentingly realistic, including scenes of zombies eating entrails or lurching toward their prey in that characteristic gait.

Now 73, Romero got his start making commercials in the Pittsburgh area. Even then he was willing to push the envelope, making the first beer commercial actually showing people guzzling down a drink. When he worked on a film that showed Mr. Rogers, the benign host of a PBS children’s show, getting ready for a tonsillectomy, he was inspired to do a zombie movie since Mr. Rogers’s procedure struck him as gruesome rather than reassuring. Before going down that road, Romero considered doing an American version of Ingmar Bergman’s “Virgin Spring”. Fortunately, he saw that as unmarketable and moved onto a more feasible project that would make his mark as a director.

Romero is the star of the film, a likeably self-effacing and witty figure. He talks about how the film was cast, drawing from local personalities including many of the clients of his advertising agency who worked for free and had a blast doing so.

Besides Romero, we hear from a number of knowledgeable film critics and scholars including Elvis Mitchell, an African-American who explains the importance of casting an African-American actor—Duane Jones—in the lead role. Jones is an authority figure just as much as the sheriff in “Walking Dead” but nobody ever says a word about not taking orders from a “Negro”. In its way, “Night of the Living Dead” was as much of a breakthrough for Black identity in films as the more obvious bids from directors working in the Blaxploitation genre.

Also, unlike the traditional zombie movie set in Haiti, Romero made a movie about a society in advanced disintegration fully aware that it reflected what was happening in the streets of Newark or Detroit.

Using zombie attacks as a metaphor throughout his career, Romero’s most powerful film in my view was the 2005 “Land of the Dead”, about which I wrote:

As a blend of horror movie escapism and social commentary, George Romero’s “Land of the Dead” succeeds wildly. Romero, who has three previous zombie movies to his credit, uses the conflict between the living and the ‘undead’ as a metaphor for the contradictions of late capitalist America.

The living dwell in a gated and heavily fortified city that is patrolled by centurions who have not earned the right to permanent residence there themselves. The centurions occasionally organize themselves into death squads and make forays into zombie territory where they kill at random and retrieve canned goods and booze for the consumption needs of the urban population. The shops in zombie territory are still staffed by the “stenches” who once worked there but who have only dim memories of their old occupations. An undead gas station attendant might hold up a nozzle but is clueless as to which end of the car it goes into; an undead gardener aimlessly pushes a lawnmower in circles in the middle of the street at midnight, and so on. These are lost souls who no longer fit into the commodity-producing scheme of things. What is worse, they subsist on eating the flesh of the living.

“Land of the Dead” can be seen on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it already, grab it.

UCLA racism

Filed under: Academia,african-american — louisproyect @ 2:01 pm

November 8, 2013

Make a contribution to Counterpunch

Filed under: Counterpunch,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 2.44.42 PM
I just donated $100 to the Counterpunch fund-drive (http://store.counterpunch.org/) and strongly urge you to do so as well. At the risk of sounding like one of those annoying NPR or PBS people during their fund-drive, let me show you how little this would cost you in comparison to the reward: keeping the most important “hard left” website afloat.

$100 per year comes to about 28 cents a day, the amount of small change that you would barely notice if it fell out of your pocket behind a sofa cushion. I pay $2.50 per day to read the N.Y. Times but if I had a choice between Counterpunch and the Gray Lady, I would not hesitate. You could always switch to the Washington Post but there is only one Counterpunch.

On the Counterpunch home page, the editors remind us that it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary. Although most people associate Counterpunch with the web and the editorial team of Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair, it actually was launched in 1994 by Ken Silverstein as a print newsletter in the same format as Doug Henwood’s LBO. I took out a sub to Counterpunch just as soon as I learned of it from an ad in the back pages of the Nation Magazine. In the first year of Counterpunch, there’s an article based on an interview Ken did with me about the mass layoffs of IT managers at Goldman-Sachs.

After Counterpunch devolved into the capable hands of Alexander Cockburn, Ken went on to a series of jobs with different newspapers and magazines, and is now ensconced at Harper’s, a magazine that I have been subbed to since the early 80s. In fact, my staples—periodicals that I rely on—are Harper’s, Counterpunch, LBO and the NY Times.

Harper’s has a real connection to the fundraising appeal I am making here. As you probably know, the publisher John MacArthur hates the Internet, viewing it as a threat to journalism and to humanity in general. Like Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, he views it as a plot by people like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg to turn us into slaves of the Big Machine a la Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. When I put a Harper’s article (a Terry Eagleton review of Sperber’s Karl Marx biography) on the Marxmail website, I got email from Harper’s demanding that I take it down. It probably did not occur to them that the people who read the article might have been enticed to take out a subscription to the magazine on the basis of the theft of their precious intellectual property.

MacArthur’s big complaint is that the Internet will destroy serious journalism by removing it from the commodity chain. While it is true that an article on the Louisiana oil company depredations by Ken Silverstein requires a serious outlay in terms of transportation and housing costs, not to speak of his salary, there are articles in Counterpunch that are just as vital as Ken’s. They, however, are not behind a paywall.

That is where you come in, dear readers. We need a mainstream liberal magazine like Harper’s but we need Counterpunch even more. Where else are you going to get quality articles written by a wide range of authors five days a week? The content of the Counterpunch archives are an amazing resource for any leftie doing research on some topic. For example, if you Google “fracking” using the Counterpunch domain, you will get 6,100 hits—all of them relevant to the research project of exposing the corporate polluters. This is certainly worth 28 cents a day.

Finally, I want to deal with the question of some of the static Counterpunch has generated this year, particularly with the ISO attack on “sexism”. It is very important to understand that Counterpunch—at least the way I see it—is not a party newspaper like the ISO’s. Jeff and Joshua Frank do not sit down and plot out an agenda for 2014 with the aim of establishing cells of disciplined cadre everywhere determined to win the masses to the St. Clair/Frank programme for communist revolution.

In fact it is the very undisciplined character of Counterpunch that makes it unique. What better symbol of that was the Cockburn—St. Clair partnership that persisted even when they were miles apart on global warming? I began writing for Counterpunch on the invitation of Jeff St. Clair after he read my tirade about an article supporting the jailing of Pussy Riot that had appeared on Counterpunch. Also, you may have noticed the publication of a piece about Syria I had written recently. It went against what regularly appears on Counterpunch. If the vanguard party newspapers were 1/100th as inclusive as Counterpunch, we’d all be a lot better off. If you study the real history of the Russian revolutionary movement, you will learn that Counterpunch has much more in common with Iskra or Pravda than any of these “party line” newspapers.

At any rate, in a period of deepening social and economic crisis, a publication like Counterpunch is more necessary than ever. I created the Marxism mailing list in order to allow revolutionary socialists worldwide to communicate. Not more than a day or so goes by without me linking to a Counterpunch article, totaling 3,490 at this point. That speaks volumes for its importance. I urge you to donate $100 like me or $50, or whatever you can afford. As they say, “from each according to their ability…” Then, of course, everybody needs Counterpunch equally.

Kanye West — what a schmuck

Filed under: african-american,capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

Kanye West leaves Barneys wearing a jacket with a rebel flag. Here is the explanation.

Separated at birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 2:49 pm

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, cocaine user and alcoholic

Deceased Saturday Night Live star Chris Farley, cocaine user and alcoholic

Step by Step

Filed under: Film,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:34 pm

Shot in the muddy, mountainous Syrian coastal village of Rama in 1976-77, Step by Step tells the story of a tobacco-producing community whose youth are demeaned in school and whose families endure marked economic hardships. As a result, many bored and disillusioned male teenagers joined the army or migrated to the city.

The film explores how, at the outset, the Baath party consolidated its rule by capitalizing on the poverty and despair of the marginalized Alawi minority living in the mountains. Muhammad’s film aptly captures those transformative years, during which his characters internalize the soclialist and pan-Arab rhetoric promoted by the Baath party and develop an unconditional support for the regime.

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People of a Feather

Filed under: Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

While nothing could surpass “Nanook of the North” in its place in film history, Joel Heath’s “People of a Feather” that opens at the Quad Theater in New York on Friday, November 8th is certainly more accurate on the realities of Inuit life. This is a film that eschews the exoticism of Flaherty’s film and many like it in the early days of cinema that amounted to National Geographic on celluloid. You will see Inuit on snowmobiles and using rifles, if not watching television and performing their own hip-hop music. But throughout it all, they are the Inuit who know how to not only survive but also flourish in conditions that most of humanity would find intolerable.

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