Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 10, 2020

Project 1619 and its detractors

Filed under: Counterpunch,slavery — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

Sean Wilentz, pal of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in a united front with World Socialist Web Site

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 10, 2020

Last August, the New York Times Sunday Magazine devoted an entire issue to Project 1619, an attempt to root today’s racism in the institution of slavery dating back to the seventeenth century. In 1619, British colonists in Point Comfort, Virginia bought twenty African slaves from Portuguese traders who had landed there, fresh from a body-snatching expedition. Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote the introduction to ten articles in the magazine that focused on different aspects of Black oppression, such as Traymaine Lee’s on the wealth gap between black and white Americans.

Four months later, five prominent historians of the Civil War signed a letter demanding that the newspaper correct “errors” and “distortions” in Project 1619. Rumor has it that Princeton professor Sean Wilentz wrote the letter and lined up four others to co-sign: Victoria Bynum, James M. McPherson, James Oakes, and Gordon S. Wood. I would only add that Bynum wrote a book that chronicled the armed resistance to wealthy slave-owners by poor white southerners and served as a consultant for the inspiring movie “The Free State of Jones”.

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January 9, 2020

The NY Giants new coach and NFL racism

Filed under: racism,sports — louisproyect @ 9:15 pm

I haven’t watched a football, baseball, or basketball game for its entirety in over 25 years at least. But I am an avid listener to the sports talk stations in NY, WFAN and ESPN. I also like to read the sports section in the local papers. Even if football is a barbaric sport that should be outlawed, I am glad to see the hapless NY Jets or NY Giants when they are doing well. For those who follow sports, you are probably aware that they have been doing poorly for over a decade.

Recently, the Giants have been a search for a new coach after having finished the season with a 4-12 record. The sports stations have been following this closely since the outgoing coach Pat Shirmer was blamed for the losing record. Many of the hosts and callers-in blame the team co-owners and general manager as well. The co-owners are John Mara and Steve Tisch. Mara’s grandfather Tim Mara founded the franchise in 1925 with money he had made as a bookmaker—a criminal enterprise. His son Wellington took over the team until his death in 2005. His John Mara functions as the CEO of the team with Steve Tisch mostly operating in the background. Tisch is the son of former co-owner Robert Tisch, who was Wellington’s partner. Tisch bought his share in the Giants with money he made through the Loew’s theater and hotel business. Most of Steve Tisch’s time is spent producing movies, such as “Forrest Gump”. Most fans blame Mara rather than Tisch for the team’s woes since Tisch functions pretty much as a silent partner.

The Giants were prepared to offer Baylor University coach Matt Rhule the job but the Carolina Panthers beat them to the punch, offering Rhule a 7-year, 60 million dollar contract. Just after the Giants learned of the deal, they made an offer to Joe Judge, the special teams and wide receiver coordinator of the New England Patriots, an AFC division team that have up until this year been either Super Bowl winner or at least AFC champions for most of the past decade. With their dynastic record, anybody associated with the Patriots is considered good coach material.

Despite this, WFAN and ESPN hosts were surprised to hear of Judge’s hiring since he was not on the radar for the coaching jobs that were being filled over the past few weeks. But it was only ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, an African-American, who raised holy hell about no blacks being considered. The Giants did interview a couple of black coordinators early on but it was mostly to show that they were honoring the Rooney Rule.

The rule was adopted by the NFL in 2003 as a way of making the GM and coaching positions open to minorities. It was named after Dan Rooney, the head of the league’s diversity committee and a former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rooney’s and the Mara’s have amounted to family dynasties of the two teams and often considered model owners for their franchises’ stability and excellence. Wikipedia describes the circumstances of the rule’s adoption in the aftermath of the firing of two black coaches:

It was created as a reaction to the 2002 firings of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings, at a time when Dungy had a winning record and Green had just had his first losing season in ten years. Shortly afterwards, U.S. civil rights attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran released a study showing that black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired than their white counterparts. Former NFL players Kellen Winslow and John Wooten then put together a self-described “affinity group” of minority scouts, coaches, and front-office personnel, to advocate for the rule’s creation.

As should be obvious, this was prompted by the same resentment of white domination that made Colin Kaepernick decide to take a knee during the national anthem. It is worth mentioning how John Mara reacted to Kaepernick being on the job market after his protest made him persona non grata for the NFL owners, who tend to be rightwing fucks. He told Sports Illustrated that Giants fans would never forgive him for hiring Kaepernick, even though the aging QB Eli Manning needed to be replaced. However, Mara did not fire white kicker Josh Brown after he revealed that he was a wife-beater. In the NFL world, kneeling while the Star Spangled Banner is being played is a cardinal sin while wife-beating is a peccadillo.

John Mara was evidently following the example of his grandfather Tim, who didn’t care for black people very much as well. Like the gentleman’s agreement by team owners that blacklisted Colin Kaepernick, black players were excluded from the NFL between 1934 and 1946 for the same reason that blacks never played professional baseball: racism. Back then it was players getting shafted; today it is potential coaches or general managers. As Project 1619 put it, racism is in the American DNA.

George Marshall, the owner of the Washington Redskins (no connection to the Marshall plan architect), convinced other team owners to organize a two-division league, consisting of five teams each and culminating in a championship game between the two teams with the best records. Marshall stated publicly that he would never employ black athletes. His Redskins were the last NFL team to desegregate, holding out until 1962.

In an article for the Winter 1988 Journal of Sports History titled “Outside the Pale: The Exclusion of Blacks from the National Football League, 1934-1946”, Thomas G. Smith wrote:

Professional football owners, like their baseball counterparts, denied the existence of a racial ban. “For myself and for most of the owners,” Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers explained decades later, “I can say there never was any racial bias.” George Halas of the Chicago Bears declared in 1970 that there had been no unwritten exclusionary agreement “in no way, shape, or form.” Tex Schramm of the Los Angeles Rams did not recall a gentleman’s agreement.”You just didn’t do it [sign blacks] – it wasn’t the thing that was done.” Wellington and Tim Mara of the New York Giants also denied that minorities had been blackballed. Despite the disclaimers, however, blacks had disappeared from the game.

 

January 7, 2020

You

Filed under: television — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

On Christmas Eve, the NY Times ran an article about a Netflix series that caught my eye:

“You,” one of television’s more addictive treats, returns for a second season on Thursday. It has moved to a different shelf of the candy store — it’s now a Netflix series, after premiering on Lifetime — but it’s as tasty, and as bad for you, as ever.

The first season won a rabid following, and a lot of critical attention, for its clever fusion of the conventions of the romantic comedy with the conventions of the bluebeard serial-killer tale. As Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) — cute, courteous, literary and deranged — pursued his quest to be the perfect New York boyfriend, the bodies piled up, and the rom-com was shown to have been a horror story all along. The distance between the genres vanished.

Addictive is the right word. After my wife and I watched the first episode of Season One, we were hooked. With a superficial resemblance to “Dexter”, the Showtime series about a serial killer, it stars Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, the young, handsome, and amoral manager of an Upper East Side antiquarian bookstore who kills a bunch of people throughout the two-season series. Like “Dexter,” there is almost continuous voiceover as the main character ruminates on the challenges he must overcome in order to maintain a relationship with the women he meets and then falls in love with. When he runs into a rival for their affections or someone bent on keeping them apart, he does not think twice about murder. Unlike Dexter, who only killed people who deserved to be killed—usually for having beaten a rap like O.J. Simpson—Joe Goldberg’s standards are set at a lower bar. When someone gets in the way of consummating a romance, he becomes deadlier than a puff adder.

“You” got its title from a novel written by Caroline Kepnes, a 42-year old Brown University graduate. You understand why after reading the first paragraph:

YOU walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. You’re so clean that you’re dirty and you murmur your first word to me—hello—when most people would just pass by, but not you, in your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web and where did you come from?

These are the thoughts of Joe Goldberg as Guinevere Beck—the You—enters his store. The reference to “Charlotte’s Web” is a tip-off that Joe is a bibliophile. Called Beck by her friends, she is a writing major in Columbia University’s graduate school. Like the author, she is a Brown graduate whose best friends graduated with her. The best way to describe them is as characters from Lena Dunham’s “Girls” but much richer and much more obnoxious. The ringleader of this clique is named Peach Salinger, a descendant of J.D’s clan who lives in a mansion on the Upper East Side and spends much of her time and energy trying to convince Beck that she is too good for a measly bookstore manager.

“You” manages to combine elements that you’d never think possible. Besides being a portrait of a psychopath, it skewers the pretensions of Manhattan’s privileged quasi-bohemia. Besides Peach, there’s Benjamin “Benji” J. Ashby III, who Beck has been sleeping with at the time Joe becomes her suitor. As a committed and expert stalker, Joe is in the habit of finding out as much as he can about his heart’s desire before making his first move. When he spots Benji having sex with Beck through her ground-floor studio apartment window from across the street, it doesn’t take long for Joe to plot his rival’s demise. As is generally the case with his victims, Benji is a total phony. Like Peach, he is a trust fund bohemian who is trying to get an artisanal soda business off the ground. Artisanal soda? Brilliant.

The class distinctions between Joe, who for all we know never went to college, and this crowd almost make you cheer for him. When I was watching the first season of “You,” I mentioned to my wife that Joe reminded me of the eponymous character in Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” In a film based on her novel, Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, a New Yorker barely scraping by. His main talents seem to be buttering up to wealthy people who might help him put together some kind of career. Luckily for him, one rich bastard hires him to go to Italy and persuade his wastrel son Dickie, who lives on a yacht, to return to the USA. When Ripley’s mission fails largely because of his kowtowing to Dickie’s every whim, the father cuts off his funds. In desperation, Ripley kills the son and assumes his identity. Written in 1955, Highsmith’s novel is distinguished by her anti-hero’s ability to elude capture through his skills as a liar and a killer. Highsmith would have considered Caroline Kepnes a kindred spirit.

As for Kepnes, she acknowledged Highsmith’s influence in an interview with Book and Film Globe. When the interviewer said that Joe reminded him of Tom Ripley in the Patricia Highsmith series, she replied:

When people ask about writers you’d like to have coffee with, I always think of Patricia Highsmith. She is just so excellent with classism. Ripley can pass with these people. Dickie’s dad pays him to go to Europe. It’s exhilarating. In You, I wanted Joe to be someone who doesn’t want to win these people over. Joe doesn’t want to “fit in”. He won’t endorse that value system. He wants Beck to shun it.

In addition to skewering Manhattan’s rich kids who went to Ivy schools, Kepnes—like Highsmith—is great at spinning a Hitchcockian yarn. If you might recall, “Strangers on a Train,” one of Hitchcock’s classics, is based on a Highsmith novel. Such is the state of popular culture that you can only find something that good on Netflix rather than in a movie theater. In nominating “The Irishman”, now streaming on Netflix, as best film of 2019, I can also recommend “You” as the best television series of the year. It is a tour de force of writing, acting and direction. You better start watching it now or I’ll kill you.

 

January 5, 2020

Fisking Douma

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:39 pm

Robert Fisk

All of Robert Fisk’s bad habits come into play in a recent Independent op-ed piece titled “The Syrian conflict is awash with propaganda – chemical warfare bodies should not be caught up in it” that is part of the aggressive propaganda campaign trying to absolve Bashar al-Assad from the chlorine gas attack in Douma last year. Along with Fisk, two other British journalists have been making a huge stink over alleged OPCW cover-ups. One is Jonathan Steele, who works for the liberal Guardian newspaper and the other is Christopher Hitchens’s brother Peter, who works for the rightwing Mail on Sunday. Their articles on Douma rely heavily on two OPCW whistle-blowers, Ian Henderson and “Alex”, who spoke at a conference sponsored by Courage Foundation, which is closely tied to Wikileaks. Since Julian Assange has been a long-time supporter of Assad, it is no surprise that his allies are doing everything possible to prove that jihadis organized a “false flag” in Douma in order to give the USA an excuse to bomb Syria.

Fisk starts off with an anecdote about a conversation he had with a NATO officer after giving a talk on the Middle East to European military officials in the Spring of 2019. After his talk, one of the officers cornered and then told him, “The OPCW are not going to admit all they know. They’ve already censored their own documents.” This kind of insider-knowledge should be familiar to anybody who has read Seymour Hersh for the past 8 years, until he became damaged goods to the LRB or any other reputable periodical. Just refer to some spook or General on the QT and you’ll wow your readers even if what they tell you cannot be verified. Unlike Hersh, Fisk couldn’t even get his informant to provide the usual “false flag” story. He writes, “I could not extract any more from him. He smiled and walked away, leaving me to guess what he was talking about.”

Luckily for Fisk, the NATO officer phoned him a few months later and said that he was not talking about the Henderson report. But, you might ask, what then was he talking about. Well, who knows since his informer then “immediately terminated” their conversation?

Apparently, it was Alex who once and for all established that the OPCW was in cahoots with the CIA in trying to make the unblemished Bashar al-Assad look like a war criminal. (Perhaps Fisk wasn’t aware that Douma had been attacked with chlorine gas three times already in 2018. He evidently saw no need to report about it since so few people died. So what if they were sick enough to be hospitalized? That’s what you deserve for living in a city that stubbornly resisted the dictatorship.)

The most damaging item in Fisk’s article turns once again to the chlorine tanks that were found in the upper floors of the apartment building where more than 40 dwellers were found dead on the lower floors:

Alex also said that a British diplomat who was OPCW’s chef de cabinet invited several members of the drafting team to his office, where they found three US officials who told them that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack and that two cylinders found in one building contained 170 kilograms of chlorine. The inspectors, Alex remarked, regarded this as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s principles of “independence and impartiality”.

I have no idea how informing the OPCW that two chlorine gas cylinders had been found amounted to “unacceptable pressure.” They had been widely acknowledged by the OPCW leadership on one side and the whistle-blowers on the other. They only differed on where they came from. The leadership said they came from a helicopter and the whistle-blowers said that jihadis carried these five-hundred pound tanks from some undisclosed location into the building and then up six stories in full view of the Douma population. You’d think that if this was the case, the dictatorship would have found someone from Douma to verify that a false flag did take place. Keep in mind that Assadists are making the case that these devilish jihadis released the gas in order to provide the necessary victims that Donald Trump needed to justify bombing some buildings in Damascus. Of course, if Trump was truly trying to punish Assad, he wouldn’t have cut off all aid to the rebels long before the Douma attack.

Ironically, the Independent article contained a video that had nothing to do with Fisk’s false flag bullshit. It was captioned “Syria war: At least 16 killed in ‘beyond sadistic’ missile attack on camp for displaced people” and depicted a slaughter in Idlib. For all we know, some of the dead might have come there from Douma. The day after the chlorine gas attack, those who were still living boarded buses and went to Idlib, a Gaza-like hellhole that was home to all the poor people who Assad wanted to quarantine from his religiously tolerant, state-socialist paradise.

Civilians gather next to a fragment of a ground-to-ground missile fired by Syrian regime forces (AFP via Getty Images)

The Independent covered the displaced people tragedy on November 21, 2019. Headlined with the same caption found beneath the video clip in Fisk’s article, it was the sort of reporting that the cynical and degraded reporter is no longer capable of:

The Syrian regime bombarded a camp hosting displaced people and a maternity hospital in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people, the vast majority of whom were women and children.

Dozens were injured and at least eight children and two women were thought to have been among those killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Large parts of the camp were burnt and several fire brigades were called to the scene, with rescuers warning on Thursday that the death toll was expected to rise as more people succumbed to severe burn injuries.

The regime fired at least two ground-to-ground missiles, which caused “significant damage to the camp as well as the burning of tents of displaced people”, SOHR reported.

Fisk is no longer capable of such reporting because he became embedded in the dictatorship’s army in the same way that people like Judith Miller became embedded back in 2002. What a disgrace.

January 4, 2020

Watching the Watchmen

Filed under: Counterpunch,television — louisproyect @ 2:19 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JANUARY 3, 2020

On October 25, 2019, I supported Martin Scorsese’s put-down of Marvel Comics super-hero films in a CounterPunch article. The article appeared just five days after HBO began streaming “Watchmen.” I knew little about Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel that inspired the series, but decided to begin watching the watchmen. Written in 1985, it shared Scorsese’s dim view of super-heroes. In a 2017 interview, Moore’s vitriol surpassed Scorsese’s:

I think the impact of super-heroes on popular culture is both tremendously embarrassing and not a little worrying. While these characters were originally perfectly suited to stimulating the imaginations of their twelve or thirteen year-old audience, today’s franchised übermenschen, aimed at a supposedly adult audience, seem to be serving some kind of different function, and fulfilling different needs…In fact, I think that a good argument can be made for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation as the first American super-hero movie, and the point of origin for all those capes and masks.

There are six degrees of separation between Moore and me. Twelve years ago, I worked with Harvey Pekar on a comic book about my comic life as a Trotskyist. Harvey always insisted on calling what he did “comic books” rather than the somewhat pretentious “graphic novel.” Like Moore, he wanted to break with super-hero mythology but on a different basis. Moore’s “Watchmen” made these figures loathsome while Pekar sought to ignore them altogether. Instead, he rooted his comic books in what he called the “quotidian” life of ordinary workers.

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January 2, 2020

The Worldwide Church of Bashar al-Assad

Filed under: comedy,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

December 30, 2019

Richard Greener (1941-2019): a good friend passes on

Filed under: bard college,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

For regular readers of this blog, you might recall references to Richard Greener over the years. I’ve reviewed his first novel in the Locator series titled “The Knowland Intervention” and conducted three interviews with him, one of which had him sharing thoughts with Jeffrey Marlin, who has also made several appearances here.

A week ago I learned that Richard had died. He was 78 and living on borrowed time for many years as a heart transplant recipient. An entry for Richard in Encyclopedia.com explains how he became a novelist late in life:

A series of heart attacks in the 1980s sidelined former broadcast industry executive Richard Greener, and over the next decade his health deteriorated to the point that he was confined to bed and named to a heart transplant list. The desire to write fiction came out of a need to alleviate the boredom of bed rest and the pain associated with his heart condition. “I was able to sit at my computer, particularly at night, and avoid chest pains by sitting up straight and writing, it was a great help,” Greener told ForeWord Magazine editor Cymbre Foster. In 2006, his brother-in-law sent Greener’s manuscripts to some agents, and within nine months a publisher agreed to print two completed novels. It was around this time that Greener’s transplant came through, and he was able to celebrate his books’ publication with a new heart.

As for the “broadcast industry” reference, Richard was the president of WAOK in Atlanta, Georgia for decades—a radio station serving the needs of the city’s Black community, whose success was helped by the skills of a white Jew. When Richard used to show up at Black radio conferences, the audience was always surprised to see that its legendary president was not Black. If you want to hear Richard expound on the vicissitudes of radio, the interview below is very much worth listening to. As someone who grew up loving radio, his words as an insider meant a lot to me. Immediately beneath it is an interview I conducted with Richard about James Brown, a business associate of his for many years.

And just beneath that is an interview with Richard and Jeffrey Marlin, who has been a friend for 58 years after I began following him around like a puppy dog at Bard College as a freshman in 1961. Jeffrey and Richard started Bard four years earlier as freshman, so their friendship went back 62 years.

Jeffrey and Richard were two of the leading lights of what we used to call “old Bardians”. This meant representatives of the culture at the college Walter Winchell called “the little red whorehouse on the Hudson”. I can say it was little but not much of a whorehouse or red. The student body was just over 400 and most students were apolitical. What politics there were depended a lot on the initiatives taken by Richard, Jeffrey and the iconoclasts around them. In 1961, they came up with the brilliant idea of forming the Welcome the Bomb Committee that was a reaction to Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s mandatory fallout shelter proposals. They told Bard students that if we welcomed the bomb, it would be less hostile. A ceremony was held on the quad that was culminated by Peter Barney firing off a miniature cannon that he brought back from a sailboat trip around the world. You could hear the thing going off across the Hudson river. The student newspaper reported on the rally:

Welcome Bomb Rally Held Here

The Welcome the Bomb Committee held its first community assembly on the lawn in front of the gym on Sunday, October 1. Grand Imperial Wizard Jeff Marlin presided over the ceremonies, which opened with a cannonade supplied by the deft broomstick of Peter Barney. Chaplain Aaron Goldstein intoned the invocation. He invoked the blessings of the Great Bomb, Lord of Hosts, calling for it to descend to earth quickly so that it might receive a suitably ecstatic reception. Wizard Marlin then made a brief speech outlining the Committee’s policies. He said that if a man arrived at a party in his best attire and found the guests diving under sofas and into closets upon his appearance, he would certainly feel hurt and angry. Similarly, Marlin said, the Bomb is deeply saddened at our frantic preparations for shelters and alarm systems. Unless we make haste to welcome it joyfully, it will come to us in anger. “If we welcome the Bomb,” said Wizard Marlin, “the Bomb will welcome us. If we are hostile to the Bomb, the Bomb will be hostile to us. A hurt Bomb is a hostile Bomb.” Marlin also stated that the Committee was against fresh-man regulations. He refused to clarify this statement. Choral Director Richard Greener next led the audience in a rendition of the Committee’s anthem, “Welcome the Bomb.” Orchestral Director Bob Marrow accompanied on the recorder. Grand Fusilier Barney then set off another symbolic holocaust, and Chaplain Goldstein concluded the ceremonies with the Benediction.

I barely knew Richard at Bard. He lived in Albee dorm with Jeffrey and me but on an upper floor. In my mind’s eye, I can see him walking down the steps wearing blue jeans, a blue denim work-shirt and a green corduroy jacket, usually on his way to the pool hall on campus with a scowl on his face. He was an ace pool player—that’s my strongest memory of him at the time.

It was only after I graduated and moved to New York that I got to know him a bit better. By 1967, I had become a fire-breathing Trotskyist and anxious to convert others to my beliefs. One afternoon I agreed to help Richard move to a new apartment and accompanied him and Jeffrey in a U-Haul van they had rented. For the entire day, I proceeded to give my proletarian revolution spiel to Richard. Jeffrey had heard this numerous times and was smart enough to tune me out. After I was finished, Richard confessed that he found it convincing and worrisome even if he had no intention of going within six feet of the SWP. I only wish that I could turn the clock back and been as skeptical as them.

Both of them came from socialist households, to one extent or another. Richard’s dad was in the CP and Jeffrey’s was a labor lawyer for the SP-dominated garment workers union. Like many Bard students, rebellion was expressed much more in terms of culture than class struggle. Since I was so much in awe of upperclassmen like them, I was willing to forsake my conservative politics just to be socially accepted.

Both Jeffrey and Richard made a trip to Nicaragua in the late 80s as part of a Tecnica delegation. Although I did not join them, I was happy to hear that they made contacts with Sandinista radio management even though a project never materialized.

This was around the time that Richard’s health began to decline and his trips to New York dwindled. Each time he came up, I was always happy to talk to him. As you can tell from the interview I did with the both of them, they remained larger than life well into their seventies.

Over the past ten years or so, I shared two or three phone calls a year or so with Richard—partly to offer some companionship during the shut-in required by his heart transplant and partly to listen to a unique and charismatic personality. Since he took medication to desensitize his immune system from rejecting a foreign organ, it came at a cost. Every time he went out to a concert or any other event with lots of people close by, he always ran the risk of suffering some communicable disease. Despite the drawbacks, including a horrific recovery period after the transplant that he documented here, it was a vast improvement over dying from heart disease 30 or 40 years ago.

For all of the well-deserved contempt that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg deserve, it does provide a social foundation that allows people like Richard to stay in touch with friends. Of all the people who I knew from Facebook, Richard’s comments always were always most welcome even when we disagreed.

This was his last post on FB and well worth including as a measure of his intelligence and humanity:

Common to all human thought, I think, two areas stand alone obliterating truth and fact and instead overwhelmed by lies and invention. They are, of course, Love and History. Love I leave to the memoirists, who truth be told, are little more than novelists writing about themselves. But, History provides the core of most human belief, and here with apologies to my Native American friends (if I had any) is the real story of Thanksgiving, first published about 10 years ago but still worth reading every year and especially to be remembered as the NFL shamelessly thanks the American military for the freedom to play football.


The True Story Of Thanksgiving
By Richard Greener
Novelist, writer, author of The Locator novels, basis of the FOX TV series “The Finder”.
11/25/2010 10:04am EST | Updated November 22, 2016

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The idea of the American Thanksgiving feast is a fairly recent fiction. The idyllic partnership of 17th Century European Pilgrims and New England Indians sharing a celebratory meal appears to be less than 120 years-old. And it was only after the First World War that a version of such a Puritan-Indian partnership took hold in elementary schools across the American landscape. We can thank the invention of textbooks and their mass purchase by public schools for embedding this “Thanksgiving” image in our modern minds. It was, of course, a complete invention, a cleverly created slice of cultural propaganda, just another in a long line of inspired nationalistic myths.

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December 29, 2019

Theodore Postol: Assad was responsible for deadly chlorine attack in Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:03 am

WHAT HAPPENED IN DOUMA? SEARCHING FOR FACTS IN THE FOG OF SYRIA’S PROPAGANDA WAR

That dropping chlorine gas canisters might be a terror weapon and not a “kill” weapon makes sense. Unlike sarin, which is a colorless, odorless liquid that often kills its victims even before they know they’ve been attacked, chlorine, at least as it’s been used in improvised munitions in Syria doesn’t usually kill; its victims can smell, see, and sometimes even hear it coming, and they run as fast as they can in the other direction. Many Syrians living in rebel-held areas, prepped by rebels or aid workers, know that chlorine is denser than air and quickly sinks, which is why it might find its way so easily from the roof down to the basement. The presence of chlorine might also explain something Abo Salah, the Douma Revolution cameraperson, had told me. The apartment attack site is only 150 meters from the huge tunnel I’d seen by the emergency medical ward and close to an entrance to that tunnel. The toxic gases, he said, “leaked to the main medical center via the tunnel, which contained hundreds of families fleeing the shelling.”

The trajectory taken by chlorine gas and its cloying visibility might also explain why, according to Nasser Hanan, most of his family had run back inside the building to their deaths. When I showed videos of the canisters to Theodore Postol in Boston, he was immediately certain that both had been launched from the sky by the Syrian military and that any “brouhaha” from the Russians to the contrary could be safely ignored. Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at MIT, is a controversial figure in Syria analysis. Earlier in the conflict his work querying accounts from the OPCW and the UN about the use of sarin in two infamous gas attacks made him deeply unpopular among many Syria analysts, including Higgins, who felt that his analysis wrongly let Assad off the hook for war crimes. Postol, however, has many years of experience analyzing munitions, including the relative efficacy of Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missiles and U.S. Patriot anti-missiles during the first Gulf War. More recently, together with his late colleague Richard Lloyd, he’s devoted considerable attention to the development of improvised munitions in Syria, including chlorine canister bombs. When I showed him the Douma footage, he immediately concurred with the analysis of internet investigators like Higgins, with whom he often ferociously disagrees. The canister, he reckoned, would have weighed around 250 pounds and carried about 120 kilos of chorine. But it landed in an entirely unexpected way. Since the concrete-and-steel-mesh roof wasn’t very strong, the bomb punched a hole in the ceiling. The effect was as if the nose of the canister had been deliberately rammed into the external wall, so as to point gas directly into the room below, creating a gas chamber. That room would have filled with chlorine in one or two minutes. Drawing on Forensic Architecture’s modeling of the building onto which it fell, Postol estimated that the chlorine gas would have poured out into the upper floor at a magnitude several hundred times higher than a lethal dose, its density much greater because the release occurred in an enclosed space. As it made its way down into the two floors below, its density would have decreased, but still would have been much more than enough for a lethal dose.

When it filled the building, the chlorine would have spilled out via open windows and doors and then drifted along the street, like a thick fog, at much lower concentrations. As it sank through the building, the residents hunkered down in the basement would have smelled it too. Many likely ran headfirst onto the street, only to be confronted by a chlorine gas cloud forming all around them. Instinct and training likely kicked in; since chlorine is thicker than air, the instructions they’d been given would have been to head for the roof. Under most circumstances, this would have been excellent advice, like the injunction to workers at the World Trade Center on 9/11 to stay put at their desks, but in this case, it failed the residents of Douma. As they ran back upward through the building, they’d have been rendered unconscious very quickly and dead within minutes. Delivered at that kind of dosage — thousands of milligrams per cubic meter — chlorine could easily have caused the frothing at the mouth, skin burns, and damaged corneas observed by medical workers, as well as the horrible smell and breathing difficulties of which residents complained. It also makes sense of what the motorbike rider had told me: that the whole street had been affected by the foul odor. To panic and terrorize the population was, after all, what this was for.

The murderous result, concluded Postol, was “a very peculiar set of circumstances” and a terrible twist of fate. If the building had had been larger with a firmer roof, the balcony canister would probably not have fallen through; even if it had broken open and begun dispersing its payload, the chlorine would have wafted off into the open air and likely not injured anyone. If the roof had been even weaker and the canister had fallen right through onto the third floor, its valve might not have opened at all, like the one on the bed. But because of the way the canister punctured the concrete, its valve snapped so as to spew the contents directly into the enclosed space below. A lot of stars would have had to align for something like this to happen, just as the former OPCW inspector had said. But in this case, they did.

[Postol no longer holds these views, a clear indication that anything he says had to be taken with a grain of salt.]

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December 27, 2019

Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 4:35 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 27, 2019

In the recently published “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care,” Giorgos Kallis tackles weighty and expansive topics in merely 156 pages. One cannot help but wonder if his brevity (the soul of wit, after all) was in keeping with the book’s theme—how humanity can live an abundant life within material limits.

Kallis is a research professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), who has made both theoretical and practical contributions to environmentalism. In addition to writing articles in defense of “degrowth,” he worked for the European Parliament’s Science and Technological Options Assessment Unit for the preparation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

“Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong” is a critique of Malthusianism, as put forward in the 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” It also refutes the “neo-Malthusian” writings of Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome. Since the Club of Rome issued a report titled “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, one has to wonder why a degrowth advocate would be its critic. The answer is that Malthus and neo-Malthusianism are entirely different animals.

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WSWS, Sean Wilentz, and the Star Spangled Banner

Filed under: racism — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

Francis Scott Key, who composed the Star Spangled Banner, owned slaves. He was a close political ally of fellow slave-owner Andrew Jackson, an icon of democracy according to Sean Wilentz

Without question, this assault on the NY Times Project 1619 is being co-led by WSWS contributor Tom Mackaman and Princeton professor Sean Wilentz. There’s some fancy footwork going on with Mackaman working with the professors who signed Wilentz’s open letter attacking the project and Wilentz lining up support among those who share his liberal Democratic Party politics. Even though it is a united front between the sectarian lunatics of the Socialist Equality Party and the Princeton don who is a close friend of the Clintons and hates any politician to their left, the WSWS is shrewd enough not to solicit an interview with Wilentz since that would give away their sordid game.

In my previous post on this controversy, I referred to Wilentz’s recently published “No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding”. This book is consistent with the contents of the open letter that is so upset about Nikole Hannah-Jones’s saying that racism is in the USA’s DNA. That formulation is not that different from the universally acclaimed observation from H. Rap Brown that violence is as American as apple pie. Maybe, if these white professors grew up in the same circumstances as Hannah-Jones’s father, they’d understand her anger:

My dad was born into a family of sharecroppers on a white plantation in Greenwood, Miss., where black people bent over cotton from can’t-see-in-the-morning to can’t-see-at-night, just as their enslaved ancestors had done not long before. The Mississippi of my dad’s youth was an apartheid state that subjugated its near-majority black population through breathtaking acts of violence.

Wilentz, by contrast, was the son of the man who owned the highly successful 8th Street Bookstore that thrived in the days before Barnes and Noble and then Amazon. Growing up in such privilege, he probably can’t quite see things from the same perspective as someone who grew up picking cotton.

The older Wilentz became, the more he adopted the inside-the-beltway attitudes of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and other historians who saw American presidents as being a lamp onto the feet of backward peoples. Like Schlesinger, who wrote a flattering portrait of Andrew Jackson, Wilentz came up with his own adoring biography in 2005 that was torn apart in the New Left Review by Tom Mertes. (Contact me for a copy of the paywalled article.) Mertes had these choice words for the WSWS’s co-thinker, who made excuses for Jackson’s genocidal attacks on American Indians in the same way he made excuses for Bill Clinton’s war in Yugoslavia:

Far greater exertions are required to burnish Jackson’s bid to construct a Herrenvolk republic free of Indians. Here Wilentz’s contortions are truly exemplary. His Jackson is a ‘sincere if unsentimental paternalist’, who simply wished for the good of the indigenous peoples, killing them only when ‘provoked’—though he lets slip a few pages earlier that he was a ‘fire-eating hater of unyielding Indians’. Yielding Indians were those who agreed to ‘voluntary’ removal from their ancestral lands, for their own protection, to ‘safe havens’ (Kurdistans for the 19th century?), so rescuing them from the ‘obliteration’ that would otherwise have befallen them. If these operations did not go quite as ‘smoothly and benevolently as Jackson had expected’, this was an unfortunate outcome he had in no way intended.

As it happens, one other African-American besides Nikole Hannah-Jones got the reputation of being a “racialist” not too long ago. I am referring to Colin Kaepernick who took a knee for the Star Spangled Banner, an act that “divided the working class”, no doubt.

There’s a tie-in to Andrew Jackson here as well as this article points out. In a neglected verse in the national anthem, it celebrates the killing of slaves who had fought alongside the British in exchange for their freedom:

Kindly put, Key was a nation-builder who lost luster later in life. Perhaps his association with the fierce Jackson turned his character unkind, darker and harder. Like many upper-crust slave owners, including James Madison, Key claimed to favor colonization, shipping free blacks to Africa.

It’s worth looking at Key in better days. At St. John’s College in Annapolis, he played lots of schoolboy pranks. Good-looking and confident, he had a gift for scribbling verse, which he put to good use at age 35, in the crepuscular light of day.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” hails the huge battle flag flying over Fort McHenry after dawn broke and smoke cleared above Baltimore’s waters after a night of British naval bombardment. Key witnessed the scene from a neutral vessel and composed his patriotic poem in the rush of victory that very morning. A sensation, it swept the streets, sung to the tune of an English drinking song.

Pride was palpable. Baltimore saved the early republic after the British army sacked Washington. Madison fled the empty capital, riding ahead of the redcoats, who feasted in the White House before setting fire to it. Baltimore blocked the British advance up the Eastern Seaboard, and the bard bottled the moment. The song was named the national anthem more than 100 years later. If only that were the happy end of the tale. From the third verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

No refuge could save the hireling & slave/

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:/

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/

O’er the land of the free & the home of the brave.

This verse is hardly ever sung these days, but there it is.

Whatever side you’re on, we all need to know the roots of “The Star-Spangled Banner” run deep in slavery’s soil. How deep is seldom told.

Lawyer-poet Key, born to massive slaveholding wealth in Maryland, was one of the richest men in America. He liked it that way.

As he grew older and darker, Key sought to buttress slavery, known as our own “peculiar institution.” He did just that, past his last breath. The U.S. Supreme Court, which he helped shape, stood strongly for slavery. So beside the anthem, his political legacy as a critical political player in upholding slavery is devastating.

In his 50s, Key became an adviser to President Andrew Jackson, who was also a wealthy self-made Southern slaveholder.

At the same time, Key was named by Jackson as the U.S. district attorney for the nation’s capital, where he prosecuted race and slavery laws to the fullest extent, even to the death penalty. He also aggressively prosecuted early abolitionists, who had founded the anti-slavery movement in 1833.

Key often whispered in the ear of Jackson, the plantation owner in the White House. When he wasn’t shouting, Jackson listened. Jackson’s presidency brought brutal, racially motivated mob violence like never before, including a race riot in Washington, D.C. Jackson had no sympathy for mobs, but even less for slaves and free blacks.

Then came the worst cut of all: Key prevailed on Jackson to name Key’s own brother-in-law, Roger Taney, to the Cabinet and then to the ultimate prize: chief justice of the United States.

To be tied to the infamous Taney is a serious stain on Key’s rosy reputation. Like Key, Taney was a native of Maryland, a state steeped in slavery, where Frederick Douglass was born. Taney and Key were friends before Roger met and married Key’s sister. That’s how small the antebellum South was for wealthy white men.

Roundly hated north of the Mason-Dixon line, Taney lived long enough to author the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court opinion, the most starkly racist high court decision in history. Taney struck down the argument that free blacks could become citizens in free states like Illinois and further declared that all blacks, whether slave or free, were never entitled to any rights, period.

The Dred Scott ruling landed as a public outrage. Historians consider it a catalyst for the Civil War, which broke out four years later. Taney swore in Abraham Lincoln as president in 1861, a face-to-face breaking point between the nation’s past and future.

Is racism part of America’s DNA? That so many people could be outraged by Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to kneel while the anthem is being sung suggests it is.

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