Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 30, 2011

Some thoughts on Jared Loughner and Henry Cockburn

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 7:47 pm

On May 25th the Washington Post reported that Jared Loughner was judged not competent to stand trial:

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner is mentally unfit to stand trial for the Jan. 8 rampage in Tucson that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six, citing expert testimony that Loughner is schizophrenic and shows a paranoid distrust of his own defense attorneys.

Facing an agitated Loughner in a Phoenix courtroom, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns remanded him to a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., where he will receive treatment aimed at restoring his competency. The judge ordered that Loughner be treated for up to four months, and if he is then deemed to be competent, the case against him could resume. If not, he could remain in treatment.

Against his defense attorney’s protests, Loughner is being forcibly medicated as Slate reported today:

A federal judged on Wednesday ruled that doctors can force Jared Lee Loughner to take antipsychotic drugs in an effort to make him fit to stand trial for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others.

“I defer to medical doctors,” U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said at an emergency hearing requested by Loughner’s lawyers, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I have no reason to disagree with doctors. I didn’t go to medical school.”

The purpose of the medication is simply to reduce the most glaring symptoms of schizophrenia so that Loughner can comport himself “normally” in a courtroom. When you stop and think about this, you realize that the forces of law and order are far more irrational than the defendant. He, at least, has an excuse: a chemical imbalance in the brain. They have none except a desire to take vengeance against a person who was “not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong” during a psychotic break, to use the wording that was invoked in the past in insanity pleas.

When you administer anti-psychotic medication to a schizophrenic, it does not mean that the disease goes into some kind of remission, to use an analogy with chemotherapy and cancer. The person remains deeply disturbed, subject to what specialists call a “diminished affect”, inappropriate responses (laughing at a sad story and crying at a joke), etc. The likelihood that patients will do violence to others or themselves is diminished when they are under medication. But all medical experts will acknowledge that when someone like Jared Loughner kills, it is not done willfully. Furthermore, punishing someone like him is not likely to dissuade other unmedicated schizophrenics to “behave themselves”. In bourgeois society, punishment is often explained as a need to deter future crimes. But putting a schizophrenic behind bars is simply barbaric.

While it was difficult to defend someone charged with a capital offense in the past, it was not impossible. All that changed after John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan. In the three years following the Hinckley acquittal, half of the states passed laws limiting use of the defense. One state, Utah as might be expected, abolished the defense outright.

Bourgeois society is so anxious to punish the mentally ill when they commit crimes because of deep-seated phobias. The terms “crazy”, “mad”, etc. are used mostly to describe bad behavior of politicians, etc. but they are never completely detached from the human beings who as the old insanity plea put it, are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the act.

As might be expected, such prejudices ran deep in Victorian England. Despite this, Daniel McNaughtan was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing Prime Minister Robert Peel’s secretary. McNaughtan was under the delusion that Peel was persecuting him. Both defense and prosecution experts agreed that McNaughtan suffered from paranoia schizophrenia. The McNaughtan plea was a legal precedent in both the USA and Britain until Reagan was shot.

As an indication of how wrong the perception of the mentally ill can be, the NY Times led the pack in an article that appeared on October 27, 1981:

A Secret Service agent, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and a police officer testified today that John W. Hinckley Jr. responded clearly and rationally when they questioned him a few hours after President Reagan and three other men were shot last March 30.

”At one point, I couldn’t spell assassinate, and he spelled it for me,” Arthur E. Myers, a District of Columbia homicide detective, said in describing his questioning of Mr. Hinckley the afternoon of the shootings.

Whether Hinckley could spell the word or not had nothing to do with his state of mind on the day he shot Reagan. The fact that he did it to “impress Jodie Foster” was much more important, as well as how he fared on a standard psychological examination that is used to diagnose schizophrenia.

Like Jared Loughner, John Hinckley became a convenient target for society’s phobias against the mentally ill, so much so that it took nearly 25 years for him to gain the right to visit his parents overnight. Considering that nobody died as a result of his attack, such vindictiveness seemed inappropriate. Furthermore, one wonders how he would have made out if his parents had not been so connected. His father was president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation as well as World Vision, an evangelical relief organization with a budget exceeded 2.6 billion dollars. Imagine if Hinckley had been the African-American son of a single mother.

* * * *

Fortunately for Patrick Cockburn, his son Henry never attacked another human being violently. Mostly the violence was inflicted on his own person, usually taking the form of swimming in cold and turbulent waters in the middle of winter or scaling tall walls.

For eight years Patrick Cockburn and his wife Jan had to cope with Henry’s repeated temptations with fate, as he escaped from one mental hospital or another and went about his death-defying odysseys of the streets and wooded areas of the cities where he was confined.

This year Cockburn wrote a book about his experience looking after Henry, with a few chapters penned by his son. Titled “Henry’s Demons”, it is a supremely frank and courageous work that I will probably have more to say about at some point. But for now, I want to share Patrick Cockburn’s take on the state of mental health facilities in Britain and elsewhere. It is a sad but accurate commentary on the conditions that will guarantee more loss of human life like which occurred in Tucson:

The facilities at DVH were so poor and supervision of patients at the Bethlem Royal so lax partly because of radical changes in the way the mentally ill have been treated in Britain, Western Europe, and the U.S. over the last half century. Health experts increasingly see some of these developments—however well meant at the time— as a catastrophic setback in the care of those with mental disorders. Henry suffered from this revolution in mental health care, and mistakes were made in his treatment, but he was also looked after by dedicated and highly skilled doctors and nurses and was less seriously affected than many others. He was lucky to come from East Kent, where provision for the mentally ill has a reputation for being better organised and implemented than in much of Britain. The East Kent Mental Health Trust unstintingly sought effective treatment for him despite many setbacks. Even so, the options available to officials of the trust were largely determined by the fact that the old system of mental asylums, built in Victorian times and in the first half of the twentieth century, has been mostly dismantled over the last fifty years, and too little has been done to replace it. Prisonlike many of the old asylums may have been, but at least they were a haven for people too mentally ill to find work, food, and shelter for themselves. Inside their walls, life may have been institutionalised, but one could safely behave bizarrely or even madly without derision or persecution.

Certainly the alternative to the mental asylums has generally proved worse than what went before. In Britain this went under the attractive-sounding name of “care in the community,” which must be one of the most deceptive and hypocritical phrases ever devised by a government. It was claimed at the time that big psychiatric hospitals would be replaced by a network of outpatient clinics, halfway houses, and hostels overseen by specialist psychiatrists, doctors, and nurses.

In reality, British Health Minister John Hutton said in 1999 “the present system of care in the community has actually become ‘couldn’t care less’ in the community.”

As asylums closed en masse in the 1980s, those who once found a measure of protection in them had nowhere to go and were sometimes thrown onto the streets, becoming “sidewalk psychotics”; were sent to prison; or, more usually, were looked after by their overburdened families. Between the 1950s and today, the number of beds available to psychiatric patients in Britain fell from 150,000 to 30,000. In the U.S. a similar shutdown of mental asylums was presented as “dein-stitutionalisation,” a word which has a fine libertarian ring to it until one realises that many people with mental problems have a desperate need for an institution to protect and look after them. In the U.S. the number of beds available for psychiatric patients in public hospitals fell 90 percent, from 558,000 in 1955 to 53,000 in 2005. Many patients became homeless and were dealt with by the police rather than by health workers. An expert report on the shortage of hospital beds for the mentally ill notes sardonically that the three largest de facto psychiatric institutions in the U.S. today are the Los Angeles County jail, Chicago’s Cook County jail, and New York’s Rikers Island. The worst of the old asylums may have been hellholes, but the response should have been their improvement, not their abolition.

The British detective-story writer P. D. James, who worked as an administrator in the British National Health Service in London when “care in the community” was being introduced and whose husband was a long-term patient in a mental hospital, comments bitterly that community care “could be described more accurately as the absence of care in a community still largely resentful or frightened of mental illness.” The policy greatly deepened the anxiety of families, who often have to rely on their own very limited resources to look after a mentally ill relative. Jan and I were able to find a bed in a mental hospital for Henry easily only because he was so acutely psychotic that there was no doubt about his being sectioned. Sectioning by a doctor meant that a hospital had to find room for him, while people who are only a little less sick are sometimes not sectioned because doctors know there are too few resources to treat them. Twenty years earlier, there would have been no such problem in Canterbury, because just to the west of the city was a mental hospital called St. Augustine’s. It had beds for two thousand patients as well as specialised education units for adolescents and adults with mental disorders.

But by the time Henry became ill, the hospital had been closed down and its grounds sold off for a housing development.

Even now the cruelty and unnecessary misery stemming from the dissolution of the mental asylums in the years after World War II is astonishing. That it happened with so few public protests, perhaps because the victims could not speak up for themselves and were regarded with dread by the wider public, is a surprise and a shame. The public went along with the closures because some hospitals were very bad, and even those which were good had wards where insane people were confined in appalling conditions. As these psychiatric hospitals came under attack, it was easy to demonise them as the dumping grounds for people who had breached social conventions of the day, such as girls with illegitimate children. In addition, medical staff had used electric shock treatment, which was traumatic for patients and showed little benefit. And movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest reinforced the perception that such institutions were prison camps misruled by authoritarian monsters.

Mental asylums became the targets of criticism from an odd but influential coalition of civil-rights liberals and fiscal conservatives.

Radicals like R. D. Laing argued that people with mental disorders were the victims of their families and could be better treated outside mental hospitals. The so-called father of community care in Britain in the early 1960s was the right-wing libertarian Conservative health minister Enoch Powell, later notorious for his attacks on immigrants and immigration. The big psychiatric hospitals had few defenders.

Governments and health officials eager to save money made common cause with liberals and the left, who saw mental patients as prisoners unjustly incarcerated. In reality, no group of people is more vulnerable or less likely to be tolerated—still less cared for—by a public viscerally frightened of madness. An important motive for closing down the big asylums was expense. Mental health care is costly; many people at hospitals like St. Augustine’s in Canterbury were incurable, there for life. At one facility for accommodating, treating, and educating mentally disordered adolescents, also near Canterbury, costs per patient in the 1980s were five times the fees of Eton, Britain’s most aristocratic boarding school.

Not all the motives for closing down the mental asylums were mercenary or mistaken. People might often be ignorant of how the mentally ill were treated, but they had a vague sense of guilt that patients had been hard done by in the past. Warders at the original “Bedlam”—the modern successor of which is Bethlem Royal–had been notorious in the eighteenth century for making money by charging visitors in search of amusement to watch the mad antics and delusions of patients. When I was a boy in the 1950s, psychiatric hospitals were familiarly called “loony bins,” a phrase evoking images of padded cells and straitjackets.

Getting rid of this system began to appear all the more feasible in the mid-1950s thanks to the discovery of effective anti-psychotic drugs.

These could usually control the most exotic and dramatic hallucinations and voices, though they were less successful in dealing with passive symptoms such as apathy and inability to relate to others. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the use of depot injections, whereby the drug gradually disperses into the bloodstream, meant that some but not all medication could be administered by a nurse once a fortnight. This made compliance with the medication automatic and appeared to make it unnecessary for a mentally ill person to be resident in a hospital or even to see a doctor frequently. Though depot injections made treatment easier and more certain, psychiatrists overestimated what such medication could achieve. Their perceptions were reinforced by research funded by pharmaceutical companies, which put medication at the centre of all treatment and downplayed therapy and the beneficial impact of an improved environment.

As the old mental asylums closed, care in the community could have worked only if it had been sustained by a network of psychiatrists, social workers, and clinics. This system never existed and was never likely to be created because it would have high costs and governments had closed the asylums partly to save money. Public protest over what had been done was limited. The one time the public appeared to wake up and become conscious of the inadequacy of the new arrangements for the mentally ill was when there was a spectacular murder by a person with mental health problems. There are at least fifty such murders in England every year, though more people are murdered by drunks than by the mentally ill. When there is a murder by a mentally ill person, there is often a brief and usually ill-informed debate on why a potential killer had not been hospitalised and was on the loose despite many warning signs. Some who later committed murder had vainly sought to get themselves admitted to a hospital only to be told that there were no beds available. An unfortunate effect of such episodes is to reinforce the pariah status of those with mental disorders and to scapegoat doctors and social workers for not sending potentially dangerous people to mental hospitals, ignoring the fact that these institutions are now few and far between.

Fear of madness and the mad is probably less than it was, and campaigners for the mentally ill congratulate themselves on reducing stigma. But fear of those believed to be insane was one reason the Victorians allocated so many resources to building mental asylums. A schizophrenic patient is a hundred times more likely to kill him-or herself than to kill somebody else. But the connection between schizophrenia and violence is a little stronger than is openly admitted by many psychiatrists. About 8 percent of offenders who murder or attempt a murder have schizophrenia, and schizophrenic patients are four times more likely to be involved in violent incidents than people who have not been diagnosed as having a psychosis. An indication of how care in the community has, in practise, meant abandoning the mentally ill to their own devices is that the majority of schizophrenic offenders in Britain were known to the psychiatric services but were not receiving treatment at the time of their offence. Reducing the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness is beneficial, but it risks undercutting the case that those suffering from it desperately need expensive special treatment and facilities.

June 29, 2011

Cognitive dissonance on Libya

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 4:58 pm

Franklin Lamb with Hizbollah leader, the late Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah

Franklin Lamb in today’s Counterpunch:

NATO’s bombs have united the people; forced the sometimes too comfortable population to face the future; even one without  Gaddafi; demonstrated the media strikes with false stories are stronger than the military assault in some respects, shown that the “Arab system” i.e. Arab League is worthless; shown  that it’s the poor people of Libya who believe in the Revolution and are remaining loyal to it. The rebels have exposed the Muslim Brotherhood as a US partner and also  has shown the true nature of the Jihadists, Al Qaeda and NATO itself,  that the African Union has a key function to perform, that Libya is not divisible because of its social and economic interdependency.

Franklin Lamb in Global Research interview:

“Hezbollah under the leadership of Hasan Nasrallah has given the Arabs of the region restored self-respect following 60 years of humiliation and 41 years of repeated and voracious occupation and aggression.”

full: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9328

Hezbollah lashed out Monday at the “crimes committed by the Gaddafi regime” in Libya:

“Anyone with honor and consciousness in this world cannot, and should not, keep silent on the massacres that the Gaddafi regime is committing across the country on a daily basis, namely in Benghazi.

Terror and violence do not protect a regime that was founded on corruption and crime, from the will and determination of a people that has taken its decisive decision,” a Hezbollah statement read.

“Hezbollah firmly condemns crimes committed by the Gaddafi regime against the oppressed Libyan people. We also offer our sincere condolences to the families of those who were unjustly killed, just for demanding their rights. Hezbollah expresses support to the revolutionists in Libya and we pray that they will triumph over this arrogant tyrant,” the statement added.

full: http://www.almanar.com.lb/english/adetails.php?eid=3411&frid=23&seccatid=14&cid=23&fromval=1

June 28, 2011

Is Anarchism, not Marxism, the more relevant left tradition?

Filed under: anarchism,socialism — louisproyect @ 7:25 pm

Mark Mazower

Considering the crisis of print media, the fact that I shelled out $18 for a year’s subscription to Bookforum is a recommendation that speaks for itself. Like Harper’s, the only other print publication that I subscribe to (going on for 30 years now), Bookforum is fairly restrictive in what it makes available online.

I discovered Bookforum after it absorbed Alfredo Lopez’s Political Theory Daily Review, an aggregation of links to scholarly and popular articles that was head and shoulders over the late Denis Dutton’s irritating Arts and Letters Daily. Lopez’s links became as much a part of my daily diet as a cup of coffee in the morning.

With the same general left-of-center orientation as Harpers, Bookforum is co-edited by Chris Lehmann, Michael Miller, and Albert Mobilio. I don’t know anything about the latter two, but Lehmann is one of my faves. Back in April 2009, he wrote an article titled “Rich People Things” for Awl that described his experience working at New York Magazine, an utterly brainless magazine distinguished by its articles on people like Donald Trump and its recommendations on where to buy chocolate in New York, etc. I could be wrong, but I think well over half the doctor and dentist’s waiting rooms have back issues of New York Magazine to keep patients mollified.

Lehmann’s article begins:

My ill-starred tenure at New York magazine was, among other things, a crash course in the staggering unselfawareness of Manhattan class privilege. Sure, there was the magazine’s adoring, casual fascination with the “money culture”-a term deployed in editorial meetings without the faintest whiff of disapproval or critical distance. But more than that, there was the sashaying mood of preppy smugness that permeated nearly every interaction among the magazine’s editorial directorate-as when one majordomo tried to make awkward small talk with me by asking what it was like attending an urban public high school, or when another scion of the power elite would blithely take the credit for other people’s work and comically strategize to be seated prominently at the National Magazine Awards luncheon.

How could you not subscribe to a magazine that has someone like this as an editor?

I finally decided to subscribe to Bookforum after seeing that an article titled “Leon Trotsky and the Arab Spring” that was included in the summer 2011 issue was available only to subscribers. No matter how hard I tried to find a copy online, it was no dice.

That wasn’t the only meaty piece of prose in the issue. It also had Roger D. Hodge’s review of Ross Perlin’s new Verso book “Intern Nation”. Hodge was the editor of Harpers until he ran afoul of John McArthur, its deep-pocketed but capricious publisher. Hodge wrote a brilliant take-down of Barack Obama that I reviewed fairly recently at Swans.

Hodge’s article is one of the few that is online and this should give you an idea of his take on life under Late Capitalism, in sync obviously with the magazine’s editors:

Although it is billed as an educational and career opportunity, the Disney internship offers little more than a menial service job. Most Disney “interns” spend their days as “cast members” performing wonderful tasks like flipping burgers, cleaning toilets and hotel rooms, parking cars, and stocking gift shops. In essence, the program provides a hugely profitable corporation with a transitional population of fresh-faced temps, thus enabling Disney World, America’s largest single-site employer, to keep labor costs as low as possible.

Working my way through the summer issue of Bookforum, that began to remind me more and more of the New York Review of Books in the 1960s when it had some kind of edge (one NY Review had a do-it-yourself diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover), I was delighted to see an article by Columbia professor Mark Mazower. Mazower is the author of “Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950”, a book that I have read and strongly recommend. He is also the author of the highly regarded “Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe” and “No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations”. Since all of these books were written after 2003, we are clearly dealing with a powerful and productive scholar who also aims for a broader readership. The only other intellectual I can think of who has such breadth and depth is Arno Mayer, the Princeton professor emeritus who has begun contributing to Counterpunch.

Despite my deepest respect for Professor Mazower’s scholarly works, I must take exception to his article titled “Propaganda of the Deed: Is Anarchism, not Marxism, the more relevant left tradition?” that appears in the summer Bookforum (unfortunately, only available to subscribers.)

Mazower’s article is based partly on a review of Alex Butterworth’s “The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents”, a book that I have no plans to read. After reading a few hundred pages of Bakunin back in 2002 when anarchism, Hacky Sack and breaking Starbucks windows were all the rage, I could understand why Marx got so riled up dealing with the extravagant Russian who while not lacking in personal courage was certainly a bit intellectually deficient. Of course, not too many thinkers can compete with Karl Marx even if Butterworth feels compelled to describe him as presiding over a “bullying and overbearing branch of Teutonic socialism.”

While it is not exactly clear whether Mazower is channeling Butterworth or speaking for himself, I had to rub my eyes in disbelief after reading: “…the memory of the Commune gave anarchists a cause to rally around and a model of future action that was local and bottom-up, not dependent on the capture of state institutions, as Marx’s more evolutionary approach seemed to mandate.”

Where in the world does this notion come from about “the capture of state institutions” through an “evolutionary approach”? Now I understand that Eduard Bernstein developed a “revisionist” socialism that rested on a willful misinterpretation of Marx’s writings and that corresponded to this erroneous summary of his views, but this is simply not how Marx saw things. When Marx stated in “The Civil War in France”, his study of the Paris Commune, that “…the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes“, how much clearer could it be that he did not favor “the capture of state institutions”? It is irresponsible to convey this impression to Bookforum’s readers, many of whom have never read Karl Marx except when forced to in an undergraduate course.

In contrast to the bullying and overbearing Karl Marx with his evolutionary approach, there are people like Bakunin, who according to Butterworth (and Mazower we must once again assume) “resisted any engagement with the state on principle”. But how does this square with Bakunin’s  1862 “The People’s Cause: Romanov, Pugachev, or Pestel”? The three figures respectively stood for various social layers: Romanov the aristocracy, Pugachev the peasant firebrand and Pestel the privileged intelligentsia. Guess what? Romanov was best qualified to lead the revolution:

We should most gladly of all follow Romanov, if Romanov could and would transform himself from a Petersburg Emperor into a National Tsar. We should gladly enroll under his standard because the Russian people still recognizes him and because his strength is concentrated, ready to act, and might become an irresistible strength if only he would give it a popular baptism. We would follow him because he alone could carry out and complete a great, peaceful revolution without shedding one drop of Russian or Slav blood.

I know that Karl Marx was a perfectly beastly figure but I doubt you would find such idiocy in any of his writings.

After giving Butterworth much more credit than I am afraid he deserves, Mazower turns his attention to Eric Hobsbawm’s “How to Change the World: tales of Marx and Marxism”. Despite my preference, heavily qualified, for Hobsbawm over Butterworth, I doubt that I will read this book either.

We learn from the review that, according to Hobsbawm, Marxism took a nose dive starting in the early 1980s that it never really recovered from.

We are also told that a shrinking working class is robbing Marxism of its principal claim, namely that the capitalist system provides its own gravediggers. All I can say is that this exactly what I heard from another Columbia professor back in 1968 or so, a guy by the name of Herbert Marcuse. This business about the disappearance or shrinking of the working class has been around for a half-century at least. Maybe it is time to give it a break, especially since vast portions of the planet have been proletarianized during this period on a level that would have made the Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto look like one of history’s greatest prophets.

In conclusion, Mazower finds Marxism altogether unfashionable even if undeservedly so:

The most commonly encountered critiques of mainstream economics—at least in the United States and Western Europe—are not Marxist but Keynesian. The very fine Marxists commentators who do write in Latin America or southern Europe—for instance, on the current sovereign-debt crisis in Europe—are hardly noticed here.

Well, I have no doubt that Keynesians get more notice in the USA than Marxists but one cannot be sure what point is being made. Marxists have gotten used to being voices in the wilderness ever since Karl Marx was burning the midnight oil in the London library. That’s what happens when you want to destroy the existing system. You’ll never get a proper NY Times op-ed column or a Nobel Prize in economics acting up that way.

In the final paragraph, Mazower gets wild and crazy. I hope that the Starbucks on 114th and Broadway keeps a watchful eye after reading this:

One must wonder if whether it is in fact anarchism and not Marxism that speaks most clearly to our current condition. It is not just that Marx’s actual explanation for the causes of capitalist crisis was always undertheorized and in any case referred to an older kind of economy that lacked the complex and panic-inducing financial mechanisms that are commonplace now. Above all, the attractiveness of Marx’s thought as a model is fatally compromised in the eyes of many natural critics of capitalism today by his commitment to organization and to rigid party discipline. Anarchism’s combination of individual commitment, ethical universalism, and deep suspicion of the state as a political actor mark it out as the ideology for our times. We are all anarchists now.

Well, there’s a lot to chew over here but I will be brief.

On the question of complex financial mechanisms, I can only say that Socialist Register has been examining such questions for decades now, especially in the articles of Leo Panitch and the late Peter Gowan. Their archives are online and I particularly recommend the 2011 edition titled “The Fire this Time” that includes an article by the New School’s Anwar Shaikh titled “The First Great Depression of the 21st Century“. Shaikh, who is not above integrating Keynesian insights when useful, can be accused of many things (well, maybe not that many) but least among them is that he gives complex financial mechanisms short shrift.

On Marx and rigid party discipline. I am afraid that Professor Mazower has him confused with Lenin. That being said, Lenin only expelled one member of the Bolshevik Party in its entire history: Bogdanov.

In any case, Lenin’s party did manage to topple the capitalist system in the USSR even if the end result was a despotic system that made a mockery of the word socialism. While I would not question an anarchist’s “individual commitment” or “ethical universalism”, qualities that I am sure they possess in abundance, we are facing a serious and widespread problem of the inability of an amorphous and leaderless mass movement to deliver a death blow to Greek, Egyptian or any other decaying capitalist system. Under such desperate conditions, there will be a need for a highly disciplined and organized revolutionary movement to challenge the power of the rich. The one thing we have learned from history is that failed revolutions pay a heavy penalty for a failure to go all the way. Whatever problems Marxism has as a movement, it at least provides its adherents with a methodology to analyze the relationship of class forces in a given society so as to help develop an intelligent strategy and tactics. As the crisis of world capitalism deepens, young people—working class or non-working class—will be looking for a sharp sword to use against the enemy class. I am reasonably sure that Karl Marx’s writings will remain relevant for them.

Ironically, the viability of Marxism receives support in the article that immediately follows Mazower’s, the very article that persuaded me to plunk down $18 for a subscription. Written by Graeme Wood, a contributor to the centrist Atlantic Monthly of all places, “Reading Trotsky in Tahir: what the Russian revolutionary can teach us about the Arab Spring” cares little about whether Marxists are “in” or not but instead reminds us of why someone like Trotsky is essential reading for Arab revolutionaries:

The czar and his state, like Mubarak and his, fail utterly to grasp the extent of its rot. In Russia, the mismanagement was most acutely foreign: The Russian military had led bloody misadventures in the Great War and the Russo-Japanese War. “The one thing the Russian generals did with a flourish was drag human meat out of the country,” writes Trotsky. “Beef and pork are handled with infinitely more economy.” In Egypt, the mismanagement had the same demoralizing effect—but turned inward, with a secret-police force that consisted of one in forty adults—and, similarly, brought only misery to the country’s people. Trotsky writes that the czar’s state could have tried to reform, but “on the contrary, withdrew into itself. It spirit of medievalism thickened under the pressure of hostility and fear, until it acquired the character of a disgusting nightmare overhanging the country.”

Mark Mazower says that “we are all anarchists now”. Well, when they start writing like Trotsky, maybe I’ll join up. But not until then.

June 25, 2011

Turtle: the Incredible Journey

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

Yesterday “Turtle: The Incredible Journey” opened at the Regal Union Square in NYC and theaters around the country (schedule information is here: http://www.turtle-film.com/). Although I have grown inured to movie industry hype over the years, this is one incredible journey. Documenting the life cycle of a loggerhead turtle that lives nearly its entire life under water and that has been extant as a species for 200 million years, this film will fill you with awe and wonder whether you are six years old or sixty-six like me.

The movie begins on a beach in Florida with hatchlings coming out of their eggs and making a perilous journey of about fifty feet into the water. Those that can get to first base, avoiding becoming a meal for a sand crab or a seagull on the beach, are on the first leg of an odyssey that takes them tens of thousands of miles across the Atlantic and back.

Every key stage in the life of a female loggerhead turtle that is the heroine of this this amazing documentary is described in virtually poetic terms by actress Miranda Richardson. Her voice-over spells out the powerful conjunction of instinct and fortune that allows one in perhaps one thousand creatures to survive. Although they are at home in the sea, they have to contend with animals higher up on the food chain, including sharks. Sadly the biggest threats they face nowadays are man-made.

The young loggerhead turtle must find a way to reach the Gulf Stream that leads to the Sargasso Sea, a vast segment of the Atlantic Ocean that provides a kind of nursery for the turtle and other fledgling sea creatures. They attach themselves to a weed that pervades the water called the Sargassum that they can feed on for years, as well as the small fish that are attracted to it as well.

Once they have become adolescents, they move on instinctually in search of more substantial food off the Azore Islands in the middle of the Atlantic. There they become the awesome animal that reigns at the top of the food chain, even above the shark. Reaching over four hundred pounds and with a rock-hard shell and punishing beak, they fear nothing. The only thing that stands in their way until they return to the Caribbean to spawn is homo sapiens. Like the dolphin, the loggerhead is vulnerable to industrial fishing boats. It also falls victim to the nearly 24,000 metric tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year. The turtles often mistake the floating plastic for jellyfish, a common food item and die from toxins.

Although the film identifies such hazards, it is much more of a celebration of the life of these amazing animals. Like the honeybee that has been around for 150 million years, the notion that such a sublime creature is threatened by extinction is enough to make any socially aware person get a rocket launcher and retaliate—to use the words of Bruce Cockburn.

Just by coincidence, but one that has been gestating for the better part of fifty years, the movie debuts in the same week that the looming threat to sea life was reported on the front page of major newspapers.

The tie between the movie and the bad news was fairly explicit in the graphic that accompanied a June 21 San Francisco Chronicle article.

A 100-pound loggerhead turtle is returned to the ocean in Florida, and, according to a dire warning issued by a group of international scientists, may find an inhospitable environment.

Dire forecast of marine life catastrophe

The world’s oceans are degenerating far faster than predicted and marine life is facing extinction due to a range of human impacts – from overfishing to climate change – a report compiled by international scientists warned Tuesday.

The cumulative impact of “severe individual stresses,” ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history.”

The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.

The report warned that damage to marine life would harm its ability to support humans, and that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction, according to study chief author Alex Rogers of Oxford University. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical coral reefs.

Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Program on the State of the Ocean, pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and called the situation “really unprecedented.”

Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce back from problems – such as oil spills – as they used to, scientists said.

“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.

The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce overfishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.

“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”

A separate study released Monday provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming. It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over decades. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

* * * *

Save the planet! Save the loggerhead turtle! Join the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system!

June 24, 2011

Harvey Pekar remembrance

Filed under: Pekar — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

Ecotourism in Costa Rica

Filed under: Costa Rica,Ecology — louisproyect @ 12:30 am

(This is the third and last in a series.)

The Frommer’s guide to Costa Rica states:

Still, tourism is the nations true principal source of income, surpassing cattle ranching, textiles, and exports of coffee, apples, bananas, and Intel microchips. Over two million tourists visit Costa Rica year, and over half the working population is employed in the tourism and service industries. Ticos whose fathers and grandfathers were farmers and ranchers find themselves hotel owners, tour guides, and waiters. Although most have adapted gracefully and regard the industry as a source of jobs and opportunities for economic advancement, restaurant and hotel staff can seem gruff and uninterested at times, especially in rural areas.

Happily, the staff at the Ramada Inn my wife and I stayed at was warm and cordial, not seeming forced at all. I was there mainly to keep her company while she was at a conference in the hotel, but looked forward to a couple of day trips when she was available.

In front of Arenal volcano

We decided to go into the interior to see a live volcano at Arenal, a tour that included a few hours at a nearby spa called Tabacón that had hot baths fed by thermal underground springs. As it turns out, the volcano erupted in 1968 and wiped out the village that the spa now resided on. Although Costa Ricans are proud of their volcanoes, you can get much closer to them in Nicaragua if memory serves me right. On a tour in Sandinista Nicaragua, our group stood right on the rim of Masaya Volcano and watched the steam pouring out. It’s the only volcano in the Western Hemisphere that you can get so close to.

The ride from San Jose to Arenal is long and exhausting even though the scenery is beautiful. Along the winding mountain roads, the tour guide pointed out other attractions such as bungee jumping and paragliding spots. Since my knees go weak when I am in the observation towers of tall buildings, I made a mental note to skip these places if I came to Costa Rica again. Of considerable more interest were the canopy tours, an ingenious way to see the forest flora and fauna at the top of the trees. A cable extends from the top of a mountain all the way into a valley. You hook yourself to a harness attached to the cable and wend your way down getting a bird’s eye view of the continent’s (if not the world’s) most spectacular biodiversity display.

On the way to Tortuga Island

A few days later we went out to Tortuga Island off the Pacific Coast. You are on a bus for three hours and then on a boat for another hour or so until you arrive at this gorgeous and unspoiled island with a beautiful beach. The only problem with this day trip, as was the case with Arenal, is the amount of time it takes to get there and back. It is almost like going from New York to Boston to spend three or four hours walking around Cambridge. Cambridge is a beautiful and historic town but not one to be experienced in that fashion. To enjoy Boston and Cambridge, it is best to stay there for a few days. Same thing with Costa Rica. Once you get off the plane in San Jose, your best bet is to get transportation to a hotel or lodge near the Pacific or Atlantic coasts or in the interior.

If tourism is Costa Rica’s main industry, it is the “green” and “primeval” aspect that draws people. It is everything that Acapulco or Cancun is not. At least that is the selling point. It turns out that the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is becoming another playground for the super-rich just like other resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. On our trip out to Tortuga, the tour guide showed me a map of the region and pointed to the area just north of where we were going. He said, with some degree of pride, that the hotels there were the favorite haunts of Angela Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio. I chuckled to myself as I recalled Stan Goff’s warning against the Pacific Coast. He advised us to go to the Atlantic Coast, which was not blemished by such hotels and was primarily the home of English-speaking people of African descent just like those in Nicaragua. The area is unspoiled, beautiful and rich in biodiversity. The problem, however, it is fairly remote and can be reached only by boat in most places, just as is the case with the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. From an economic standpoint, we can only assume that the small lodges that predominate in the East do not generate as much revenue as the multinational-owned hotels on the West.

Despite Costa Rica’s well-deserved reputation as a country committed to biodiversity and an ecotourism that respects that biodiversity, there are enormous pressures on the country to bend to corporate interests that put profits above nature, even if they are proclaiming their “green intentions”.

In 1995 Grupo Situr, a Mexican company that clearly sought to build something like Cancún but with “environmentalist” pretensions, initiated a huge project on the Gulf of Papagayo. They referred to their plans as Ecodevelopment, even though they began cutting down trees, draining mangrove swamps, building roads without permits as well as beginning construction far too close to the beach. The end result has been hotels like the Four Seasons that charge $500 per night, golf courses, marinas, polo fields and all the rest of the nonsense that would attract Leonardo DiCaprio, a typical Hollywood environmentalist.

Around the same time plans were announced for “Green Luxury” at Playa Grande, another Pacific coast town. The most hyped feature was the installation of yellow lights all around the development. Supposedly the local turtles were averse to normal lighting but cool with yellow.

The main architects and financiers were Heydar Ghiai and Sons, an Iranian firm that had been one of the shah’s favorites. The son Yves assured Martha Honey (whose excellent book “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development” this post relies on heavily) in an interview that “We are the only group of developers really caring about the environment in Costa Rica”.

It turned out that the yellow lights were just as bothersome to turtles as regular lighting. More importantly, Playa Grande is the nesting ground of leatherback turtles, whose yearly pilgrimage to the white sandy beaches coincides with the tourist busy season. As tourist season kicked in, illegal collection of eggs grew out of control.

When a long-time defender of the leatherbacks tried to get the area around Playa Grande to become a national park with all the protection of wildlife that entailed, the Ghiai’s used their influence to proceed with almost no restrictions.

When my wife and I were trying to decide on a Pacific coast day tour, Manuel Antonio National Park was in the running against Tortuga Island. Stan Goff had recommended the park that was near beaches and a rainforest. I was intrigued to discover that tourists were advised to stick to the paths in the wooded areas since they contained the notorious Fer de Lance and Bushmaster snakes, whose bite can kill you within an hour or so.

Frankly, the water in the nearby town of Quepo and around the park was probably more dangerous than the snakes since both lacked sewage systems and allowed refuse to be dumped directly into the sea. Like American parks in the Rocky Mountains, Manuel Antonio has a huge number of visitors each year putting a strain on its ability to maintain a healthy ecosystem. This is one of the main contradictions of ecotourism obviously. In order to generate revenue, the parks have to attract tourists.

As much as I respect what the authorities are trying to do in Costa Rica, I am pessimistic. The economic pressures on the country are immense. In the mid-80s an economic crisis led to the same kinds of privatization and austerity programs now being forced on the Greeks. The White House, seeking an ally in the region, against Sandinista Nicaragua, used a carrot and a stick approach to line the country up against the FSLN. This meant shoveling aid on the country mostly calculated to foster Cancún type hotels while privatizing utility companies, etc.

It would be a great tragedy if economic pressures forced Costa Rica to retreat to the point where its amazing biodiversity began to diminish. As the National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica points out:

With a land area of only 51.100 km2 (0.03% of the planet’s surface) and 589.000 km2 of territorial waters, Costa Rica is considered to be one of the 20 countries with greatest biodiversity in the world. Its geographic position, its two coasts and its mountainous system, which provides numerous and varied microclimates, are some of the reasons that explain this natural wealth, both in terms of species and ecosystems. The more than 500,000 species that are found in this small country represent nearly 4% of the total species estimated worldwide. Of these 500,000 species, just over 300,000 are insects.

As we slouch toward Bethlehem in the 21st century, the struggle to preserve flora and fauna against the relentless drive for profit, mounted more and more often in the name of ecology, the connection with the broader struggle for peace and social justice will become inextricably linked.

June 23, 2011

Zizek gets personal

Filed under: comedy — louisproyect @ 3:19 pm

June 21, 2011

If a Tree Falls

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 6:54 pm

“If a Tree Falls: a Story of the Earth Liberation Front” is a powerful documentary on what the ruling elite have dubbed eco-terrorists. After you have finished watching it, you will wonder who should be on trial, the mostly young and politically naïve activists who were responsible for some millions of dollars in damages but no loss of life. Or the lumber magnates who are busily at work cutting down the remaining 5 percent of old-growth forests—not to speak of the oil company executives who brought you the Gulf of Mexico spill. Their drive for profit threatens the future of all humanity while the ELF arsonists were guilty of little more than throwing a monkey wrench into a destructive system.

Ironically, the notion of throwing a monkey wrench into the system was the subject of arguably one of the first “deep ecology” novels, “The Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey that was published in 1975. The wiki on the novel states:

The book may have been the inspiration for Dave Foreman’s and Mike Roselle’s creation of Earth First!, a direct action environmental organization that often advocates much of the minor vandalism depicted in the book. Many scenes of vandalism and ecologically-motivated mayhem, including a billboard burning at the beginning of the book and the use of caltrops to elude pursuing police, are presented in sufficient detail as to form a skeletal how-to for would-be saboteurs. This has influenced the Earth Liberation Front.

Life, alas, is far more complicated than fiction, in which plucky heroes triumph over evil. In a novel, a well placed firebomb might discourage a corporate despoiler but in the real world, the businessmen will pay for the damages with insurance and plunge ahead, making sure to make an amalgam between the underground activists and those who are using mass action to protect the environment.

As might be expected, the ELF activists all started out as mass action organizers but after demonstrations and rallies failed to achieve their goals, they decided to “escalate” their tactics. Although the film does not mention the SDS Weathermen, the ELF followed their example carefully, making sure especially that their targets were attacked in the wee hours of the morning when they were unoccupied. Whether it was an seemingly unending war in Vietnam or the nonstop assault on old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, the frustration and anger of young committed activists soon evolved into a form of direct action that was based more on the heart than the head.

The primary subject of “If a Tree Falls” is Daniel McGowan, who was a 32 year old former ELF member facing life in prison, when filming began 5 years ago. At the time, McGowan was under house arrest and deeply stressed out about what was in store. Other members of his cell (the ELF was a decentralized network) had turned states evidence against Daniel and three other of his comrades who were reluctant to become finks themselves.

McGowan is about the least likely “eco-terrorist” you are going to run into. The son of a NYC cop, he grew up on Rockaway Beach, a Queens neighborhood close to the Atlantic Ocean that I have been visiting during the summer for 30 years now. It consists of tidy bungalows, nearly half of which have American flags on the porch or front lawn. McGowan attended Catholic school as a teen and became a track star. In college, he majored in business administration. After graduating, he took a job with Burson Marsteller, a powerful PR firm that typically did work for Phillip Morris.

Despite the seeming normalcy, McGowan was an ardent environmentalist going so far as a young boy to strip the paper wrapping from tin cans in the family pantry so they could be recycled.

Eventually, he started hanging out at Wetlands, a Tribeca club that was also an environmentalism resource center. From there, he made the contacts that would lead him out to Oregon, a hotbed of activism.

And within that state, Eugene was the nerve center. All of the ELF activists got started as aboveground activists but police brutality, corporate resistance to their demands, and their own frustration pushed them over the edge. It is not hard to understand what made them so desperate. The Oregon cops were about as brutal as one can imagine, using pepper spray as a first resort against peaceful demonstrators. The documentary includes footage of the 1999 Seattle protests where many of these activists were transitioning into black block type tactics, a symptom of their pessimism about mass actions achieving any kind of breakthrough. Speaking as someone who has been ferociously critical of this kind of adventurism ever since 1999, “If a Tree Falls” made me empathize with such activists, a sure sign of the director’s ability to draw out his subject’s humanity.

The ELF was effectively disbanded long before Daniel and his comrades were arrested. One action that targeted a nursery experimenting with genetic modification on behalf of the timber industry was based on false information. The experiments had nothing to do with the timber industry and were using standard hybrid techniques of the sort that existed in the 19th century.

Remorse over a senseless act of arson and a general feeling that they were involved in an exercise even more futile than mass protests led Daniel and the others to dissolve their cell and move on with their lives.

He moved back to New York, got married, and began working at a nonprofit group that defended battered women. Just by coincidence, the woman who McGowan reported to was married to Marshall Curry, the film’s director. In the press notes, Curry found himself intrigued by the contrast between McGowan’s background and manner—enough to convince him to spend four years filming. He says:

How had someone like him found himself facing life in prison for terrorism? Was it accurate to use the word “terrorism” to describe property destruction in which no one was hurt? What was this shadowy group, the ELF? How had it formed and why? What could make someone decide that arson was a reasonable response to environmental problems? Sam Cullman (Cinematographer/Co-director) and I decided to find out.

At first we thought it might be a short film, but the more we dug in, the more interesting it became. There’s a saying that the deeper you go, the muddier the water gets, and I think this was true for us.

Everywhere we looked, our expectations were challenged. Characters said the opposite of what we expected. People who we thought might be fanatical—on one on side or the other—turned out to be thoughtful. Things we thought would be clear, were actually quite complex. And there were no easy heroes or villains.

I would include myself as someone whose “expectations were challenged”. In a year in which Hollywood blockbusters like “The Green Lantern” compete with each other for escapist stupidity, it is gratifying to see a bumper crop of socially committed and intelligent documentaries. Among them, “If a Tree Falls” is at the top. It opens tomorrow at the IFC Center in New York and should not be missed.

Some mind-blowin’ shit

Filed under: Film,science — louisproyect @ 2:09 am

Handout/GETTY IMAGES – A large flare was detected erupting from the surface of the sun on June 7.

As the sun awakens, the power grid stands vulnerable

By , Monday, June 20, 3:33 PM

The sun is waking up.

And on June 7, it woke up Michael Hesse. At 5:49 a.m., the solar scientist received an alert on his smartphone. NASA spacecraft had seen a burst of X-rays spinning out from a sunspot. The burst was a solar flare — and a “notably large one” at that, Hesse said later.

The sun has been quiet for years, at the nadir of its activity cycle. But since February, our star has been spitting out flares and plasma like an angry dragon. It’s Hesse’s job to watch these eruptions.

If a big one were headed our way, Hesse needed to know, and fast, so he could alert the electric power industry to brace for a geomagnetic storm that could knock some of the North American power grid offline.

Hesse gathered his team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, where he is chief of the Space Weather Laboratory, and fed the latest data from four sun-staring satellites into powerful computers.

At 7:49 Hesse got his answer. An animated chart traced the predicted path of a huge arc of plasma — hot gas — hurtling through the inner solar system. But only the tail of the plume would lick Earth, arriving June 9 and driving a dazzling display of the northern lights from Alaska through Maine.

While a video of the eruption captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory showed an enormous plume spraying from the sun, this solar tantrum would not be the big one — it would not be the 1859 event all over again.

Sept. 1 of that year saw the largest solar flare on record, witnessed by British astronomer Richard Carrington. While tracing features of the sun’s surface, which Carrington had projected via telescope onto paper, he saw a sudden flash emerge from a dark spot. Although such sunspots had sparked curiosity for centuries — Galileo famously drew them, too, in the early 1600s — Carrington had no idea what the flash could mean.

Within hours, telegraph operators found out. Their long strands of wire acted as antennas for this huge wave of solar energy. As this tsunami sped by, transmitters heated up, and several burst into flames. Observers in Miami and Havana gaped skyward at eerie green and yellow displays, the northern lights pushed far south.

A knockout punch

Such a “Carrington event” will happen again someday, but our wired civilization will suffer losses far greater than a few telegraph shacks.

Communications satellites will be knocked offline. Financial transactions, timed and transmitted via those satellite, will fail, causing millions or billions in losses. The GPS system will go wonky. Astronauts on the space station will huddle in a shielded module, as they have done three times in the past decade due to “space weather,” the scientific term for all of the sun’s freaky activity. Flights between North America and Asia, over the North Pole, will have to be rerouted, as they were in April during a weak solar storm at a cost to the airlines of $100,000 a flight. And oil pipelines, particularly in Alaska and Canada, will suffer corrosion as they, like power lines, conduct electricity from the solar storm.

But the biggest impact will be on the modern marvel known as the power grid. And experts warn that the grid is not ready. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences stated that an 1859-level storm could knock out power in parts of the northeastern and northwestern United States for months, even years. Report co-author John Kappenmann estimated that about 135 million Americans would be forced to revert to a pre-electric lifestyle or relocate. Water systems would fail. Food would spoil. Thousands could die. The financial cost: Up to $2 trillion, one-seventh the annual U.S. gross domestic product.

Utilities say they’re studying the issue, with an eye toward understanding how to protect the grid by powering down sections of it during an hours-long solar storm.

Their efforts are motivated, in part, by the sun’s increasingly frequent outbursts. Every 11 to 12 years, solar activity ramps up. After a quiet season, the sun is now spitting out flares again, with activity expected to peak in 2013 and 2014, said Dean Pesnell, a solar scientist at Goddard.

“The sun is not partisan, it doesn’t listen to diplomacy, and sanctions don’t work,” said Peter Huessy, president of GeoStrategic Analysis. Huessy wants Congress to enact rules that would force power companies to better protect the power grid. “The sun has its own clock. And we don’t know what that clock is, except for once every hundred years or so, it has a coronary.”

full: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/science/as-the-sun-awakens-the-power-grid-stands-vulnerable/2011/06/09/AGwc8DdH_story.html

Final minute of “Knowing”, a sci-fi movie starring Nicholas Cage

June 20, 2011

Bobby Fischer

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 1:14 pm

Bobby Fischer
by Louis Proyect

Book & Film Review

Reviewed in this article:

Frank Brady: Endgame, Crown Publishers, New York, ISBN 978-0-307-46390-6, 401 pages.

HBO Documentary: Bobby Fischer Against the World (presently available on-demand).

Searching for Bobby Fischer (available from Netflix).

(Swans – June 20, 2011)   Endgame is a riveting 401-page biography of Bobby Fischer that I read in one sitting, starting at page one in a passenger’s lounge in the San José, Costa Rica, airport and ending about an hour before landing in New York. Although the strange story of the rise and fall of a madman/genius would be compelling on its own terms alone, Frank Brady is ideally suited to tell this story. He is the chairman of the Communications Department at St. Johns University in New York and author of acclaimed biographies of Orson Welles and Aristotle Onassis. He is also president of the prestigious and rather snooty Marshall Chess Club in New York that frowned on the young Bobby Fischer when he made his first appearance there in jeans and a flannel shirt, as well as the founder of Chess Life, a magazine that Fischer used to read cover-to-cover the way that other children his age read comic books.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art17/lproy71.html

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