Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 25, 2013

2012 movie consumer’s guide

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 1:24 am

Unless otherwise noted, these are very brief reviews of many of the movies sent to me as a member of NY Film Critics Online or seen at a press screening, all in conjunction with our awards meeting held in December. Many of these are going to be nominated in one category or another in tonight’s Academy Awards ceremonies, an event I liken to other trash TV spectacles such as the American Idol finals or the last episode of some beloved situation comedy burdened by idiotic plots and a laugh track. I group the films by recommended, not recommended, and unwatchable—the last category defined by my inability to stomach more than 15 minutes or so. I make no pretensions to reviewing for a general public but offer my opinions for that narrow segment of the population with a taste for low-budget neorealist narrative films with nonprofessional casts and bold documentaries directed against one capitalist injustice or another.

Many of the recommended films are now available from Netflix and should be seen by those who know what is good for you.


5 Broken Cameras: terrific documentary about Palestinian’s effort to tell about his people’s struggle. The director was hassled at the LA airport. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/5-broken-cameras-un-me/

AiWeiwei: Never Sorry: documentary on the Chinese conceptual artist and pro-democracy activist. Will be reviewing it very soon in conjunction with Gerhard Richter Painting, a documentary on a highly acclaimed German abstract artist.

Amour: Michael Haneke’s story of an aging husband and wife, both music teachers. After wife suffers a stroke, husband takes care of her as her condition worsens. Very moving and very fine performances.

Arbitrage: One of my choices for best movie of the year. Better than Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” sequel.

Burn: Documentary on Detroit firefighters. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/5-broken-cameras-un-me/

Central Park Five: My choice for best documentary of the year. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/the-central-park-five-the-loving-story/

Flight: Denzel Washington is brilliant as an airline pilot who makes an emergency landing on a par with Sullenberger’s in the Hudson River but who was drunk at the time. Another pick of mine for best movie of the year.

The Grey: Mindless entertainment about Liam Neeson leading airplane crash survivors in a fight against wolves in the far north. I rooted for the wolves.

Headhunters: Marvelous Norwegian film about corporate recruiter who moonlights as a cat burglar.

The Hunter: Willem Dafoe as a professional hunter trying to kill the last Tasmanian tiger. Interesting in a Hemingwayesque fashion but with a repugnant message. I rooted for the Tasmanian tiger. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/444-last-day-on-earth-the-hunter/

Hyde Park on Hudson: My third choice for movie of the year. Bill Murray as a sleazy FDR bad enough to embarrass Bill Clinton. Who can ask for more, especially in the same year as the hagiographic “Lincoln”? https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/hyde-park-on-the-hudson/

The Innkeepers: Nifty horror movie.

The Intouchables: About the bonding between a bourgeois quadriplegic and his Senegalese caregiver from the Paris banlieues.  As the caregiver, Omar Sy is brilliant.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Documentary about the art of making sushi. Intriguing but ultimately just an upscale version of something you can see on the Food Network.

Les Miserables: For some reason, this was universally despised. I rather enjoyed it, especially with all the red flags and fighting the army on the barricades. I also loved the Victor Hugo novel. So there.

Marley: Bob Marley documentary. Enough said.

Oslo, Aug. 31: 24 hours in the life of a heroin addict released from a rehab center that leaves you with the feeling that his choice to go back on smack is unavoidable given the emptiness of Norwegian middle-class existence.

Perks of Being a Wallflower: Not exactly my cup of tea but I enjoyed it. Coming of age story about a neurotic boy taken under the wings of a couple of other outsiders. Strong performances.

Queen of Versailles: Documentary about the trials and tribulations of the wife of America’s leading time-share mogul, an arch-reactionary Zionist. Somewhat toothless but amusing.

The Revisionaries: Documentary about Texas school board’s attempt to foist reactionary agenda on curricula.

Samsara:  Dazzling travelogue (for lack of a better word) sans narration with a great film score that takes you from Buddhist temples in Thailand to volcanoes in Hawaii. Best seen in a theater that does justice to its 70 mm cinematography but can be enjoyed on just about any medium including a smart phone.

Sleepwalk With Me: Quirky “indie” film based on the real life career of Mike Birbiglia, a self-deprecating, mildly amusing standup comedian who is a sleepwalker. Unless he stays in a sleeping bag, there is a chance that he might walk out a second story window as he once did.

This is Not a Film: Brilliant film by Iran’s greatest director under house arrest. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/three-films-of-note-3/

The Well Digger’s Daughter: Very old-fashioned French movie about the class distinctions between a young couple in love. The star of the movie is the French countryside.


The Impossible: Well-to-do Spanish family devastated by 2004 tsunami while on vacation in Thailand. Utterly boring despite ambitious CGI.

Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis deserves award for impeccable Walter Brennan impersonation.

Promised Land: Don’t expect agitprop like “China Syndrome”. This is about a fracking salesman played by Matt Damon saving his soul. Narcissism of the sort that Hollywood excels in.


Anna Karenina: Idiotic postmodernist exercise. The Tolstoy estate should sue these bastards.

Argo: I was ready to put up with the shitty anti-Iranian propaganda but it was the wink-wink aren’t we Hollywood people so cool to take part in a high-stakes gamble to save some hostages that made me hit the eject button. Plus, I can’t stand Alan Arkin, especially after “Little Miss Sunshine”.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Down with magical realism. https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/death-to-magical-realism/

Cloud Atlas: Even the mainstream critics thought this was crap. The money spent on this garbage could probably relieve hunger in three African countries combined for the next decade.

The Dark Knight Rises: I was curious to see if this film really put forward a fascist message but it was so incomprehensible that I lost the patience to see if this was true or not. For my money, Christopher Nolan is the worst director on the scene today—pretentious to a fault.

Moonrise Kingdom: God I hate Wes Anderson. Precious, self-regarding “art” movies done by a typical film school graduate. I hated this 30 seconds into the movie. The credits made my hair hurt.

On the Road: The 1960s TV show “Route 66” was more faithful to Kerouac than this mess.

Quartet: Something about retired musicians in a nursing home. God knows what Dustin Hoffman saw in this script.

Silver Linings Playbook: Inspirational movie about the mentally ill falling in love. I’ll stick with “David and Lisa”.

February 23, 2013

11 Flowers

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 10:06 pm

As I contemplate the sorry parade of slop being considered for Academy Awards tomorrow night (chief among them “Argo”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Lincoln”, and “Django Unchained”), I consider myself fortunate to live in New York where an art theater circuit provides support for something like Wang Xiao-Shuai‘s “11 Flowers”. Opening yesterday at the Quad Cinema, this mixture of a coming-of-age tale and commentary on the Cultural Revolution puts Hollywood to shame. Frankly, the idea of the Chinese military hacking American computers to steal this doddering imperialist nation’s intellectual property would seem to be a joke if Hollywood was factored in.

The eponymous flowers refer to a still life that 11 year old Wang Han (Liu Wenquing) is learning to paint from his father, a trained artist anxious to pass along the same skills to his son. But the son’s real passion is for leading his classmates in morning calisthenics, an ability coveted much more than artistry in such a regimented society. When young Wang learns that calisthenics leaders are required to wear a new white shirt, his mother tells him that they lack the funds. When he begins to sulk, she slaps and berates him.

This, the first instance of violence in the film, is part of the social fabric being ripped to shreds in the town with the low-intensity-warfare waged by Red Guards on the local “conservatives” spilling into the family circle. After Wang’s mother scrapes together the money for a new shirt, he is met by disaster. While playing down by the riverbanks, a man grabs his shirt and runs into a thicket of trees overlooking the river. Desperate to retrieve the shirt, Wang runs after him no matter the risks. When he catches up to him, he discovers that the shirt is being used to stanch the bleeding from a wound the man received fleeing the cops.

Eventually we discover that he is the son of an artist just like his father who has been banished from Shanghai for his “petty bourgeois deviations”. After the local chieftain of the Revolutionary Guards has raped his sister, he takes the law into his own hands and kills him.

Throughout the film you can see skirmishes between gangs of men on either side in the Cultural Revolution. The film does not attempt to provide a documentary-like explanation of the issues but is content to tell the story of how that upheaval conducted in the name of the class struggle poisoned human relationships throughout the country.

In one of the most illuminating scenes in this inspired film, Wang’s father has returned home with his  head bloodied, a souvenir of a visit to a respected art professor who has also been banished to the boondocks. This is the gift bestowed upon him by a gang of Red Guards who were determined to punish the art professor for promoting “decadent” art.

The accusation does have a basis in fact as Wang’s father reveals a treasure that the art professor has bequeathed to his son. It is a collection of impressionist reproductions of the sort that can be purchased for a couple of dollars each in a museum store. For a nation that is anxious to purge every shred of “bourgeois” civilization, the reproductions become a challenge to national security.

Wang’s father explains the importance of Monet to him, saying that he was the first artist to abandon the studio and go directly out to see nature as it is without preconceptions. As you sit watching this extraordinarily beautiful film, you will understand that director Wang Xiao-Shuai must have incorporated these insights early in his career. He comes close to achieving the same intensity through his camera that Monet did through his palette.

Wang Xiao-Shuai is a member of the “sixth generation” of Chinese filmmakers, a reference to the post-1990s current that used low-budget “indie” techniques such as digital cameras matched to a neorealist esthetic, in other words the very type of film this reviewer treasures. Many of these filmmakers have run into heavy state censorship or are prevented from making films altogether. This is frequently a function of them presenting what amounts to a radical critique of Chinese crony capitalism found in a film like “Blind Shaft” or “Still Life”.

Wang Xia-Shuai’s press notes statement provides his personal experiences that map closely to those of his characters:

The story of 11 Flowers is infused with the memories of my life in Guiyang, in the province of Guizhou. In the mid ‘60s, my parents followed the Chinese government’s call asking families to move the main factories in charge of national production inland in order to defend China against a potential attack from the USSR. We left Shanghai to go and live in this poor province. I grew up in this countryside with my older sister, while our parents hoped to rapidly be able to go back to Shanghai. This period of my life left a profound mark on me. We lived in a small village that had been built for us near the Shanghai factory, then dismantled, then put together again. We felt the burden of the obligations my parents – and all other grown-ups in society – were tied down with. I saw how this movement and the Cultural Revolution changed them.

When I became an adult, I realized that very few people knew about the Third Front movement, which pushed these city-dwellers to live with their family in the middle of the countryside. In my films, it was important for me to speak about these people and their lives. I even started a documentary on the subject so that my parents and their friends could tell us why and how they lived there. One of my previous films, Shanghai Dreams, already had my life in the Guizhou province as a background. The film recounted these workers’ children awakening to the world, until their adolescence and their desire for independence. In 11 Flowers, the children are still young and do not understand the world that surrounds them. They do not question the situation they live in. This creates a gap between their point of view and the social and political backdrop.

“11 Flowers” is the best narrative film I have seen this year and will likely be at the top of my list for best of 2013, Hollywood be damned.

February 22, 2013

Chagnon’s war

Filed under: Yanomami — louisproyect @ 5:57 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition February 22-24, 2013

The Tarzan of Anthropology

Chagnon’s War


The best way to understand Napoleon Chagnon’s contribution to anthropology is to tune in to one of those television wildlife documentaries showing an alpha-male baboon beating and biting the living bejeezus out of a rival, or being beaten into submission himself. As the narrator is wont to say, “Thus the winner of nature’s eternal battle has earned the right to enjoy the sexual privileges that guarantee survival of the fittest genes.”

In the 1960s Chagnon went down to the Amazon rainforest with the intention of proving that the Yanomami, already reduced by 75 percent through diseases spread by gold miners, ranchers and other invaders of their homeland, were the “fierce people” locked in perpetual warfare over the right to control the bodies of women. If this sounds farfetched, we can only offer up the words of Nicholas Wade, a N.Y Times science reporter, in a glowing review of Chagnon’s new memoir “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists”:

After overtaxing one of his informants, the shaman Dedeheiwä, about the reason for a succession of village fissions into smaller hostile groups, Dr. Chagnon found himself rebuked with the outburst, “Don’t ask such stupid questions! Women! Women! Women! Women! Women!”

Chagnon puts it somewhat more delicately in his memoir: ““The whole purpose and design of the social structure of tribesmen seems to have revolved around effectively controlling sexual access by males to nubile, reproductive-age females.”

read full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/22/chagnons-war/

Signs of deepening degeneration

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Simon Assaf

I started following British SWP member Simon Assaf’s tweeter page (is that what they call it?) after he signed off of Facebook.I thought that his posts on Syria and the Middle East were very useful (no surprise there.)

But recently he has taken to slandering Richard Seymour on twitter. Accusing him of aspiring to be the next Christopher Hitchens. Now he labels Richard’s girlfriend a “spook”.

This is exactly the trajectory of Gerry Healy. Sexual predation and now “snitch jacketing”. Most of you are too young to remember this but the Healyites alleged that Joe Hansen, an SWP leader who was one of Trotsky’s bodyguards, was a GPU agent and insinuated that he collaborated with the FBI as well.

You can bet that Assaf is picking up this bullshit from the SWP leaders. What a waste of humanity.

February 20, 2013

What the press is saying about Napoleon Chagnon

Filed under: Yanomami — louisproyect @ 3:23 pm

Napoleon Chagnon

The best place to start is with Emily Eakin’s piece in the Sunday NY Times Magazine that provides a good background. Titled “How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist”, the article can best be described as damning with faint praise. She makes sure to identify the mistakes made by Patrick Tierney in his “Darkness in El Dorado,” a book that Chagnon blames for destroying his reputation, but he could hardly be happy with her reporting:

Chagnon strides into the middle of a shabono in a loincloth and faded high tops and strikes a warrior pose — a bearded Tarzan aping his subjects, to their audible delight.

A bearded Tarzan aping his subjects? This is hardly the metaphor that a man of science should welcome although it does strike at the heart of darkness imagery that defines Chagnon’s career. As evident in his writings, Chagnon enjoyed lording it over the tiny Yanomami men. Is it any surprise that his sociobiological “Naked Ape” predilections inspired him to develop an “alpha male” relationship with those he was studying?

Meanwhile the Sunday Times Book Review didn’t bother with any faint praise business and went straight for Tarzan’s jugular. Columbia University professor of anthropology and gender studies Elizabeth Povinelli seethes:

For him, the “burly, naked, sweaty, hideous” Yanomamö stink and produce enormous amounts of “dark green snot.” They keep “vicious, underfed growling dogs,” engage in brutal “club fights” and — God forbid! — defecate in the bush. By the time the reader makes it to the sections on the Yanomamö’s political organization, migration patterns and sexual practices, the slant of the argument is evident: given their hideous society, understanding the real disaster that struck these people matters less than rehabilitating Chagnon’s soiled image.

Although I have little use for the editorial decisions of Sam Tanenhaus, the neoconservative editor of the Sunday Times book review section, I almost sent him a dozen roses for assigning Professor Povinelli.

As is often the case with the N.Y. Times, unless you are Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein, multiple reviews of your book will yield different conclusions. In the Science section on Tuesday, February 18, 2013, Nicholas Wade was positively glowing:

After overtaxing one of his informants, the shaman Dedeheiwä, about the reason for a succession of village fissions into smaller hostile groups, Dr. Chagnon found himself rebuked with the outburst, “Don’t ask such stupid questions! Women! Women! Women! Women! Women!”

Dr. Chagnon’s legacy… is that he was able to gain a deep insight into the last remaining tribe living in a state of nature. “Noble Savages” is a remarkable testament to an engineer’s 35-year effort to unravel the complex working of an untouched human society.

I am surprised that Chagnon did not report that the shaman told him, “Broads! Broads! Broads! Broads! Broads!”. His impact on the tribes was, after all, quite broad.

It should be mentioned that Nicholas Wade is an evolutionary psychologist (what used to be called sociobiology) himself. He wrote a book called “The Faith Instinct” that basically argued that worshipping a deity helps to guarantee “human success”. I can’t say that I am surprised to see a worshipful blurb from the National Review’s John Derbyshire on Wade’s website. Just to jog your memory, Derbyshire was fired from the National Review for writing an article elsewhere defending racial profiling in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Just the kind of guy you need to hype some sociobiological trash.

I was anxious to see what Charles Mann had to say about Chagnon in the February 18 Wall Street Journal. Mann is the author of “1491” and “1493”, two history books that can be described as pro-Indian.

Mann was an intriguing choice since an article extracted from “1491” that appeared in the March 2002 Atlantic Monthly depicts the pre-Columbian Amazon rainforest largely as “a human artifact” and no virgin wilderness. That viewpoint shapes the powerful conclusion of his review:

Implicit in his ideas is the presumption that the Yanomamo he met in 1964 are representative of the way all or most people were in the distant past — they are, as Mr. Chagnon puts it, “pure,” “pristine,” even “wild.” They were frozen in time, like insects in amber. But is that true? Researchers like Mr. Ferguson, Jacques Lizot, Ernest Migliazza and Neil Whitehead argue that the Yanomamo probably used to live hundreds of miles south, on the Rio Negro, a big tributary of the Amazon. Prior to 1492, these researchers say, this portion of central Amazonia was a prosperous, cosmopolitan, multiethnic network of big villages, fed by fish from the great river and reliant upon a multitude of forest products. When that network was thrown into turmoil by the arrival of European slavers and European diseases, the Yanomamo and many other groups fled into the hinterlands, where they now reside.

If this is correct, these people are not “pure” or “pristine”; they are dispossessed. And their existence in small bands is reflective not of humankind’s ancient past but of a shattered society that has preserved its liberty by retreat. It would be risky to base conclusions about the evolution of society on the study of posses of refugees, perhaps especially those who have survived both a holocaust and a diaspora.

Before the book hit the stands, Matt Ridley wrote a puff piece in the January 25 Wall Street Journal titled naturally enough “Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage”. It should be stressed, of course, that Chagnon’s adversaries in the academy were not into Rousseau, but Karl Marx. Marxist anthropology and its close relative cultural materialism do not posit a pure Eden-like status that is sullied by civilization. Instead they simply try to explain phenomena such as warfare in terms of class relationships. Furthermore, in pre-class formation such as hunting-and-gathering societies, there is little attempt to glorify an often-harsh existence except for the tendency to enjoy a kind of Stone Age leisure that Marshall Sahlins examined.

Ridley writes:

Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon’s way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes’s “war of each against all” looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “noble savage,” though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.

This, of course, is the argument made by Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond in recent books that argue we’ve never had it so good. Civilization not only gives us hot showers in the morning but also keeps us from being clubbed to death by people with green snot pouring out of their nose. When I hear this sort of thing, I harken back to what Rosa Luxemburg wrote in “The Junius Pamphlet” at the beginning of WWI:

For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are “progress” and “civilization.” In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.

At this point it should not come as any surprise to learn that Matt Ridley is a sociobiologist himself. Written in 1993, his first book “The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” is par for the course. The book is filled with stunning observations such as: “Anaxagoras’ belief that lying on the right side during sex would produce a boy was so influential that centuries later some French aristocrats had their left testicles amputated.” I can’t say that I was surprised to find no reference to such occurrences in JSTOR. Ridley probably had it right when he wrote in the same book: “Half the ideas in this book are probably wrong.”

John Horgan has a blog post on Scientific American titled “The Weird Irony at the Heart of the Napoleon Chagnon Affair” that is a must-read. Back in 2000 Horgan was asked by he N.Y. Times to review Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado”. When word leaked out that he was the reviewer, he was contacted by a who’s who of sociobiologists:

I was still working on my review of Darkness when I received emails from five prominent scholars: Richard Dawkins, Edward Wilson, Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett and Marc Hauser. Although each wrote separately, the emails were obviously coordinated. All had learned (none said exactly how, although I suspected via a friend of mine with whom I discussed my review) that I was reviewing Darkness for the Times. Warning that a positive review might ruin my career, the group urged me either to denounce Darkness or to withdraw as a reviewer.

One might wonder why they didn’t threaten to come to his house with clubs, beat him senseless, and drag off his wife by her hair. He continues:

I was so disturbed by the pressure from Dawkins et al—who seemed to be defending not Chagnon per se but the sociobiology paradigm–that I ended up making my review of Darkness more positive. I wanted Darkness to be read and discussed, to get a hearing. After all, Tierney leveled what I found to be credible accusations against not only Chagnon but also other scientists and journalists.

To Horgan’s credit, he withstood the pressure and was even tougher on Chagnon than he might be today. This was what he wrote back in 2000:

Tierney has convinced me that Chagnon’s critics were right after all. First, the visits of Chagnon — or any outsiders — to the Yanomami exposed them to pathogens to which they were extremely vulnerable. Because the Yanomami attributed illness to the sorcery of enemies, they blamed one another for infections caused by foreigners.

Perhaps reflecting Chagnon’s vindication by the anthropology establishment and Tierney’s eventual repudiation, Horgan strikes a rueful note:

I have one major regret concerning my review: I should have noted that Chagnon is a much more subtle theorist of human nature than Tierney and other critics have suggested. In fact, Chagnon has never been as much of a genetic determinist as, say, Wilson or anthropologist Richard Wrangham, who have cited Chagnon’s work as evidence that warfare has deep biological roots. (See my rebuttal of this hypothesis here.)

I first interviewed Chagnon in 1988, after Science published his report that Yanamamo killers fathered more offspring than male non-killers. Chagnon was funny and profane. He called non-killers “wimps,” and he denounced his detractors as left-wing peaceniks clinging to the “myth of the noble savage.” But when it came to the theoretical implications of his work, he chose his words with surprising care.

Saying he had been falsely accused of claiming that there is a “warfare gene,” he denied that Yanomamo warriors are innately warlike. He noted that Yanomamo headmen usually employed violence in a controlled manner; compulsively violent males often did not live long enough to bear children. Yanomamo males engaged in raids and other violent behavior, Chagnon proposed, not out of instinct but because their culture esteemed violent behavior. Many Yanomamo warriors had confessed to Chagnon that they loathed war and wished it could be abolished from their culture.

Chagnon reiterated this view when I interviewed him for “The New Social Darwinists,” a critique of evolutionary psychology published in Scientific American in October 1995. He said he was disturbed at the degree to which some sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists downplayed the role of culture in human behavior. I said he sounded like Stephen Jay Gould, a vehement critic of genetic explanations of human behavior. I meant to goad Chagnon with the comparison, but he embraced it. “Steve Gould and I probably agree on a lot of things,” Chagnon said.

Well, it would have been interesting to see how “Steve Gould” would have responded to Chagnon’s comment but somehow I doubt it. Gould was an enemy of biological determinism and despite Horgan’s assertion that Chagnon was falsely accused of claiming that there was a “warfare gene”, there is little doubt that he was committed to a “spread your seed gene”. In other words, Chagnon viewed the need for men to get as many “women, women, women, women” under their control as innate. The violence, of course, was instrumental to their achieving that goal.

One thing is damned sure, however. James V. Neel, Napoleon Chagnon’s research partner in Yanomami territory, was committed to eugenics, the bogus science that Stephen Jay Gould dismantled in “Mismeasure of Man”. In the torrent of articles and email that followed the publication of “Darkness in El Dorado”, Terence Turner, a member of the anthropology department at Cornell University, delivered the goods on Neel’s “science”. He quotes from a Neel article [emphasis added]:

There is scant prospect of our engineering an early return to Yanomama population structure– small demes, living of course in twentieth-century comfort, in which a generally acknowledged headman of superior attributes enjoys a well-defined reproductive advantage. Since there is little prospect society will ask us to remake it with these or other extensive eugenic measures, there really are available only two practical (i.e., socially acceptable) courses of eugenic action for the immediate future.

Turner offers these thoughts [emphasis added]:

The same ideas and eugenic claims for Yanomama-type society are repeated, in less developed form, in Chapter 17 of Neel’s autobiography, Physician to the Gene Pool. Dr Neel also expressed some of these ideas to me in personal conversation. Shortly after my return from my first field trip to the Kayapo in the winter of 1964, Neel invited me to Ann Arbor to give a lecture to his students and colleagues about practical aspects of field research in the Amazon. This initiated a period of loose collaboration with the project organized by Neel and the distinguished Brazilian biological anthropologist, Francisco Salzano, for comparative research on the population genetics of Amazonian indigenous groups. My main contribution to the project was a genealogical census of a Kayapo community that I believe comprises the project’s main data base on the Kayapo. After my lecture to Neel’s group at Ann Arbor, there was a small reception. I found myself standing next to Dr. Neel, who startled me by exclaiming, “Maybe now we can really find the leadership gene” (these were his exact words as I remember them). Incredulous, I in turn exclaimed, “You can’t be serious!”. He replied in words to the effect that he did not think it unreasonable to suppose that in small, relatively isolated societies like those of contemporary Amazonian peoples, men would rise to leadership by virtue of superior genetic endowment, and as polygamists be able to reproduce their genes more than less dominant monogamous men.

They say you are known by the company you keep. If Neel was Chagnon’s closest collaborator in the Amazon rainforest, you really are kidding yourself if you think he had anything in common with “Steve Gould”.

Of these articles or reviews on Napoleon Chagnon timed to coincide with the release of his memoir “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists”, the two most negative were written by women.

Although this is impossible to prove, I strongly suspect that men are less offended by Chagnon’s theory that Yanomami violence is a function of men trying to gain access to as many women as possible in order to help propagate their genes.

Jacques Lizot, a Levi-Strauss disciple who worked among the same tribes as Chagnon, and Sarah Dart wrote a paper titled “On Warfare: an answer to N. A. Chagnon” for the November 1994 issue of “American Ethnologist”.

In examining the warfare between the villages that supposedly proved Chagnon’s thesis, Lizot discovered that only 0.3 percent of the were with women taken from an enemy group. Based on these figures, there is no cost-benefit involved with fighting in order to secure childbearing females. Unlike the Trojan War, this bloodletting in the Amazon had nothing to do with stealing women.

Lizot and Dart apply the coup de grace to Chagnon:

Chagnon’s point of view is, moreover, marked by an underlying male chauvinism, and sociobiology is a garment that suits him well. According to his conception of things, women, in the quarrels of the men, are nothing but beings without initiative and will.

February 19, 2013

Lesser evil ideologues who used the same photographer?

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

Maximilian Forte

Tireless propagandist for Middle East strong men like Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad who are preferable to the horrid Islamists who will destroy the beneficent secular welfare-state unless stopped by any means necessary, including extraordinary renditions done in collaboration with the CIA and cluster bombs.

Bill Fletcher Jr.

Master of the “lesser evil” arguments for Barack Obama and other sleazy liberal politicians who must be supported against the dreadful Republicans who will attack Social Security and violate the right to habeas corpus in pursuit of “terrorists”.

February 17, 2013

The Comanches and the Yanomami

Filed under: indigenous,Jared Diamond,Yanomami — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

Napoleon Chagnon

Almost five years ago to the day, I resolved to begin researching the Comanche Indians of the southern Plains after reading Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”, a novel that was committed to the idea that this tribe (for lack of a better word) was no better than the white settlers who would eventually slaughter them into submission and drive the survivors into reservations. “Blood Meridian” is described on the official website of the Cormac McCarthy Society as a dismantling of “the politically correct myth of aboriginal victimization, so that victims and their antagonists become indistinguishable.”

Now, after having read between 4 and 5 thousand pages on the Comanches, I am finally putting together an article for a special issue on indigenous peoples in “Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism”. The last book I am in the progress of reading that will help me finalize my thesis—namely, that the Comanches were bit players in the capitalist transformation of the southern Plains—is David J. Weber’s “Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment”.

On page 76 he gets to the heart of the matter, whether kin-based societies (ie., tribes) were warlike and violent and that “primitive man is a…warrior”. The scholars who defend this view go so far as to say that war is an expression of “human biology”. Other scholars, according to Weber, view warfare as “a response to material conditions in general and to European influences in particular.”

As it turns out Weber’s footnotes mention Brian Ferguson as a leading authority defending the “material conditions” outlook. Just three days ago I had emailed Brian to see if he could recommend any material on the Comanches. I knew of his prior work on Yanomami “warfare”, alluded to in Weber’s notes:

Brian Ferguson offers some of the most compelling arguments that Western contacts generated Native warfare. See, for example, Ferguson, 1900b, 237-57, and Ferguson, 1995, where he makes a case that Yanomamis (Chagnon’s “fierce people” who inhabit a remote mountainous country between Brazil and Venezuela), were not fierce or warlike until European manufactured goods altered their trading relationships with neighboring peoples.

It is more than coincidence that the Chagnon story came up twice this week, once in the Chronicle of Higher Education and now in today’s Sunday NY Times Magazine section. Both articles are geared to the 74 year old anthropologist’s new memoir titled “Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists” [Chagnon uses “Yanomamo; other anthropologists prefer “Yanomami”].

I first learned of Chagnon in 2000 when the Chronicle of Higher Education began reporting on a huge controversy that had erupted over the publication of Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado”, a book that charged Chagnon with a number of crimes. Chief among them was  a genocide based on the supposed administration of a faulty measles vaccine designed to support an experiment on native resistance to the disease.

The Tierney-Chagnon wars are reviewed in considerable detail in the article titled “Who are the Real Savages?” by Emily Eakin that is surprisingly objective. Given the NY Times’s tendency to side with the establishment, I fully expected a whitewash of Chagnon. He instead comes across as fairly despicable even if he is cleared at the end of the article as being mostly wronged by Tierney. In my view, Tierney’s biggest mistake was the measles vaccine accusation that was far too much an expression of conspiracist thinking. Most of the damage that Chagnon did to the Yanomami was attributable to his own bullheaded insensitivity rather than conscious evil. This excerpt from Eakin’s article will give you an idea of what he was up to:

He spent his first few months trying to learn the villagers’ names and kinship ties, a standard practice at the time and a particular challenge in this case, given the Yanomami’s name taboos: to call someone by his name is often an insult, and the names of the dead aren’t supposed to be uttered at all. Chagnon rewarded informants with fish hooks, matches and, for men who really dished, knives and machetes. (The Yanomami made no metal tools themselves.) Then, on a visit to another village, Chagnon cautiously mentioned the names of the Bisaasi-teri headman and his wife. The residents burst out laughing. He realized that he’d been had: the names he’d been given were slang for genitalia.

I actually prefer Chagnon’s telling of the story in a 1988 Science magazine titled “Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population”. It is almost enough for me to feel kindly toward the elderly sociobiologist:

My anthropological bubble was burst when I visited a village about 10 hours’ walk to the southwest of Bisaasi-teri some five months after I had begun collecting genealogies on the Bisaasi-teri. I was chatting with the local headman of this village and happened to casually drop the name of the wife of the Bisaasi-teri headman. A stunned silence followed, and then a villagewide roar of uncontrollable laughter, choking, gasping, and howling followed. It seems that I thought the Bisaasi-teri headman was married to a woman named “hairy cunt.” It also seems that the Bisaasi-teri headman was called ‘long dong’ and his brother ‘eagle shit.’ The Bisaasi-teri headman had a son called “asshole” and a daughter called “fart breath.”

The title of Chagnon’s memoir should give you a good idea of where he is coming from. “Noble Savages” is the term coined by Rousseau that people such as Napoleon Chagnon hoped to debunk through an empirical study of a tribal people who made war in order to take women as booty. By having access to multiple sexual partners, the “savage” had a better chance of propagating his genes as Eakins puts it:

Chagnon believed that biology was essential to understanding the tribe’s warfare over women. After all, more women meant more opportunities to pass on genes through reproduction — a basic tenet of evolutionary thought. But biology had no place in the cultural-materialist paradigm. And explanations of human behavior that relied on evolutionary theory were typically met with suspicion in anthropological circles, a legacy of the American eugenics movement, which invoked Darwinian ideas to justify racist efforts to “improve” the gene pool. “The last bastions of resistance to evolutionary theory,” Chagnon told me, “are organized religion and cultural anthropology.”

The article cites Steven Pinker as an expert for the defense:

Scientists have since endorsed Chagnon’s Science article. “It shouldn’t be a shocking finding,” Steven Pinker, the Harvard evolutionary psychologist who cites the paper in his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” told me. “As a pattern in history, it’s well documented.” Pinker said that he was troubled by the notion that social scientists should suppress unflattering information about their subjects because it could be exploited by others. “This whole tactic is a terrible mistake: always putting your moral action in jeopardy of empirical findings,” he told me. “Once you have the equation that the Yanomami are nonviolent and deserve to be protected, the converse is that if they are violent they don’t deserve to be protected.”

For those who haven’t kept track of the science wars, “evolutionary psychologist” is just another way of saying sociobiologist, a term that has become tarnished over the years for its obvious connection to social Darwinism. Pinker’s views about the warlike character of pre-class societies have been echoed by Jared Diamond, whose new book “The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?” will likely repeat the points he has made in the past.

On February 3rd the Guardian reported on the reaction of Survival International to Diamond’s new book:

Survival accuses Diamond of applying studies of 39 societies, of which 10 are in his realm of direct experience in New Guinea and neighbouring islands, to advance a thesis that tribal peoples across the world live in a state of near-constant warfare.

“It’s a profoundly damaging argument that tribal peoples are more violent than us,” said Survival’s Jonathan Mazower. “It simply isn’t true. If allowed to go unchallenged … it would do tremendous damage to the movement for tribal people’s rights. Diamond has constructed his argument using a small minority of anthropologists and using statistics in a way that is misleading and manipulative.”

In a lengthy and angry rebuttal on Saturday, Diamond confirmed his finding that “tribal warfare tends to be chronic, because there are not strong central governments that can enforce peace”. He accused Survival of falling into the thinking that views tribal people either as “primitive brutish barbarians” or as “noble savages, peaceful paragons of virtue living in harmony with their environment, and admirable compared to us, who are the real brutes”

Of course Diamond raises the “noble savage” canard as if his opponents think that indigenous peoples lived in a Garden of Eden. In reality the primary focus among Marxists, or their closest relatives cultural materialists like Marvin Harris, is on the social and economic factors that lead to peace or violence. To invoke the term “noble savage” is tantamount to a kind of essentialism that people like Brian Ferguson are anxious to eschew at all costs.

Like the Yanomamo, the Comanches of the 19th century have become poster boys for those who would line up with Pinker, Diamond and Chagnon, even if they are not so committed to evolutionary psychology. Two recent scholarly books “Comanche Empire” and “War of a Thousand Deserts” are replete with descriptions of wanton Comanche violence. Reports of scalping, rape, kidnapping, and murder appear on every few pages.

While the authors of “Comanche Empire” and “War of a Thousand Deserts” are unknown to the average American, a recent book by a journalist that obviously draws from their scholarship was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a best seller. This is how author S.C. Gwynne described the Comanches in “Empire of the Summer Moon”:

Thus some chroniclers ignore the brutal side of Indian life altogether; others, particularly historians who suggest that before white men arrived Indian-to-Indian warfare was a relatively bloodless affair involving a minimum of bloodshed, deny it altogether.16 But certain facts are inescapable: American Indians were warlike by nature, and they were warlike for centuries before Columbus stumbled upon them. They fought over hunting grounds, to be sure, but they also made a good deal of brutal and bloody war that was completely unnecessary. The Comanches’ relentless and never-ending pursuit of the hapless Tonkawas was a good example of this, as was their harassment of Apaches long after they had been driven from the buffalo grounds. Such behavior was common to all Indians in the Americas. The more civilized agrarian tribes of the east, in fact, were far more adept at devising lengthy and agonizing tortures than the Comanches or other plains tribes.17 The difference lay in the Plains Indians’ treatment of female captives and victims. Rape or abuse, including maiming, of females had existed when eastern tribes had sold captives as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But that practice had been long ago abandoned. Some tribes, including the giant Iroquois federation, had never treated women captives that way.’ Women could be killed, and scalped. But not gang-raped. What happened to the Parker captives could only have happened west of the Mississippi. If the Comanches were better known for cruelty and violence, that was because, as one of history’s great warring peoples, they were in a position to inflict far more pain than they ever received.

Most important, the Indians themselves saw absolutely nothing wrong with these acts. For westering settlers, the great majority of whom believed in the idea of absolute good and evil, and thus of universal standards of moral behavior, this was nearly impossible to understand. Part of it had to do with the Comanches’ theory of the nature of the universe, which was vastly different from that of the civilized West. Comanches had no dominant, unified religion, or anything like a single God. Though in interviews after their defeat they often seemed to go along with the idea of a “Great Spirit,” Comanche ethnographers Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel were extremely skeptical of any creation myths that involved a single spirit or an “evil one.”19 “We never gave much consideration to creation,” said an old Comanche named Post Oak Jim in an interview in the 1930s. “We just knew we were here. Our thoughts were mostly directed toward understanding the spirits.”‘

The Comanches lived in a world alive with magic and taboo; spirits lived everywhere, in rocks, trees, and in animals. The main idea of their religion was to find a way to harness the powers of these spirits. Such powers thus became “puha,” or “medicine.” There was no dogma, no priestly class to impose systematic religion, no tendency to view the world as anything but a set of isolated episodes, with no deeper meaning. There were behavioral codes, to be sure—a man could not steal another man’s wife without paying penalties, for example. But there was no ultimate good and evil: just actions and consequences; injuries and damages due.

Enemies, meanwhile, were enemies, and the rules for dealing with them had come down through a thousand years. A Comanche brave who captured a live Ute would torture him to death without question. It was what every-one had always done, what the Sioux did to the Assiniboine, what the Crow did to the Blackfeet. A Comanche captured by a Ute would expect to receive exactly the same treatment (thus making him weirdly consistent with the idea of the Golden Rule), which was why Indians always fought to their last breath on battlefields, to the astonishment of Europeans and Americans. There were no exceptions. Of course, the same Indians also believed, quite as deeply, in blood vengeance. The life of the warrior tortured to death would be paid for with another torture-killing if possible, preferably even more hideous than the first. This, too, was seen as fair play by all Indians in the Americas.

What explains such a radical difference in the moral systems of the Comanches and the whites they confronted? Part of it has to do with the relative progress of civilizations in the Americas compared to the rest of the world. The discovery of agriculture, which took place in Asia and the Middle East, roughly simultaneously, around 6,500 BC, allowed the transition from nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies to the higher civilizations that followed. But in the Americas, farming was not discovered until 2,500 BC, fully four thousand years later and well after advanced cultures had already sprung up in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This was an enormous gap. Once the Indians figured out how to plant seeds and cultivate crops, civilizations in North and South America progressed at roughly the same pace as they had in the Old World. Cities were built. Highly organized social structures evolved. Pyramids were designed. Empires were assembled, of which the Aztecs and Incas were the last. (As in the Old World, nomadism and hunter-gatherer cultures persisted alongside the higher civilizations.) But the Americas, isolated and in any case without the benefit of the horse or the ox, could never close the time gap. They were three to four millennia behind the Europeans and Asians, and the arrival of Columbus in 1492 guaranteed that they would never catch up. The nonagrarian Plains Indians, of course, were even further behind. Thus the fateful clash between settlers from the culture of Aristotle, St. Paul, Da Vinci, Luther, and Newton and aboriginal horsemen from the buffalo plains happened as though in a time warp—as though the former were looking backward thousands of years at premoral, pre-Christian, low-barbarian versions of themselves. The Celtic peoples, ancestors of huge numbers of immigrants to America in the nineteenth century, offer a rough parallel. Celts of the fifth century BC were described by Herodotus as “fierce warriors who fought with seeming disregard for their own lives.”‘ Like Comanches they were savage, filthy, wore their hair long, and had a hideous keening battle cry. They were superb horsemen, inordinately fond of alcohol, and did terrible things to their enemies and captives that included decapitation, a practice that horrified the civilized Greeks and Romans!’ The old Celts, forebears of the Scots-Irish who formed the vanguard of America’s western migrations, would have had no “moral” problem with the Comanche practice of torture.

The civilized Greeks and Romans? Only someone steeped in the imperialist and racist ideology of a republic borne from the savage Greco-Roman bowels could ever make such a statement.

The best antidote to this way of thinking is a BBC documentary narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones that can be see in part here:

Jones quotes the words of a Celtic general as found in the writings of Tacitus. Although Tacitus was a Roman, he was not above allowing one of the “barbarians” to make an eloquent case for his people. It includes the famous dictum: “They built a wilderness (or solitude) and call it peace”, an apt description of Iraq today.

 To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain’s glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no tribes beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace (ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant).

Chagnon’s memoir was eviscerated in the Sunday Times Book Review.

February 15, 2013

The sea cruise to hell

Filed under: capitalist pig,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 7:11 pm

Micky Arison, CEO of Carnival Cruise

As the sewage-laden Carnival Cruise ship staggered into Mobile, Alabama last night, the mainstream media has begun to analyze what went wrong. Almost every point is made, except the crucial one: corporate greed is what made this the cruise from hell.

When I was very young I looked forward to visits to New York City, especially the drive along the West Side Highway. Back then steamship cruises were still popular and our family would “ooh” and “aah” at the sight of the Queen Elizabeth, one of the most beautiful ships ever made.

Today it is impossible to distinguish one cruise ship from another, especially those that fly under the Carnival Cruise banner. Heavily advertised on television, the company markets to working class people, those who never would have booked a trip on the Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, the audience for the ads is the same as it is for the time-share resorts sold by David Siegel through Westgate, incorporated. In the documentary “Queen of Versailles”, which is focused on Siegel’s wife Jackie as she tries to adjust to a more modest life-style after the prime mortgage crash knocks Westgate on its ass, you can see couples being shown around a Siegel property in Las Vegas that has the cheap and gaudy allure of a Carnival Cruise liner.

Carnival Cruise’s CEO is Micky Arison, who lives in Florida like David Siegel and shares his Jewish ethnicity. He also owns the Miami Heat, the championship basketball team led by Lebron James.

“Devils on the Deep Blue Sea: The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns That Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires” by Kristoffer A. Garin came out in 2005. The N.Y. Observer review provides background on the industry:

Mr. Garin begins by recounting the cruise industry’s exotic lineage. Its “grandfather” is F. Leslie Fraser, a Jamaican plantation owner who, between hobnobbing with Errol Flynn and General Rafael Trujillo, launched the first Miami-based pleasure cruise line in the 1950’s. His concept begat the “modern cruise industry’s founding fathers”: a Norwegian, Knut Kloster, and an Israeli, Ted Arison. The son of wealthy shipowners, Arison was a WWII veteran who smuggled Jews into Palestine, fought in the war for Israeli independence, emigrated from America (because, says Mr. Garin, he “wanted to be a self-made man”) and was eulogized by The Jerusalem Post as the “world’s richest Jew.”

But before that, Arison was Kloster’s partner in Norwegian Caribbean Lines. Their venture was successful, so successful that financial disputes drove a wedge between them. In 1971, Arison launched his own company, which pioneered the marketing scheme that redefined tackiness as we know it: the “fun ship” concept, which meant selling the ship, not the port of call, and catering to the lower, not upper tier of the market. It meant the birth, in other words, of the Wal-Mart of the sea: Carnival Cruise Lines, which now has a market capitalization of $36 billion and control of over 50 percent of the market.

From the start-up sagas of the 60’s, to the Love Boat era launched in 1977—when the television premiere of a “glorious, unapologetic shlockfest” became the best advertising cruise lines couldn’t buy—to the “Me Decade,” when bigger, fatter ships (and customers) proved that size does matter, Devils on the Deep Blue Sea traces the rise of the current industry trinity: Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. But really it’s the story of Carnival, its rise from penny-pinching underdog to corporate behemoth (during the past decade, it rapaciously gobbled up rival cruise companies).

Carnival Cruise is the quintessential “globalization” entity. Using its foreign registry, it avoids American taxes and regulations, especially those that might protect the health and safety of its working class passengers and the super-exploited Third World workforce.

On December 24, 1999, the N.Y. Times described how both passengers and crew are sacrificed to the altar of profits:

Four Filipino waiters filed suit in state court in Miami three years ago, claiming that they had been blacklisted after objecting to being forced to return part of their tips to their cruise line and hiring a lawyer, Luis A. Perez, to represent them. Lawyers for Majesty Cruise Line, the company that employed the waiters, denied retaliating and said the lawsuit was the result of a misunderstanding. The case is pending.

Douglas B. Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarers’ Rights, which is affiliated with the Seamen’s Church Institute, said there was ample evidence of blacklists.

“There are so many people ready, willing and able to take these jobs that you are not going to find too many people willing to complain, because they are afraid of losing their job and being blacklisted,” Mr. Stevenson said.

In October, at a sentencing hearing in Miami for Royal Caribbean Cruises on pollution-law violations, the Justice Department said the disparity in work, pay and opportunities for advancement on ships made employees less likely to call attention to crimes like the cruise line’s years-long dumping of contaminated waste water.

“The work practices hardly empower the lowest levels to challenge pollution practices or provide such employees a direct route of communication with senior ship or shore-side managers, as good corporate compliance practices would dictate,” prosecutors said in court papers.

A Nexis search on “Carnival Cruise” and “accident” will return 816 articles. Here is a sampling:

Journal of Commerce, May 18, 1989, Thursday


A cruise company whose luxury liner rammed into a Cuban merchant vessel, killing its captain and two seamen, is refusing to cooperate with federal investigators, according to safety officials.

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines Inc., however, said the Miami company is responding to investigators in Liberia, where its vessel is registered, and accused the head of the National Transportation Safety Board of making misleading and totally irresponsible” statements about the company.

The New York Times, June 20, 1995

Vessel Sent to Assist Stranded Cruise Ship

Carnival Cruise Lines sent out an ocean liner today to bring ashore, if necessary, more than 2,500 people left adrift on a ship in the Bahamas with no air conditioning or hot food after an electrical fire.

The blaze on Sunday in a control room left the ship, the Celebration, without a main power source, its engines unable to restart.

St. Petersburg Times (Florida), February 20, 1996

Pilot of stranded ship has a past

Harbor pilot Thomas Baggett, who only recently completed his probation from a fiery 1993 vessel crash in Tampa Bay, is under scrutiny again.

Baggett, 65, was guiding the Carnival cruise ship Tropicale on Sunday night when the ship and its 1,600 passengers and crew ran aground along a Tampa Bay channel 2 miles south of MacDill Air Force Base.

Baggett, who has been the subject of more state and federal disciplinary actions than any other harbor pilot on Tampa Bay, was released from probation on Jan. 10, state records said. The probation was imposed after hearings into the crash Aug. 10, 1993, of three vessels on Tampa Bay.

The Balsa 37, with Baggett as pilot, was outbound in Tampa Bay’s channels that morning. It collided with a barge carrying jet fuel and another barge carrying heavy bunker oil. More than 300,000 gallons of the oil spilled into Tampa Bay, coating beaches and soaking wildlife. It still sits on the bottom in spots of the bay. Cleanup costs approached $50-million.

It was Baggett’s fourth license suspension by state or federal authorities and fourth probation during his nearly 26-year piloting career. Baggett has also received three letters of guidance, a reprimand and an admonishment for his actions on the water during his career. A review of federal and state records after the 1993 crash found that Baggett had been involved in 19 mishaps or near-mishaps while piloting.

Sunday night was the third time Baggett was piloting a cruise ship when it ran into trouble, according to state and federal records. In 1984, the Scandinavian Star ran aground while Baggett was guiding. He was not disciplined. In 1987, Baggett’s license was suspended for 45 days when the Scandinavian Star, with Baggett at the controls, crashed into another ship while overtaking.

On land, Baggett once lost his driving privileges after being charged with drunken driving. He has been involved in four traffic accidents since 1984, according to state records. Last year, Baggett paid $ 105 in civil penalties after being ticketed for making an improper U-turn and having an expired registration, Pinellas court records show.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), July 21, 1998


Fire broke out in a crew laundry aboard a cruise ship that had just set sail from Miami on Monday with more than 2,500 vacationers aboard. The blaze burned through three lower decks before the crew extinguished it and the vessel was towed back to shore.

Smoke billowed from the Carnival Cruise Lines ship Ecstasy during the height of the two-hour fire.

At least 60 people were injured, most of them suffering from smoke inhalation and one with an undisclosed heart problem. Nine paramedics were on board treating the injured.

Tampa Tribune (Florida), October 6, 1999, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION

Ship fire may have been worsened by faulty valve

TAMPA – The valve may have let leaking diesel fuel feed the fire aboard the cruise ship  Tropicale.

A Coast Guard inquiry of a cruise ship fire focused Tuesday on a fuel valve in one of the ship’s  boilers, which crewmen said hadn’t been operating properly.

A possibly faulty shut-off valve may have let diesel fuel leak into the engine room of the  cruise ship Tropicale, fueling a fire that left the ship disabled amid tropical storm waters, the  ship’s chief engineer said Tuesday.

After the Sept. 19 fire aboard the 660-foot Carnival Cruise Lines ship started in the engine  room’s boiler compartment, crew members tried to stop the flow of fuel into the area.

San Jose Mercury News (California), November 10, 2010 Wednesday

Spam and a slow tow for thousands on cruise ship stranded in Pacific

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Coast Guard official says one of two tugboats tasked with pulling a disabled cruise ship to San Diego didn’t have enough power and was forced to turn back.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jetta Disco says a Mexican company has sent a third tugboat to the scene but authorities are trying to determine whether it would be better to leave the one tugboat alone while it slowly makes headway.

She says using two tugboats is more complicated and may not necessarily move the ship faster.

An engine fire Monday cut power to the Carnival Splendor, carrying nearly 4,500 passengers and crew on a Mexican Riviera cruise.

Instead of lavish buffets, passengers on the Carnival Splendor were subsisting on Spam, Pop Tarts and canned crabmeat flown in by Navy helicopters. Carnival says the boat is starting to move into cell phone range.

You would think that with such a compromised record, America’s most famous liberal magazine would think twice about raising funds through such tours. But apparently the Nation Magazine organizes them for the same reason that Carnival Cruise is in business: to raise money.

With the sea cruise business generating such bad publicity it was just a matter of time before a leftist brought the magazine to task. As one might have expected, it was up to CounterPunch, the real alternative to the Nation in a million different ways, to hold its feet to the fire:

Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 18-20, 2011

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The Silence of “The Nation”

The Dark Side of the Cruise Ship Industry


Let’s say you are a crusading liberal magazine.

Exposing corporate power.

Champion of the workers.

Defender of liberalism.

But, on the other hand, for the past 13 years, let’s say that you have been raising an average of $200,000 a year by charging readers for a chance to float on a monster cruise ship through beautiful seaways with hundreds of your fellow liberals and listen to prominent writers and activists denounce corporate power.

And let’s say the cruise ship industry you are partnering with has a nasty history of environmental crimes and treating its mostly third world workforce like modern day slaves.

And let’s say that in the 13 years you have been taking your readers on cruise ships, you have been approached many times by investigative reporters and activists pleading with you to run one article – just one – in your crusading magazine about the dark side of the cruise ship industry.

And you agree that you will.

But you never do.

Let’s just say that was the case.

What would be the explanation for that?

Well, one explanation would be – if you expose the industry for polluting the seaways and treating its workers like modern day slaves, then your readers might be less willing to dish out the $1500 to $5000 per person to go on the cruise.

And you wouldn’t be making as much money for your magazine.

Another explanation would be that you just haven’t had the time to get around to it.

Thirteen years is just a blink in time.

And you just can’t do it all.

Even if reporters and activists are willing to do it for you.

Full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/03/18/the-dark-side-of-the-cruise-ship-industry/

Sean Wilentz: tawdry redbaiter

Filed under: anti-Communism,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 5:46 pm

Sean Wilentz

Counterpunch Weekend Edition February 15-17, 2013
Sean Wilentz’s Pop-Gun Attack on Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

Post-Modernist Red-Baiting


It was only a matter of time before the N.Y. Review of Books launched an ideological drone strike against Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s “Untold History of the United States”. And who better to sit behind the control panel directing the missile than Sean Wilentz, who aspires to be the Arthur Schlesinger Jr. of our generation.

In its early years the NYR featured Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and even ran a famous article by Andrew Kopkind backing Chairman Mao’s dictum that “morality, like politics, flows from the barrel of a gun”–accompanied by David Levine’s marvelous do-it-yourself diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover.

As the magazine’s editors grew older and more attuned to the needs of the permanent government, it found new causes and new contributors to promote them. Chief among the causes was the superiority of capitalism to socialism and America’s duty to resist any challenges to the global status quo. More and more the NYR began to occupy the ideological niche once held by Encounter, the journal edited by Melvin J. Lasky and funded by the CIA.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/15/post-modernist-red-baiting/

Callinicos threatens “lynch mobs”

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 12:46 am


The CPGB has been sent a copy of an explosive account of a recent ISJ meeting

Bureaucratic fury, not righteous anger

CPGB Intro

This report of a recent ‘International Socialism Journal’ meeting gives a taste of the bullying, intimidating atmosphere that is building in the Socialist Workers Party as the beleaguered central committee and its supporters feel the crisis escalating out of control and take out their rage on the opposition and its legitimate concerns.

Certainly, if the comments and general attitude the report attributes to the likes of Alex Callinicos are accurate, it lends credence to the claims from the Democratic Renewal comrades that aggressive, bullying behaviour towards oppositionists is widespread, including in some cases the threat of physical violence. (http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/stop-bullying.html).

Such methods – and the people who promote them as a means to resolve political differences between comrades – should have no place in the workers movement.

All comments in brackets etc. are those of the orignal author. The report begins below.

ISJ Report

Alex Callinicos led off:

There are two types of group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli. The first group seeks to create external pressures. China, and I suspect Richard, encouraged Laurie Penny to write in the Independent. The letter from Peter Thomas and co, and interventions from ISO members, fit in here. PT and co are in part motivated by legitimate concerns about the case, but also it reflects the political ambitions of the Historical Materialism editorial board: it’s a repeat of ‘NLR syndrome’—Perry Anderson sought to profile himself as self-appointed generalissimo of the class struggle; these HM editors see themselves in a similar light. The ISO’s behaviour is particularly shocking: relations with them had been improving, but now their behaviour is threatening to “destroy” this.

The second group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli is the faction that declared this week.. I’m shocked by this. They have breached the long-standing principle that we do not have permanent factions.

The one-day special conference on 10th March will provide a full opportunity for discussion. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm the decisions taken at the January conference. Whatever comes out of it will have to be accepted by everyone. Anyone who doesn’t accept “will attract the righteous anger of the bulk of party members.”

[At the start of the discussion, incidentally, Alex barked at Amy Gilligan, insisting she stop taking notes. He, however, continued to cheerfully fill his notebook with copious notes throughout the meeting, as well as typing into his Blackberry. Alex tends to justify this sort of double standard with the term ‘political morality.’ Which seems to mean: whoever is trusted by the CC can do as they please, whoever is not, cannot. Are there echoes here of Gerry Healey’s catchphrase, ‘revolutionary morality’?]

The discussion kicked off with some comrades expressing their intense anger.

Sheila Macgregor, for example. Paul Blackledge later on.

But they were not angry either that the SWP has dealt with something as important as sexual harassment with appalling ineptness (not to say a cover up) or with the way the CC attempted to shut down the resulting debate. Rather, they were furious at those of us who’ve been “making a fuss” about such matters.

Sheila is “very angry”. We should not hold a special conference! We just had a conference, at which the issues were “all” fully aired! The present turmoil was started by party members. The SWP’s reputation is not in fact suffering damage in the ‘outside world.’

Paul shared Sheila’s fury and directed some harsh words at the ISO.

Gareth Jenkins made some general and unsubstantiated allegations that members of the faction were spreading lies and half-truths. He then defended the CC’s behaviour over Jamie Woodcock, noting that the CC had merely “suggested” that Jamie’s nomination be rescinded—unaware that to even call this a half-truth would be absurdly generous.

Jane Hardy: Any damage to the party has been the result of “the blogging”. She compared Richard Seymour to UCU leader Sally Hunt: both seek to push debate out of the branches and conference (she offered not a shred of evidence that Richard wishes to do this) and onto “email voting” and internet discussion.

Joseph Choonara: Why are the students in revolt? Because we made a mistake in 2011, when students joined around the Millbank etc movement. We should have made a sharp turn toward SWP theory in the SWSS groups.

Colin Barker: Defended his adherence to the faction, and insisted that we’re an organisation that welcomes heterodoxy, one that has the confidence to show tolerance toward comrades who take positions with which most of us disagree.

There were excellent contributions from Jamie, Simon Behrman and Neil Davidson, repudiating the accusations against our faction. (In Simon’s case though, he also took some swipes at those of in the Renewal grouping.)

Gareth Dale: Disagrees with Sheila’s argument that nothing’s changed in the outside world. First, it has. Generally, to the detriment of the SWP’s reputation, but not simply that. For example, anarchist friends of mine have congratulated us on the seriousness with which we’ve approached the issue, and mentioned that they—who experienced similar difficulties in dealing with sexual harassment—have found our campaign inspiring. But even if the outside world is oblivious, a special conference is still necessary, due to the tumult in the organisation etc.

Agreed with Joseph Choonara who argued that the resolution to this cannot be administrative but must be political and suggested these issues need to be fought out at the conference, but also developed in the pages of our publications over the next year or more.

Callinicos has taken a swipe at Richard over his enthusiasm for Poulantzas, but had not Callinicos himself been similarly enthusiastic for Althusser, in the 1970s? Linked this to a point made by Neil: the party has to be big enough to include the likes of David Widgery as well as Chris Harman. Sheila’s warning—at the last ISJ meeting—that Neil’s recent ‘revisionism’ on permanent revolution is an “attack on the IS tradition” is an example of precisely the wrong approach to drawing boundaries.

Talat: “Richard Seymour is a friend of mine. But he never goes to meetings. He and China think they’re above the rest of the party.” She then went on to express her disgust at those of us who draw comparisons between the SWP’s procedure for dealing with harassment allegations and that of institutions, such as trade unions, “which are part of capitalist society”—the implication being that the SWP is not.

Hannah Dee: Spoke up strongly for ‘the students’. They’ve been particularly attuned to issues of feminism, oppression etc. No wonder it’s they who’ve been at the forefront in recent weeks.

Adrian Budd, to Alex: At the outset, you said that the point of the special conference is “to reaffirm the decisions taken at conference.” That’s surely the wrong way to go about it—to present it as a way of rubberstamping decisions already taken. Surely it should be about airing the points of contention fully. To this, Alex barked a surly “That’s what you think!”

Alex then summed up the session: The crisis has been driven from within the party. Richard Seymour is the principal culprit. He is an eclectic thinker; he grabs ideas from everywhere—including even Bob Jessop!—and throws them into an “incoherent mess.”

Martin Smith must be allowed to fully return to political activity. Hannah’s analysis of the students is wrongheaded.

The students are not some vanguard on issues of oppression, as she implies; rather, they’ve lost their way as a result of our flawed approach in 2011—as Joseph outlined. There’s no way a 3 month discussion period before the special conference will be allowed. It would “destroy” us. If party members refuse to accept the legitimacy of the decisions taken at the special conference, “lynch mobs” (his words) will be formed. [He didn’t say whether or not he’d give a green light to such organisations.]

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