Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 31, 2013

The “anti-imperialist” backhanded support for the war against “Al Qaeda”

Filed under: Iraq,Islam,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

Today a Debkafiles item titled “US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq” turned up on Facebook. As you might know, Debkafiles is an Israeli intelligence website committed to the “war on terror” so you can assume that they are pleased with Obama’s turn against a common enemy. They report:

With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report.

Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down – the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.

Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches – ISIS and the Nusra Front – have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of he fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

“Al Qaeda”, as the scare quotes around it in the title of this article would indicate, is—to borrow a word from semiotics—a floating signifier for any Sunni tribal-based guerrilla now the target of American drones around the world: Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Iraq, Somalia and probably Syria before long as this March 15, 2013 Los Angeles Times article indicates:

The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.

There’s nothing in the Debkafiles article that gives you the faintest idea of the background to the escalating violence in this mostly Sunni province. For that, you need to take a look at the article that appeared in the December 29th N.Y. Times. It turns out that the sectarian Shiite government is largely responsible:

A raid by Iraqi security forces on the home of a prominent Sunni member of Parliament on Saturday morning in Anbar Province set off a two-hour gun battle that left the lawmaker’s brother and five guards dead, along with a soldier, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

Hours later, angry protests erupted over what Sunnis viewed as another crackdown by the Shiite-led government that alienates them from the political process by equating all expressions of Sunni grievance as terrorism.

The lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, was taken into custody on terrorism charges after the raid at his home in Ramadi, in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, which has been the scene of antigovernment protests for more than a year. Mr. Alwani has been an important supporter of the demonstrators.

The gunfight erupted when Mr. Alwani; his brother, Ali al-Alwani; and the guards opened fire on soldiers as they entered the home, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. In addition to those killed, about 10 others in the house were injured in the return fire, including the lawmaker’s wife and a 12-year-old boy.

The raid inflamed Sunni anger toward the government and is likely to increase sectarian tensions further in a country that is teetering on the edge of a new civil war.

At a gathering of demonstrators in Falluja in Anbar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi, one of the protest leaders, said: “The war has begun. I call on young people to carry their weapons and prepare. We will no longer allow any army presence in Falluja.” Armed demonstrators later carried Ali al-Alwani’s coffin through the streets of Ramadi.

Just a reminder. The Anbar province was key to the American counter-insurgency effort in Iraq. General Petraeus calculated that tribal Sunni leaders could be convinced (and bribed) to resist anti-regime jihadists in the “surge”, also called “The Awakening”. Gabriel Ledeen, the Marine captain whose father is the notorious imperialist plotter Michael Ledeen, explained how the surge worked to Huffington Post readers:

The Anbar Awakening was not a spontaneous uprising against the horrible brutality of the insurgents. Rather, it occurred and succeeded due to the conditions created by U.S. forces who steadily built the foundation for Anbar’s stability. Through dynamic security operations, complex relationships with tribal leaders, and consistent moral authority, we successfully separated the population from the insurgency, demonstrated our potential for victory, and earned the support of Iraqis yearning for peace. It was only after we established these conditions that the Sunni sheiks could urge their tribes to awaken and stand together with U.S. forces against the AQI terrorists.

Ironically, it is the same scorched earth policy directed against Sunnis—a minority in Iraq and a majority in Syria—by these respective regimes that have in fact fostered the growth of jihadism. Maliki in Iraq and al-Assad in Syria will not be satisfied until every sign of Sunni resistance is crushed.

The jihadists, who were often foreign fighters, were once viewed more favorably about 10 years ago when their guns were aimed at American allies rather than foes (of course, Bashar al-Assad was never really a candidate for “regime change”). This 11/9/2004 Washington Post article describes some typical Fallujah fighters, who are basically the same sorts of people aligned with the al-Nusra Front, a group demonized by the “anti-imperialist” left:

Dressed alike, the men were as different as their accents, a new generation of the jihad diaspora, arriving in Fallujah from all over the Arab world: five Saudis, three Tunisians, a Yemeni. Only three were Iraqis.

“I had a vision yesterday that tomorrow I would finally be granted the martyrdom,” said the latest arrival, a thin man in his early twenties. He had come from his home in Saudi Arabia just a week ago.

“This is not fair,” replied the Yemeni, making a joke. “I have been here for months now.”

“Don’t worry, Abu Hafsa,” said one of the Tunisians, heavyset and talkative. “It is either victory or martyrdom, and both are great honors.”

Today these are the sorts of people who Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar, and Patrick Cockburn regard as a threat to civilized Western values–those “foreign fighters”, jihadists, Salafists, Wahhabists, etc. who thank god Obama and Putin have finally decided to make common cause against.

The tendency to label all such fighters as “al Qaeda” can be found in the case of Benghazi as well. Three days ago the N.Y. Times published an exhaustive investigative reporting piece that reveals that the killing of an American diplomat was explained by local grievances and not by al-Qaeda plotting. In other words, the same discontent that is wracking Iraq and Syria is also at work in Libya, a nation that supposedly is the crowning glory of U.S. foreign policy. The Times reports:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Naturally the Republican Party denounced this article as Democratic Party propaganda designed to further Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign bid. What’s surprising is the eagerness of Moon of Alabama, a fountainhead of Baathist propaganda, to embrace the Republican Party talking points:

A big story at the NYT whitewashes the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. It is missing a whole lot of points: the diplomatic outpost was the cover for a CIA operation

    the CIA bought weapons there to ship them to Turkey and to their proxies in Syria

    the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer

    “AlQaeda” groups had an interest to acquire those weapons for their own groups in Syria

    some AQ-affiliates (the brother of AQ leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt) started an international protest over some anti-Muslim video as an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya

Without some deeper digging into the above points, missing in the NYT, the whole Benghazi story is just a fairy tale.

Well, who knows where Moon of Alabama learned about “an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya”. Mint Press? Ray McGovern? Seymour Hersh? Until those “anti-imperialists” begin backing up their claims with citations, I’ll stick with the newspaper of record that actually sent its reporters to Benghazi to interview the principals, including the man who likely orchestrated the attack.

The willingness of the “anti-imperialist” left to back a war on “al Qaeda” has been one of the more startling developments in recent years. Their websites and print publications were primed to support Putin’s crackdown in Chechnya and the Syrian Baathists carrying out essentially the same strategy because they saw the world broken down into two spheres: the imperialist and the anti-imperialist. If your unit of analysis is the nation-state rather than the social class, this is logically the way to proceed. For moldy old Marxist figs like me, I prefer to analyze social classes.

Not long ago I wrote a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone” for Critical Muslim, a magazine co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar, the author of 34 books on Islam, imperialism, and related topics. I read his “Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture” about 10 years ago and recommend it strongly. I don’t think that they would mind me concluding this article with an excerpt from my review since it gets to the heart of categorizing every form of armed resistance mounted by oppressed Sunnis as a jihadist dagger aimed at the heart of civilization:

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

 The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

New York City’s Sandinista mayor?

Filed under: Deblasio — louisproyect @ 3:11 pm

Our mayor when he was young and idealistic

Mr. de Blasio’s recruitment process — deliberative, carefully attuned to his political image, and with a pronounced bent toward candidates with deep experience — has offered an early glimpse into the management style of a mayor-elect more accustomed to overseeing political campaigns than a sprawling municipality.

The fierce liberal who electrified voters in the Democratic primary has so far produced a cabinet that any of his more centrist rivals might have appointed: Mr. de Blasio has surrounded himself with alumni of Goldman Sachs and the administrations of former Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, his bête noire on the campaign trail.

N.Y. Times, “For de Blasio, So Many Jobs to Fill, So Little Time”, 12/30/2013

* * * *

At a news conference on Monday announcing the appointment, Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Fariña took several swipes at the way Mr. Bloomberg ran schools, and the incoming chancellor pledged to review every one of the departing mayor’s policies. “We know that there are things that need to happen, but they need to happen with people, not to people,” she said.

But in significant ways, Mr. Bloomberg’s mark on education will endure into his successor’s term.

* * * *

N.Y. Times, “De Blasio Recognizes Obstacles Standing in Way of Schools Plan”, 12/30/2013

Former President Bill Clinton will swear in Bill de Blasio as New York City’s 109th mayor at the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 1, the mayor-elect’s transition team announced in a statement on Saturday.

Mr. de Blasio served in Mr. Clinton’s administration as a regional director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was the campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s successful run for the Senate in 2000. Mrs. Clinton will also attend the inauguration.

“I was honored to serve in President Clinton’s administration and on Secretary Clinton’s campaign for U. S. Senate, and I am honored again that they will both join our celebration for all of New York City,” Mr. de Blasio said in the statement. “Wednesday’s ceremony will be an event for every New Yorker from all five boroughs, and Chirlane and I couldn’t be more excited to have President Clinton and Secretary Clinton stand with us,” he said, referring to his wife, Chirlane McCray.

Mr. de Blasio later sent out on Twitter a photograph taken in 2000 showing Mr. and Mrs. Clinton at the White House with him, his wife and their two children, Chiara and Dante, who were then small enough to be carried in their parents’ arms.

N.Y. Times, “Bill Clinton Will Preside at de Blasio’s Inauguration”, 12/28/2013

December 29, 2013

Theodore Postol falsifies the Seymour Hersh hypothesis

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

Safely within the “red line” guidelines:

In his “Whose Sarin” article, Hersh wrote:

Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal.

While Hersh’s article carefully avoided blaming the rebels for a “false flag” attack intended to draw America into the war, his “who knows who did it” analysis combined with some plausible debunking of Obama administration claims served the political aims of the Baathist left.

Today’s N.Y. Times makes it clear that Hersh should avoid referring to Postol and his colleague Richard M. Lloyd in the future since they have weighed in against the Baathist dictatorship as C.M. Chivers reports.

A new analysis of rockets linked to the nerve-agent attack on Damascus, Syria, in August has concluded that the rockets were most likely fired by multiple launchers and had a range of about three kilometers [1.86 miles], according to the two authors of the analysis.

An examination of the territory to the northwest of the cluster of reported impact strikes shows many positions that have been firmly under military control throughout 2013, including factories and a bus station complex that are part of Mr. Assad’s defense around his seat of government.

Eliot Higgins, a blogger who has collected and analyzed many online videos related to the attack, the munitions and the Syrian government’s military positions in Damascus, said the new analysis of the rockets’ range aligned with assertions that the government was culpable.

“A range of beyond 2.5 kilometers would put potential launch sites in an area between Jobar and Qaboun, to the north and northwest of the impact locations, that has been a hive of government activity for months,” Mr. Higgins wrote in an email on Friday.

The new analysis has limits. It relies on secondhand measurements of and assumptions about the rockets’ components and construction, but no handling, X-rays or other examination of the real items. The central claim, about a particular rocket-motor insert, regards an item that has not yet been seen in any publicly available images.

Nonetheless, a core assertion in the two authors’ previous analysis of the sarin-filled rockets, also based on dimensions, has stood for months.

That study proposed that the warheads contained a large volume, about 13.2 gallons, of sarin. The United Nations implicitly seconded that suggestion when it included a similar estimate in its own report in September.

The assumption that the warheads contained a large volume of nerve agent also helped shape another prominent analyst’s assertion that the details of the Aug. 21 attack implicated the Syrian government.

Full Theodore Postol report

What’s puzzling, of course, is the apparent reluctance of the jihadists to use sarin gas against the Baathist troops now that they have the upper hand. Why haven’t there been any such attacks since August? It certainly can’t be a function of jihadist respect for humanitarian norms since we all know that they would slash the throat of a ten-year-old boy for not saying his prayers.

The answer to this is that the worst of the jihadists—the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—never had any intention of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. Apparently their main goal is to create an Islamic state in northern Syria, even if it means killing other rebels that stand in their way. In an illuminating blog post on the N.Y. Review of Books website titled “How al-Qaeda Changed the Syrian War”, Sarah Birke makes all this quite clear:

In fact, while ISIS and Nusra share many aims, and both are well funded and trained, there are significant differences between the two groups. Jabhat al-Nusra stresses the fight against Assad, while ISIS tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory. Nusra has pursued a strategy of slowly building support for an Islamic state, while ISIS is far more ruthless, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately. And while Nusra, despite its large contingent of foreign fighters, is seen as a home-grown problem, Syrians at the border frequently described Da’ash as foreign “occupiers” in their country.

With such jihadists and the Baathists forming what amounts to a united front against those having the temerity to challenge their rival visions of an Islamic state or a family dynasty in the “secular, progressive” mold to employ the Orwellian discourse, one has to pose the question of where ISIS and the al-Nusra front [a somewhat less toxic brand] came from. Doha Hassan provided the answer in an article titled “ISIS is the child of the regime”:

According to numerous studies and reports, regime prisons are the womb that birthed the extremist Islamists who have become today’s leaders of ISIS, Nusra, and others.

Activist Maher Esper says: “I saw prisoners who were with me in the Saydnaya prison in most YouTube videos since the emergence of Nusra, ISIS, and other Islamic brigades.” Syrian regime forces arrested Esper in 2006 and sentenced him to seven years in prison, five of which were spent at the Saydnaya prison before he was encompassed in the presidential amnesty issued at the start of the revolution.

Esper asserts, “There’s a person I saw in a video in which fourteen Raqqa clans pledged allegiance to ISIS, he used to sleep on the bunk directly above mine. The regime released those individuals despite their involvement in murders, even in prison. All those I saw became members or leaders of ISIS (like Nadim Balous), al-Nusra (like Baha’ al-Bash), Jaysh al-Islam (like Zahran Alloush), Ahrar al-Sham (like Hassane Abboud), or Suqur al-Sham brigades (like Ahmad Issa al-Sheikh).”

So now the Baathists are free to use any weaponry at their disposal to crush the revolution, now that they are safely within Obama’s red line. An attack on Aleppo should give you  a flavor for the military tactics of this “secular, progressive” regime:

Syrian government forces continued their bombing campaign in the northern city Aleppo on Saturday, with a single strike in a crowded vegetable market killing at least 21 people, activists and residents said.

Activists in Aleppo said that more than 400 people had been killed in nearly two weeks of airstrikes and barrages of improvised “barrel bombs” packed with explosives that are dropped from low altitudes by helicopters.

The N.Y. Times was not explicit enough. It is not just explosives that are in these barrel bombs. They also contain chunks of steel meant to maim over a wide area. Dropping one on a crowded vegetable market is a war crime, but nothing new for the Baathists. They have also dropped napalm on a school playground, killing more than 10 kids and horribly burning many others.

History will judge those leftists harshly who stood by basically giving their benediction to such attacks on the basis of the need to rally around the “axis of good”. It is the equivalence of cheering Franco’s bombing of Guernica.

One of these days I might get around to reading Sven Lindqvist’s “A History of Bombing” that explores the origins of aerial bombardment and its gradual acceptance by “civilized” nations. In 1910 the Italian officer Giulio Douhet wrote a book on the problems of air power. Two years later he was made chief of the newly formed air squadron in Torino. A year later he and Gianni Caproni, an aeronautical engineer who figures heavily in “The Wind Rises”, built the first heavy bomber. When WWI broke out, Douhet became famous for complaining about the way the war was being carried out and campaigned for aerial bombardment from his tri-motor bomber. What was the reaction of the general staff of the Italian army to this proposal? They relieved Douhet of his duties and court-martialed him.

A fanciful rendition of the Douhet/Caproni bomber in “The Wind Rises”

The actual bomber with Carmoni at the helm

December 28, 2013

The Hunger Games and radical politics

Filed under: Film,popular culture — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

From what I’ve heard from some people on the left, the price of a ticket for a Hunger Games flick will give you the same experience as watching “Salt of the Earth” or the “Bicycle Thief”. I gave it a shot last year without spending a penny. After putting on a DVD screener the studio sent me to review for the 2012 NYFCO awards meeting, I hit the eject button after 15 minutes or so. I guess the best thing you can say about it was that I stayed with it longer than “Django Unchained”. What could others see that I could not, I wondered.

Ted Glick raved: “I was surprised to find that, in addition to another impressive performance by Lawrence, the movie was also about oppressed people rebelling against hunger, poverty and a brutally repressive government, and it was well done.” But then again this is the same Glick who picked David Cobb over Ralph Nader in 2004.

Then there’s Donald Sutherland, who plays the evil dictator in Hunger Games. He was written up in the Guardian calling for a revolution:

Donald Sutherland wants to stir revolt. A real revolt. A youth-led uprising against injustice that will overturn the US as we know it and usher in a kinder, better way. “I hope that they will take action because it’s getting drastic in this country.” Drone strikes. Corporate tax dodging. Racism. The Keystone oil pipeline. Denying food stamps to “starving Americans”. It’s all going to pot. “It’s not right. It’s not right.”

Of course, some cynics might devalue his words simply on the basis of where they were uttered: “We are high up in a Four Seasons hotel overlooking Beverly Hills, sunlight glinting off mansions and boutiques below, an unlikely cradle of revolution.” The cheapest room at the Four Seasons costs $605 per night, hardly the sort of place that would qualify as a new Smolny Institute.

Then there’s Frank Giustra, whose Lionsgate studio made the film. Think he would be interested in fomenting a revolution, particularly one that was going to throw a monkey wrench into projects like Keystone? Check this out then:

Frank Giustra – key power broker and close colleague of former President Bill Clinton – has taken a seat on the Board of Directors of U.S. Oil Sands, an Alberta-based company aiming to develop tar sands deposits in Utah’s Uintah Basin.

U.S. Oil Sands – in naming several new members to its Board – also announced it has received $80 million in “strategic financing” from Blue Pacific Investments Group Ltd., Anchorage Capital Group, L.L.C. and Spitfire Ventures, LLC.

The funding will help get the ball rolling on “tar sands south,” a miniature but increasingly controversial version of its big brother to the north, the Alberta tar sands. Giustra will likely help in opening the right doors for tar sands industry interests in the United States.

In the same way that I sat through “Django Unchained”, as necessary for a survey on slavery films, I decided to watch Hunger Games, part one and part two. My goal is not to spend that much time on the films themselves but to take up the question of why so many superficially “radical” films set in some future dystopia have been coming out of Hollywood in the recent past.

But to take up the films as art, generously speaking, you have to start with where they fit in. In my view they have much more to do with the teen romance market that includes the Twilight series than they do with a film like “Elysium” that was also greeted with much fanfare from the left. In fact that probably explains why “Catching Fire” (part 2 of the Hunger Games) has generated nearly 251 million dollars in profit, while “Elysium” is still $22 million in the red. A 15-year-old girl can go see “Catching Fire” without caring a lick about a youth-led uprising. She’s there to see a hunky boy making out with Jennifer Lawrence while her aging uncle who was in Columbia University SDS can see it for its “politics”. Then there are the 15-year-old boys who like it for the video game type violence. Clever marketing all in all.

I think unless you have been in a coma for the past 2 years, you probably know what the film is about. It is set sometime in the distant future when a failed uprising against the rulers of America has been defeated. The winners live in the capital of Panem, a city that looks something like the Emerald City in “The Wizard of Oz”, while the losers live in 12 different districts that look like the coal town in “How Green was My Valley” or where the Joads came from. The winners dress like they were in the court of Louis IV while the losers wear clothes that might be carrying a Carhartt label. While there are no specific references to the sexual preferences of the people who live in the capital city, most of the men will remind you of the lead characters in “La Cage aux Folles”, pretty much like this:

The hunger games are yearly events in which each district sends two youngsters off to the capital to participate in gladiator fights to the death until only one is left. The winner gets off with their life as well as some prize money. Suzanne Collins wrote the first of the novels that the films are based on in 2008. She said that she got the idea from watching a reality show like Survivor while the war in Iraq was still going strong. Some wonder if she plagiarized the Japanese movie “Battle Royale” that has a similar theme but she states she had never seen it. (“Battle Royale” does not try to make any overarching social statements and is little more than an hour and a half of nihilistic gore.)

The Hunger Games is a trilogy. The first installment is titled “Hunger Games” and the second, now playing in theaters everywhere, is titled “Catching Fire”. The last is titled “Mockingjay” and should come out in the next year or so. Like the Twilight vampire novels and Harry Potter, these sorts of multi-part oeuvres are made to order for a Hollywood studio’s financial department. You get the 15-year-olds to show up religiously, and can even expect them to go to see the same film multiple times. This is what struck me last night as the final minutes of “Catching Fire” were unfolding. I had no idea what was going on when around a dozen people rose from their seats and started streaming for the exits. Now that’s the way I felt 15 minutes into the film. What could have taken them so long?

When the closing credits began appearing out of the blue, I figured it out. These were people who were watching the film for second or even maybe the third time. What could possibly have gotten into them? But considering the popularity of professional wrestling and “Dancing with the Stars”, I should know better than to ask that question.

The first installment of Hunger Games concludes with its heroine Katniss and hero Peeta both surviving the gladiator games. When they announce that they’d rather commit suicide than fight each other, the rulers decide to spare both their lives in accordance with the TV audience’s wishes. So disgruntled is President Snow (Donald Sutherland) by their lack of a killer instinct that he plots to return them to a special hunger game that includes past winners, sort of the kind of contest seen in “Project Runway”, a far better show in my view.

To put it bluntly, “Catching Fire” is basically a repeat of “Hunger Games” except nearly an hour longer. While the movie was wending its way toward its conclusion, I found my mind drifting off to old girl friends. (Don’t mention that to my wife.)

In terms of both politics and entertainment, I found “Elysium” a lot more compelling. That, as you might know, is another futuristic dystopian piece with a lot more solid connections to the way we live now.

When I thought about the Hunger Games films, “Elysium”, that was preceded by “District 9”, a dystopian film set in South Africa also directed by Neill Blomkamp, as well as others that have hit theaters in recent years, I wondered what it all meant. Like the Hunger Games films, “Elysium” and “District 9” were hailed as the filmic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail.

The always useful Wikipedia tells us (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_films) that hundreds of such films have been made since the early 50s starting with “1984”, a prototype for everything that followed. Nearly all of them portray a future society ruled by a cruel dictatorship employing capricious and violent tactics to keep the masses in line. Interestingly, the first film in this mold was made decades earlier and is arguably the best: Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”.

Despite their abundance, none has had the slightest impact on changing American society in the way that a documentary can. Despite Michael Moore’s dreadful Democratic Party politics, a film like “Roger and Me” opened our eyes to the greed and depravity of General Motors. When I was growing up, you could take the slogan “What’s good for GM is good for America” seriously. After “Roger and Me”, you could not.

There’s another reason that an audience seeing “Catching Fire” would make few connections with American society today. Despite the moral turpitude of its rulers and the ruling class it represents, it is a parliamentary democracy resting on a consensus around the belief that success is a function of your own talents and nothing else. When you lose a job, you can get pissed off at the system but you see yourself more as a victim of circumstance rather than a member of a social class in specific kind of relationship to another social class that has interests opposed to your own. Ironically, most Americans are okay with survivor of the fittest, as long as you don’t have someone like President Snow forcing villages to turn over a couple of kids each year as if it was for an Aztec type human sacrifice ritual.

Bourgeois democracy is a perfect instrument for class rule. That is why I always scratch my head over those who see fascism around the corner when someone like Richard Nixon is in the White House. Why would you use the iron fist to rule the workers when their open consent guarantees systemic stability?

I’ve heard from so many people that the Hunger Games films will have the same kind of radicalizing effect on young people that Peter Camejo’s speeches had in 1968. If so, I find no evidence of that in a forum dedicated to discussion of the Hunger Games books and movies at http://www.reddit.com/r/Hungergames/. I searched in vain for anything about relaunching the Occupy movement. Mostly, this is what you will find:

Katniss talks about this rhyme that her father used to tell her sometimes, and she also talks about how it had a dark connotation that she only realized later in life. Also her mother got angry at her father for singing it to Katniss. That’s about all I understood about that rhyme. In a series in which just about everything has symbolism, what is the symbolism/significance of this? Also why does Katniss’s mother gets so angry about it?

But the one post that suggested to me that the film was much more about style than substance was this:

Screen shot 2013-12-28 at 3.36.11 PM

The lesser evil?

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 4:54 pm

N.Y. Times December 27, 2013
Judge Upholds N.S.A.’s Bulk Collection of Data on Calls

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday ruled that a National Security Agency program that collects enormous troves of phone records is legal, making the latest contribution to an extraordinary debate among courts and a presidential review group about how to balance security and privacy in the era of big data.

In just 11 days, the two judges and the presidential panel reached the opposite of consensus on every significant question before them, including the intelligence value of the program, the privacy interests at stake and how the Constitution figures in the analysis.

The latest decision, from Judge William H. Pauley III in New York, could not have been more different from one issued on Dec. 16 by Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington, who ruled that the program was “almost Orwellian” and probably unconstitutional.

The decision on Friday “is the exact opposite of Judge Leon’s in every way, substantively and rhetorically,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “It’s matter and antimatter.”

The case in New York was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it would appeal.


From Wikipedia:

Pauley is a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Pauley was nominated by President Bill Clinton on May 21, 1998, to a seat vacated by Peter K. Leisure.

Leon was nominated to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by George W. Bush on September 10, 2001, to the seat vacated by Norma Holloway Johnson.

* * * *

Richard Nixon
Statement on Signing the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
December 28, 1973

I HAVE today signed S. 1983, the Endangered Species Act of 1973. At a time when Americans are more concerned than ever with conserving our natural resources, this legislation provides the Federal Government with needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage–threatened wildlife.

This important measure grants the Government both the authority to make early identification of endangered species and the means to act quickly and thoroughly to save them from extinction. It also puts into effect the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora signed in Washington on March 3, 1973.

Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93d Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.

Center for Biological Diversity
August 30, 2013

Obama Administration Proposal Weakens Endangered Species Protections

Rule Would Relax Requirements on Federal Agencies to Carefully Account for and Track Impacts on Nation’s Most Imperiled Species

WASHINGTON – August 30 – The Obama administration has proposed a new rule that would scale back the requirement that federal agencies fully track the harms inflicted on endangered species when large-scale plans are developed and carried out on federal public lands. As a result, the cumulative impacts on rare species from actions like oil and gas drilling will be discounted in the decision-making process — putting hundreds of plants and animals at greater risk of extinction. The change is being proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which have repeatedly failed to track how the projects they approve are affecting rare and vanishing species.

“America’s endangered species are already dying deaths by a thousand cuts, because too often no one’s keeping an eye on the big picture,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal will make that problem even worse.”


Ahmet Tonak on the AKP-Gulenist confrontation

Filed under: Islam,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:10 am

Last night I interviewed Ahmet Tonak, a Marxist economist and long-time activist, about the current political crisis in Turkey that pitted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the Gulenist movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a cleric who lives in the United States.

The interview was structured in part as a commentary on points made by Berkeley sociologist Cihan Tugal in an article titled “Towards the End of a Dream? The Erdogan-Gulen Fallout and Islamic Liberalism’s Descent” that appeared in Jadaliyya on December 22nd. Ahmet agreed with some points in the article and disagreed with others.

In addition, Ahmet touched upon the status of the Kurdish struggle that is now facing challenges in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. He concluded with an assessment of the opportunities facing the left in a period when both Islamism and Kemalism in Turkey are on the defensive.

On a technical note, apologies for the poor lighting. Next month I am buying proper lamps for the next time I shoot indoors after dark.

December 26, 2013

What’s going on in the Ukraine?

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 11:32 pm

Attacking the Lenin statue in Kiev. Is this the whole story?

The last time I paid any attention to the Ukraine was back in 2004 when the country was in the throes of a “color revolution”, which for much of the left is all you really need to know. If the USA has donated money or organized training sessions for some dissident movement, it is your revolutionary duty to support the government. Perhaps there is no website more consistent in its commitment to this kind of Manicheanism than Global Research. Two years ago when the Egyptian military was closing down NGO’s, Tony Cartalucci, one of their daftest contributors, took the side of the military in an article titled The US Engineered “Arab Spring”: The NGO Raids in Egypt.

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

There’s not a single word in the article about economic suffering, torture, lack of elementary democratic rights, or any other grievance that brought people  into Tahrir Square.

Despite my strong commitment to exposing the role of NATO and Western banks in Yugoslavia, I always had my doubts about some of the people who were Cartalucci think-alikes particularly Jared Israel and James Petras. Oddly enough, their embrace of a common methodology led them to diametrically opposed positions on Zionism and Israel. Jared Israel became a rabid Likudnik (maybe he always was one), while Petras began writing some truly obnoxious garbage about how the Jews were dictating American foreign policy.

What finally convinced me to break with this methodology was the way that Ukraine was being treated, as if it the same story as Yugoslavia. Back in 2004 I signaled my determination to follow my own path:

Although my writings on Yugoslavia have tended to link me–mistakenly– in some quarters with this point of view, I am by no means sympathetic to it. For example, I hold Robert Mugabe in very low esteem, despite the fact that he is Enemy Number One of the liberal NGO’s. You simply can’t put a plus where the bourgeoisie puts a minus. You really need to have a much more nuanced approach. In the case of the Ukraine, you seem to have a conflict developing between imperialism and the Russian government over the Ukraine’s future. Although I can be mistaken, it seems to me that this will never achieve the kind of sharpness that the Nato-Serb conflict achieved.

At the time I found Boris Kargalitsky’s analysis persuasive:

The theories that a pro-American opposition is battling with a pro-Moscow political elite do not hold water. Yushchenko is without a doubt pro-American. But the same can be said for all the current leaders in Ukraine. After all, it was current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his prime minister, Yanukovych, who sent troops to Iraq. They created an absurd crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations over a dam near the tiny island of Tuzla in straits between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. In contrast, right at the height of the confrontation in Kiev, the Verkhovnaya Rada resolved to withdraw Ukraine’s troops from Iraq. Communists and socialists were joined in their support of the measure by a significant number of Yushchenko supporters.

It is difficult to call Russia’s leadership anti-American or anti-Western. None other than President Vladimir Putin himself publicly announced his support of George W. Bush during the recent U.S. presidential elections. And while the Moscow television channels were condemning American involvement in Ukraine, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists about possible plans to arm local forces in Iraq under U.S. control, as well as to send military specialists to Iraq.

The Cold War was a confrontation of two economic and political systems. But now Russia and the West share the same system, capitalism. The real axis of confrontation in world politics is no longer the standoff between NATO and the long-defunct Eastern Bloc, but the standoff between the dollar and the euro blocs. The Kremlin can’t seem to make up its mind which side to take in this rivalry, dodging back and forth between Brussels and Washington and dooming itself to a whole string of unilateral concessions to both competing sides.

Not surprisingly, the same people who took the side of Yanukovych in 2004 are backing him now. They obviously have made up their mind on the basis of two incidents, the first was the toppling of a Lenin statue in Kiev; the second was John McCain’s appearance next to Oleh Tyahnybok, a leader of the ultraright and anti-Semitic Svoboda party that has links to the BNP in England. Of course, it is hard to keep track of the game without a scorecard. When Bashar al-Assad invites Nick Griffin, the head of the BNP, to Syria, these people shrug their shoulders and say “big deal”. This does not even get into the question of Yanukovych’s ties to the Kremlin. Maybe I am missing something but aren’t Russian skinheads not only torturing gays but posting their feats on Youtube?

So that’s where I left things in 2004. Now that Ukraine is in the news again, I will take advantage of my retiree benefits from Columbia University and see what Lexis-Nexis has to say on what has transpired over nearly the past decade.

Yanukovych was elected Prime Minister in 2010, replacing the pro-Western Yulia Tymoshenko who was arrested for corruption that year. A year later she was sentenced to seven years in prison. While you might jump to the conclusion that she was being punished for being an enemy of the Ukraine-Russia alliance, the charges were not quite what you’d expect as Fred Weir reported in the Christian Science Monitor (Weir is a very good reporter with solid Marxist training who used to write for “In These Times”):

Tymoshenko’s supporters have rallied to her defense, both the US and the European Union have expressed deep concern over what they suspect to be a “politically motivated” trial. Even Russia is growling angrily about Mr. Yanukovych’s decision to make the centerpiece of the case a controversial 2009 gas agreement that Tymoshenko signed with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Yanukovych’s decision to put Tymoshenko on trial looks increasingly irrational,” says Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist with the Moscow business daily Kommersant. “By putting a defeated opponent in the dock, he granted her a whole new political lease on life.

“And by indirectly implicating top Russian leaders in the case, especially Vladimir Putin, Yanukovych has aroused the anger of the Kremlin,” he adds. “That gas deal was Putin’s brainchild, and calling it into question puts his personal prestige and credibility on the line.”

Also, going against the grain of “color revolution” simplicities, there was every indication that Yanukovych intended at first to carry out the same economic policies as his pro-Western predecessor. In 2007 the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported:

Brussels, 27 March: Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has a dream that Ukraine will begin talks on EU membership under his government.

Yanukovych was speaking at a sitting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Yanukovych recalled that once, speaking in Washington, he said that dialogue between Ukraine and the EU would be deepened when he is prime minister. He said that that is still his dream. “I am lucky,” he said, recalling that the EU-Ukraine action plan was signed during his first term as prime minister [in 2002-04]. Yanukovych is confident that during his second term, Ukraine will become a member of the World Trade Organization, conclude an intensified agreement with the EU and set up a free-trade zone with the EU.

Yanukovych believes that an intensified agreement will be similar to a European document on associate membership. He added that it would provide for political association and economic integration.

After being elected two years later, Yanukovych soon found himself in the driver’s seat of a nation mired in economic crisis. In the face of mounting debt and deep social unrest, Yanukovych veered between the EU and Russia. On December 12th he turned to the West:

The Ukrainian government has asked the EU for Euro 20bn (£16.85bn) to sign a major trade deal with the bloc, after thousands of riot police failed to destroy a pro-EU protest camp in the centre of the capital, Kiev, yesterday.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced the government would be sending a delegation to Brussels to discuss new terms for signing the historic Association Agreement, which Ukraine unceremoniously spurned last month in favour of moving further into the power orbit of Russia.

–The Independent, December 12, 2013

But in the end it was Russia that came through:

Russia threw Ukraine an economic lifeline on Tuesday, agreeing to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and to reduce the price its cash-strapped neighbour pays for vital Russian gas supplies by about one-third.

The deal, reached at talks in Moscow between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders, is intended to help Ukraine stave off economic crisis though Moscow will hope it keeps Kyiv in its political and economic orbit.

The agreement could also fuel protests in Kyiv against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who faces accusations of “selling” Ukraine to the highest bidder after spurning a trade deal with the European Union.

–The Toronto Star, December 18, 2013

So, those of you who look at Yanukovych as some kind of heroic Bolivaran type anti-imperialist fighter are welcome to your views even if they are arrived at in total ignorance of the facts. People like Tony Cartalucci, in other words.

It is probably not news to most of you that I have grown totally disgusted with any Marxism that makes concessions to someone like Cartalucci whose “anti-imperialism” would dovetail nicely with that of the ultraright when it comes to the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the most incisive commentary on the Middle East has come from anarchists in fact, as well as from some Marxists that still have a brain and a heart—like Joseph Daher and Gilbert Achcar.

I doubt that at the age of 68 I will ever come out as anarchist—mostly because I still retain a big commitment to the best of Marxism, from CLR James to Jim Blaut. But I can’t help but noticing that the best article I have seen so far on events in the Ukraine can be seen at Tahrir-International Collective Network, a website that supports the “the fight for a free and self-governed society based on tolerance, equality and openness, the society in which the social side is placed above the mercantile.” I urge you to read the article there titled “UKRAINE: What’s Going On, And What Does It Mean?” It is really damned good as this excerpt would indicate, even if I take exception to his characterization of Cuba and Nicaragua in the last paragraph. As Joe E. Brown told Jack Lemmon in the final seconds of “Some Like it Hot”, nobody’s perfect:

Yanukovych and his pals probably wanted the deal off until they get a better deal, because they see their protected business interests threatened by competition from the EU, by higher energy prices and maybe also by mass anger against EU-style austerity when it comes. And he and his pals have something to defend. “Yanukovych has led the country to the brink of financial collapse as his coterie and his financial backers grow insanely and obscenely rich”(Ian Traynor, Guardian, 1 December 2013, ) The man himself is a “very wealthy man with a a large estate outside of Kiev”, according to another Guardian piece by the same writer. Where did his wealth come from? Not from heritage, for he was from a rather poor background. Politics-as-business, also known as corruption, may be the name of the game. He and his friends have much to loose, and beyond this, they feel pressurized by Russia, the big gas exporter, former imperial overlord and strong neighbour. The Yakunovych wing of the ruling class, with its entrenched interests and geopolitical ties, and with their armies of riot cops, are no pushover.

So there we have it. Entrenched power-holders, filthily rich and well-connected with Russia, and with armed force available, on the one hand; strong EU-oriented business and political interests interests on the other. Modernized austerity as an alternative to traditional corrupt business as usual. Not much to choose there. This is an intra-business conflict, in which the pro-EU wing of the ruling class succeeds in raising an impressive stage army of protesters. There is no reason whatsoever for the taking of sides here.

But then, the riddle begins. One can imagine opposition politicians mobilizing their supporters, in their thousands and in their tens of thousands. But in the last few days, we hear about hundreds of thousands in the capital Kiev alone. Half a million people in the cold streets, confronting riot cops and cold winds and snow, just because they would rather be exploited from Brussel-oriented business than from Moscow-oriented business? People barricading streets, blockading and occupyingh buildings becuase the prefer EU austerity above old-school corruption? It does not sound plausible. It does not make sense. There are more factors at play.

Not the whole movement consists of supporters of the traditional opposition parties. There is a strong, student-based movement that tries to keep all politicians at a distance. Here is how Marina Lewycka, already quoted, describes it: “For the young people in the square, this whole game of political tit-for-tat is what they reject.” One of the places these wing of the movement appartently gets inspiration from is the Occupy movement, according to Claire Biggs who explains on 25 November: “Unlike the Orange Revolution, the current protests are divided into two separate rallies – one by young nonpartisan activists inspired by the Occupy movement, the second, concentrated on another Kyiv square, by political parties.” Now, the Occupy movement, whatever its failings, was not a very pro-EU movement, as people may recall. It was not a very pro-business movement either. Claire Biggs, 27 November on RFE/ RL : “The demonstrations have brought to the forefront a new generation of protesters that grew up in an independent Ukraine and have few – if any – memories of the Soviet Union. They see themselves as Europeans, they are disillusioned with politics-as-usual, and they feel increasingly at odds with establishment opposition figures.”

Here, the story gets interesting. These young people may function – ‘objectively speaking’, to use some old-fashioned jargon – as a stage army for the opposition. But they don ‘t see themselves that way, and there is no guarantee that they will behave that way. People assembled in mass protests day after day – for whatever reason – tend to gain in self-confidence, may start to develop ideas of their own, and may get into the habit of acting upon them.. And there is tension between these kind of protesters and the more traditional political opposition. “So far, most of the opposition leaders have refused to heed students’ requests to get rid of party symbols.” One side demands, another side does not comply. This is a recipe for people taking a direction that opposition politicians do not like.

As we already saw, there are not one, but two centres of assembly, one for the traditional parties, one for the younger, Occupy-style protesters. On the latter, we read interesting things: “Coordinating committees have been set up, with volunteers distributing blankets, food, and warm clothes donated by supporters. In Kyiv, the coordinating committee also organizes private accomodation for demonstrators travelling from other cities.” This is in no sense an anti-capitalist movement, and I have not seen any signs of workers in action for demands of their own. Yes, there have been a calls for a general strike. But one such call was put forward by “the regional authorities” in and around Lviv, according to Shaun Walker in the the Guardian on 1 December. Now, Lviv is a city in the West of the country where the opposition is strong. So this is probably a call by the party political opposition. This means that the action may be general, but not an workers’ strike in an serious sense. So, no, no independent workers’ role to be seen. But there is that odd bit of horizontal practice, that do-it-yourself-attitude, that characterizes radical movements, combined with the most un-radical political ideas. It is a weird mixture. But clearly, the domination of pro-business, pro-EU right wing politicians is not at all complete.

Of course, the pro-European attitude of even the Occupy-style activists is weird and misplaced. The EU is not the paradise of liberty and modernity that demonstrators may believe it to be. Roma persecuted in France and elsewhere, refugees detained and deported or being left to drown in the Mediterranean, anti-austerity protestors and antifascists being beaten back by riot police in city after city… all these people could tell a story or two of liberty, EU style. If Ukraine ever becomes an EY country, it will not look like Germany. It may look like Spain, or Greece.. Or like Slovenia, where there has been a strong movement against austerity already. ‘Europe’, for the Ukraine protesters, functions as a kind of myth, just like the Soviet Union functioned as a myth for too many radicals in the Nineteen Thirties, just like Cuba and China functioned as myths in the Sixties and Nicaragua in the Eighties. We should expose the lies behind the myth; but we should also be able to notice what is behind the attraction of the myth: a desire for freedom, a rejection of politics-Yanukovych-style. The desire and the rejection itself are fully justified; but the political expression in a pro-EU-direction is reactionary.

In my next post, I will ask the same kinds of questions about Thailand.

The Cutting Edge

Filed under: Academia,humor — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

The Cutting Edge is a satirical novel written by George Snedeker who uses the pen name of David Lansky. He can be reached by email at george.snedeker@verizon.net Here is some information about his novel:

 ‘The Cutting Edge’ is a depiction of the situation of public higher education in the early 21st Century United States

 The College where Sociology Professor Fred Snyder taught until his untimely death at the hands of an emotionally disturbed student is called Old Windsor and is located on Long Island. Snyder taught sociology for over 20 years, and he was loved by students who had the opportunity to study with him. There is even a memorial scholarship in his name for students who have shown a commitment to the cause of social justice.

“The Cutting Edge” a satirical novel in two parts written by author David Lansky presents a clear-sighted critique of the current state of academia. The first manuscript in the novel is set in a SUNY campus, diary entries that may or may not have been written by a student named Jenny Delight and   a second manuscript that presents the memoir of the childhood of Fred Snyder whose tragic death made national news headlines. No one is quite sure who Jenny is. It is an obvious pseudonym since no student by this name has ever attended Old Windsor. Jenny’s diary entries are hilarious, laced with social and personal insight as she tries to understand the world around her, often using categories she is learning, sometimes the most abstract categories available, and she infuses them with vivid meaning.

The second section of the novel, Bill of Sale, is the posthumously-discovered manuscript of Sociology Professor Fred Snyder. It is a harrowing account of very vulnerable people who are critical of their society. It is a section revealing, with extraordinary power, the ruthlessness of contemporary capitalism and its relentless destructive force.

A satirical novel that presents a depiction of life in the United States with a good dose of humor, it depicts the situation of public higher education in the early 21st Century United States. “The Cutting Edge” displays powerful imagination, rollicking humor, profound insight and deep political commitment that readers will surely appreciate.

For more information on this book, interested parties may log on to www.Xlibris.com.


The Cutting Edge  by David Lansky

Publication Date: November 25, 2013

Trade Paperback; $19.99; 200 pages; 978-1-4931-2127-4

e-book; $3.99; 978-1-4931-2128-1

To request a complimentary paperback review copy, contact the publisher at (888) 795-4274 x. 7879.  To purchase copies of the book for resale, please fax Xlibris at (812) 355-4079 or call (888) 795-4274 x. 7879.


For more information, contact Xlibris at (888) 795-4274 or on the web at http://www.Xlibris.com.


The Cutting Edge can also be purchased at Amazon and most other online book stores.




By Jenny Delight

  What follows here are a series of essays I wrote while attending the SUNY/College at Old Windsor from 2006-10. They are an attempt to report on some of the most important events that took place at Old Windsor while I was a student there. I also discuss some of the major issues that came before the Student Life Committee while I served on it as a student representative. I try to shed some light on my own development as a student and responsible member of society.

I tell my story along with the stories of several of my closest friends with the humor they merit. I’ve incorporated some of my friends and professors into the story of college life. There are also several members of my extended family who find their way into this story. I’ve changed people’s names to avoid lawsuits and to protect the innocent. Some of the details in my story have also been altered so people won’t be pissed off at me should this book fall into their hands. I’ve undertaken this task of reporting with both a sense of humor and the kind of seriousness it deserves. I’m not a professional writer, but I think the quality of my writing improved while I was a student at Old Windsor, largely due to the help of my professors and the tutors at the Writing Center.

I’ve also attempted to report on some of the members of the Old Windsor administration as they influenced the lives of us students, especially in the judicial hearings that students are subject to when they get into trouble for violating any of the rules and regulations of the college. I hope I’ve not been unfair to anyone in these pages.



December 25, 2013

Christy Moore sings “The Magdalene Laundries”

Filed under: Ireland,religion — louisproyect @ 11:23 pm

John Ford and the origins of the Hollywood Western

Filed under: Film,indigenous — louisproyect @ 9:14 pm

John Ford

From Glenn Frankel’s “The Searchers: the Making of an American Legend”:

As John Ford liked to point out, movies and Westerns grew up together, a natural marriage of medium and genre. The first moving picture in the United States was a series of still photographs in 1878 of a horse racing down a track south of San Francisco on the grounds of what became Stanford University, stitched together by Eadweard Muybridge to prove that horses did indeed gallop with all four feet off the ground. From that time on, horses and pictures seemed to go together, as Ford himself once noted: “A running horse remains one of the finest subjects for a movie camera.”

The official end of the American Frontier, solemnly announced like a death in the family in 1890 by the Office of the Census, virtually coincided with the birth of motion pictures. Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis—that the West had provided a safety valve that had defused social tensions and class conflict during the American nation’s adolescence—became a template for the Western film, which was from its beginnings a form of elegy for a time and place that had already vanished.

After The Great Train Robbery in 1903, the genre slowly took shape over the course of a decade, overlapping with genuine remnants of the past. Ford himself befriended the legendary lawman and gunslinger Wyatt Earp, who spent his final years loitering around Hollywood film sets. Buffalo Bill Cody, Frank James, the surviving Younger brothers, the former Comanche captive Herman Lehmann—all appeared in various cinematic accounts of their life and times, adding a dab of color, showmanship, and faux authenticity.

The first moving pictures of Indians were likely made by Thomas Edison in 1894 for a small kinetoscope called Sioux Ghost Dance, an immediate hit on the penny arcade circuit. The early films were makeshift and improvisatory. They used real locations and real Indians. One of the first was a short called The Bank Robbery, filmed in 1908 in Cache, Oklahoma, in the heart of the former Comanche reservation by the Oklahoma Mutoscope Company. One of its stars was the former Comanche warrior turned peace chief, Quanah Parker. After outlaws rob the bank at Cache, Quanah rides with the posse that tracks them to their hideout in the Wichita Mountains. Quanah is involved in a shootout in which all of the robbers are either gunned down or captured. The money is restored to the bank and the outlaws are hauled off to jail. Despite his Comanche ethnicity, Quanah Parker is undifferentiated from the rest of the volunteer lawmen—just a good citizen doing his duty.

But that notion of the Indian as ordinary community member was quickly supplanted. As the Western film and its storytelling evolved, it quickly adopted a fixed set of ideas and images about Native Americans from nineteenth-century literature, theater, and legend. There were two dominant stereotypes. The first was the Noble Savage: the Indian who appreciated the benefits of the white man’s civilization, wished to live in peace, and was often more heroic and moral than the craven whites he had to contend with. This was the role Quanah Parker had sought to play after his surrender in 1875, both to protect his people and to enhance his own stature.

In Hollywood’s first full-length feature film—Cecil B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man, made in 1914—an English nobleman journeys to the American West to create a new life for himself after taking the rap back home for a crime he didn’t commit. He falls in love with a beautiful Ute maiden who kills an evil rancher to save the nobleman’s life. They marry and have a child, but when a determined sheriff comes to arrest her for the killing six years later, the doomed maiden kills herself to protect her family and prevent an Indian war. The Squaw Man, which was remade several times over the next few decades, presents two enduring social lessons: consensual sex across racial lines is almost always fatal to the Indian participant; and the Noble Savage is far too noble to survive in the modern world ruled by whites.

Over time this stock figure was pushed aside by a frightening and dramatically more potent stereotype: the treacherous, untamable, sexually voracious Cruel Barbarian, abductor and murderer of white women and children, and obstacle to civilization. This Indian was a much better fit for the needs and imperatives of feature-length films. And just as Indian characters helped shape movies, so did movies help shape our modern image of the Indian. The old myths about Indians from frontier days were readily transferred to the new medium of film, writes Wilcomb E. Washburn, a cultural historian with the Smithsonian Insti-tution, “because the characteristics that define American Indians are all dramatically conveyed by film. In violent, exotic and dramatic terms—savage, cruel, with special identity, villain, hero, worthy foe. Objects of fantasy and fable.”

One of the first films of D. W. Griffith, founding father of American cinema, was The Battle at Elderbush Gulch (1913), a twenty-nine minute short starring Mae Marsh and Lillian Gish, in which a band of drunken Indians launch a war against white settlers after a misunderstanding leads to the death of an Indian prince. The Indians kill a white woman and murder an infant by crushing its skull. Marsh’s character saves an-other white baby by racing onto a battlefield to take the infant from the arms of a dead settler and crawling back to safety. The Indians then be-siege a small cabin of settlers and the end seems near; one man aims a gun at the head of Gish’s character to spare her the classic Fate Worse than Death of rape by savages. But the cavalry arrives in a nick of time to save the small band of settlers, mother, baby, waifs, and puppy dogs.

Almost from the moment he got off the train at Union Station in Los Angeles in 1914, the young John Ford worked in Westerns, first as a stuntman, cameraman, and actor. Tornado (1917), the first film he directed, was a Western, and he once estimated that perhaps one-fourth of his total output of movies were in the same genre. He groomed and cultivated Western film stars like Harry Carey, George O’Brien, Henry Fonda, and, of course, the greatest of them all, John Wayne. His entourage included wranglers, stuntmen, and Native Americans, and he eventually came upon Monument Valley, a remote and breathtakingly beautiful corner of Utah and Arizona, and used it as the setting for a half dozen of his finest films. His greatest silent movie, The Iron Horse (1924), was an epic Western, as was Stagecoach (1939), the film that revitalized the genre artistically and commercially after a decade of stagnation and helped make a star of Wayne. These films were rip-roaring adventure stories, with good guys and bad guys, Indian attacks and gunplay. But they were also fables about how America became great.

“A director can put his whole heart and soul into a picture with a great theme, for example, like the winning of the West,” he told one newspaper interviewer at the height of his silent-film career in 1925, and you can hear the enthusiasm spilling out from the page. Movies like The Iron Horse, he proclaimed, “display something besides entertainment; something which may be characterized as spirit, something ranking just a little bit higher than amusement.” The heights that film creators can achieve, he added, “are governed only by their own limitations.”


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