Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 10, 2017

The six degrees of separation between WBAI and Craig Carton

Filed under: radio,sports — louisproyect @ 7:58 pm

Craig Carton under arrest by FBI agents

When I found out on Thursday that Craig Carton, a shock jock who co-hosts a morning show on WFAN with Boomer Esiason, had been arrested for running a Ponzi scheme, that was a bigger shock than I ever got from any words coming out of his mouth. Boomer and Carton had been on the air since September 4th, 2007 when they replaced Don Imus, another shock jock. Imus’s show was focused on politics rather than sports but sprinkled with the kind of racist and pro-cop palaver that Boomer and Carton specialized in. Of course, it is never naked racism but typically bad-mouthing Colin Kaepernick or complaining about Black Lives Matter.

WFAN knew what they were getting when they hired Carton.Wiki reports that when he was a DJ in New Jersey, he and his co-host Ray Rossi allegedly made numerous hostile and racist remarks directed towards then Edison mayoral candidate, Jun Choi, as well as the Korean, Chinese and Indian populations of the Edison area. And just before coming to WFAN, he was confronted by a Polish Holocaust survivor Paweł Zenon Woś, for propagating anti-Polish stereotypes.

The time-spot opened up for Boomer and Carton because Don Imus had been fired for referring to the Rutgers woman’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s”. His stooge Bernard McGuirk, an ex-Marine and passionate Trump supporter, chimed in, referring to them and an opposing team as “”jigaboos versus the wannabes”.

So, you might ask why I ever bothered to listen to Imus, Boomer and Carton or Howard Stern who pandered to the same backward white male audience. As it happens, my wife and I enjoy listening to shock jocks in the morning. 90 percent of it is innocent chatter about politics, sports or bowel movements but the 10 percent that is intolerable usually motivates me to turn to CNN. My preference would be for WBAI but the station lost its entertainment value about 20 years ago.

Ironically, it was WBAI that provided one of the inspirations for Howard Stern, who was arguably the father of shock jock radio. He is reported to have listened to Bob Fass religiously as a teenager. Fass and fellow Pacifica talk show host Larry Josephson were the first to begin exploring their psyches on the radio in a free association manner as if they were on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Stern was also a big Bob Grant fan. Grant, who died in 2013, was one of the first rightwing zealots on the radio. He likened Mayor Dinkins to a washroom attendant and was finally fired from WABC, the fountainhead of rightwing talk radio, for telling listeners that he hoped that Ron Brown, the African-American Commerce Secretary in the Clinton administration, wouldn’t have been a survivor in a plane crash. (He wasn’t.)

On a good day, Boomer and Carton can be very entertaining especially when they are interviewing sports figures. Like Howard Stern, Carton is an excellent interviewer not afraid to ask what might seem to be tactless question. Here’s an example of Carton at his most likeable.

Seinfeld, who is a big-time sports fan like me, was honing in on Carton’s problem—an inability to accept the responsibilities of fatherhood. If you listen to his anecdotes on the show about going to Las Vegas or having bromance type dinners with sports celebrities, you get little sense that he is the father of four children.

Apparently, Carton loved going to Las Vegas because he had a gambling addiction. He had racked up $2 million in gambling debts and was desperate to find a solution. Like Bernie Madoff, he ran a Ponzi scheme but one based on the resale of concert tickets for A-list performers like Beyonce. He and his two partners told a hedge fund in NYC that they had access to huge blocks of tickets for such concerts direct from the promoters that could be resold online for a huge profit. Typically what happens is something like this. A ticket to a Beyonce concert might cost $100 but on the secondary market it can go up to a $1000. Carton never had such tickets and conned the hedge fund guys into fronting him millions of dollars that he used to pay off his debts.

They say that he faces up to 45 years for breaking various laws. As tempting as it would be to feel schadenfreude for Carton, I felt nothing but sadness. He has four young children who will likely be damaged by his absence both materially and psychologically. If you’ve seen the excellent biopic of Bernie Madoff on HBO that starred Robert DeNiro in one of his best performances in years, you’ll realize how much of a tragedy it was for him and his family. (One son hung himself in shame and likely fear that he too would be arrested eventually.)

A little bit of this has a personal resonance. One of my closest friends growing up had a gambling addiction just like Carton. I used to go with him to the Monticello Raceway where he would bet hundreds of dollars on harness races. He worked as a waiter in his father’s hotel and blew away all his money every summer. On occasion I’d have to loan him money just to pay his tuition in a local community college.

Last September Scientific American published an article titled “How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling” that identifies gambling as an addiction rather than a compulsion.

Research to date shows that pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. Just as substance addicts require increasingly strong hits to get high, compulsive gamblers pursue ever riskier ventures. Likewise, both drug addicts and problem gamblers endure symptoms of withdrawal when separated from the chemical or thrill they desire. And a few studies suggest that some people are especially vulnerable to both drug addiction and compulsive gambling because their reward circuitry is inherently underactive—which may partially explain why they seek big thrills in the first place.

Even more compelling, neuroscientists have learned that drugs and gambling alter many of the same brain circuits in similar ways. These insights come from studies of blood flow and electrical activity in people’s brains as they complete various tasks on computers that either mimic casino games or test their impulse control. In some experiments, virtual cards selected from different decks earn or lose a player money; other tasks challenge someone to respond quickly to certain images that flash on a screen but not to react to others.

A 2005 German study using such a card game suggests problem gamblers—like drug addicts—have lost sensitivity to their high: when winning, subjects had lower than typical electrical activity in a key region of the brain’s reward system. In a 2003 study at Yale University and a 2012 study at the University of Amsterdam, pathological gamblers taking tests that measured their impulsivity had unusually low levels of electrical activity in prefrontal brain regions that help people assess risks and suppress instincts. Drug addicts also often have a listless prefrontal cortex.

Further evidence that gambling and drugs change the brain in similar ways surfaced in an unexpected group of people: those with the neurodegenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease. Characterized by muscle stiffness and tremors, Parkinson’s is caused by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in a section of the midbrain. Over the decades researchers noticed that a remarkably high number of Parkinson’s patients—between 2 and 7 percent—are compulsive gamblers. Treatment for one disorder most likely contributes to another. To ease symptoms of Parkinson’s, some patients take levodopa and other drugs that increase dopamine levels. Researchers think that in some cases the resulting chemical influx modifies the brain in a way that makes risks and rewards—say, those in a game of poker—more appealing and rash decisions more difficult to resist.

Speaking only for myself, gambling couldn’t be less interesting. When I was at the race track with my friend, I’d bring along a book to read. I won’t even spend a dollar on a lottery ticket. Drugs are even less tempting, except if you consider alcohol a drug. After reading Marxist literature all day, nothing relaxes me more than glass of Famous Grouse, the scotch that most Scottish people prefer.

I suppose the only bet I took in life was revolutionary socialism. In some ways, that makes me a total loser. But I had fun doing it most of the time.


  1. “nothing relaxes me more than glass of Famous Grouse” – this doesn’t exactly scream Revolutionary socialist.

    Why are you sitting around on your butt all day with your nose in a book, and hitting the bottle afterwards? You expecting the Revolution to happen all by itself?

    Comment by recovering Leftist — September 11, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

  2. Did I forget to mention that I am conducting a class on V. 1 of Capital to MTA workers?

    Comment by louisproyect — September 11, 2017 @ 10:53 pm

  3. Did you ever meet Jeff Goldstein of the old Workers League? Chess grand master, dropped out of MIT PhD program in math (I think it was MIT), didn’t brush his teeth much when I knew him, became a big time handicapper in Vegas, died early of cirrhosis and associated ailments…

    Comment by Anthony Boynton — September 11, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

  4. Yes, I think I remember him. A wiry guy with horn-rimmed glasses who used to “intervene” at Militant Labor Forums in NYC back in 1967. Does that sound right?

    Comment by louisproyect — September 12, 2017 @ 1:54 am

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