Friday, October 17, 2014

One Step Forward, One Step Back

"Gone Girl” David Fincher (2014) and “High Hopes” Mike Leigh (1988)

One of these movies is American and one is not.  One is recent and one is not.  One is basically reactionary and one is not. 

Mike Leigh is the great British filmmaker who makes movies about the working-class – precisely workers who are not always morons or thugs.  Name an American director that does this?  Can’t?  Because there is none.  He works with a recurring group of actors, similar to Robert Altman.  Leigh’s whole ‘oeuvre’ is worth a look.  The later his films, the less stereotypes you run into, and the more powerful they become.  They all handle class and politics in a personal, humanistic way.  Leigh has just come out with a new film, “Mr. Turner,” which is unusual for him, as it is, his quote, about the ‘radical, revolutionary painter’ JMW Turner, a British impressionist.  His last film, “Another Year,’ explores class on a deeply personal basis, and is a great film. 

HIGH HOPES

“High Hopes,’ was made during the Thatcher regime in England and features two working-class lefties of sorts, Cyril and Shirley.  The whole film contrasts two classes – the Thatcher middle class feeling its oats and the hammered working-class still trying to live decently.  Cyril is a motorcycle messenger and Shirley works on a gardening crew of some kind.  They are in love. The central character in the film is Cyril’s elderly mother, who is depressed, lonely and becoming forgetful.  She was nearly always a housewife.  Cyril is class-conscious to the bone and resents his superficial, social-climbing sister and her sexist, money-grubbing husband.  The sister treats Mum cruelly, while Cyril and Shirley try to defend her.  Living next door to Mum is a yuppie couple who have bought the council row-house and turned it into a chic apartment.  Painfully at one point, Mum must hang out in the “Boothe-Braines” house after forgetting her purse and keys in her own house.  Given their outrageously bourgeois accents and manners, the Boothe-Braines should really be located in a mansion in the country-side, not some former council flat.  They seem to be obvious caricatures – but who knows, perhaps creepy people like this actually exist.

Mike Leigh said this film was about the difficulty of being a socialist.  At one point Cyril and Shirley take the Honda up to Highgate Cemetery to visit the old man’s grave, Karl Marx.  Cyril doesn’t want to have kids because the world is so screwed up.  Shirley does.  He says that all he wants is that everyone has enough to eat.  Shirley tells him that is not going to happen.  They allow various wayward and homeless people to sleep in their tiny side room.  One, a naïve kid from the countryside who knows nothing; one a friend who believes in social revolution but cannot find a job and seems to have drug or emotional troubles.  At the end of the film, it seems Cyril might agree to have a kid anyway.  Mum perks up with them after a disastrous birthday party at the sister’s ‘detached’ house.  They take her up to the roof of the building to look over the King’s Cross neighbourhood in London, and she says, “We’re on top of the world.”  There is always a bit of a human silver lining in every Leigh film, as his characters never give up.

GONE GIRL

You might be scratching your head wondering why this film has been lauded by many mainstream critics.  Salon concentrated on the shower scene and Ben Affleck’s ‘junk’ (which was invisible in the film we saw in Georgia – the censored south?).  This is all typical myopic aesthetic film criticism.  The real story of this film is its misogyny.  In a world were rape, murder and sexual assault against women is broad-based in the U.S. and many other countries, here is a movie saying it’s all a frame-up by a really clever, ‘crazy’ woman.  Shades of ‘Fatal Attraction.’  The poor man married the wrong privileged New Yorker!  The subtext is that marriage can be a really, really bad jail. 

This film is based on a book by a female writer, Gillian Flynn.  The film is so full of arbitrary screen-writer suppositions that it comes across, not as a real story, but as a nightmare.  Like the horror film where you are supposed to make bad decisions like hanging around by the chain saws, as the advert goes.  Why would the woman plan to kill herself?  Why would Affleck decide to stay with her because she is pregnant?  Why would the Feds ignore a sliced-up body in a fancy hidden home?  Why wouldn’t the local police continue their own investigation, or at least feed facts to the Feds?  Why is she crazy?  Why would she want to stay with this Missouri doofus anyway?  They have nothing in common really.  How are they living in this giant suburban house if they were broke?  All of it is artificial pretence.

The best part of the film is the negative depiction of the cable news business and moralist scolds like Nancy Grace who trade in rumours, hysteria and personalities.  Of course, this is all in the interest, eventually, of the ‘happy’ couple, their coming child and the enduring wonders of marriage.  Flynn, a Missourian with college professors as parents, has written prior mystery books that contain negative descriptions of women, according to Wikipedia.  Fincher directed mainstream films like “Alien 3,”“Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” and “The Social Network” – Hollywood films with no social conscience.   They are a really good couple.  That is the real marriage – of misogyny and Hollywood.

(Commentary “Rape – Really?” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

Red Frog
October 17, 2014

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Military Coup

"They Killed Our President – 63 Reasons To Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK,” by Jesse Ventura, with Dick Russell and David Wayne, 2014

Ventura, the former independent governor of Minnesota, has moved to the left over the years.  While running, he took no PAC money.  While in office he never met a lobbyist.  He supported a libertarian perspective of legalizing drugs and prostitution, and proclaimed his atheism.  He was a breath of fresh air after the years of fully-corporate politicians, in spite of his economic limitations.

If you have never read a book about the issues surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy, or even if you are familiar with the many discrepancies in the official government white-wash ‘Warren Report,’ this book is still great reading. It is well organized, easy to read and does not drown you in minutiae.  It introduces more information that has come to light over the years from the many books published by analysts, witnesses and involved parties.   This includes recent books about LBJ's role and by Oswald’s girlfriend.  It’s all here and more – the magic bullet, the dead witnesses, the Zapruder film, the fake backyard Oswald photos, the Garrison investigation, the two Oswalds, disappearing records, the fabricated official autopsy, the ignored suspects on the grassy knoll, Oswald’s CIA employment, the last-minute route switch, the 'odd' unprotected presidential limousine, the impossible timing, the disappearing gun, the crappy Italian Carcano rifle and the silencing of the patsy by Jack Ruby. 

Ventura’s collection indicates that leading elements within the CIA, the FBI, the Mob, Texas oilmen, the Dallas Police, the Secret Service and military intelligence, and ultimately LBJ, figure prominently as being responsible for the assassination and the cover-up. Leftists like Noam Chomsky think there can never be a falling-out between an elected capitalist leader and the ‘deep state’ in the U.S.  In this case, the evidence shows it happened.  People like Chomsky seem to think there is a totally homogenous ruling class, which makes it a mystery of why there are two bourgeois parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.  All the evidence points to Kennedy being in direct opposition to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the leadership of the CIA and the FBI over issues like a test ban treaty with the USSR, over invading or bombing Cuba, the failure of the Bay of Pigs, over deepening the involvement in Vietnam, over civil rights.  At one point, he walked out of a meeting in disgust over a military plan, presented by Curtis LeMay, to initiate a first strike against the Soviet Union.  He said at that time, “They all want war.” In 1962, the Joint Chiefs put out a memo, recently declassified, that encouraged ‘shock incidents’ – fake attacks on U.S. soldiers, to form the pretext for an attack on Cuba.  Needless to say, Kennedy did not agree.  Reports indicate Kennedy had to work with Khrushchev to keep a lid on the war mongers in both camps.

At the same time, Kennedy’s brother was jailing the same Mobsters who helped Kennedy win in Illinois.   Kennedy was planning to get rid of the oil depletion allowance, which allowed oil companies to make billions.

The deep state continues no matter what political party is in power.  As Marx pointed out, the state is not neutral, but actually a guardian of the general property relations of the society.  In this case, it is a capitalist state, not something that can be 'turned,' taken over to 'do good,' or where one election or several can change its spots.  This is the social-democratic theory.

These were the motives, ones “Lee Harvey” Oswald never had.  The result, which is why the assassination is still relevant, is that it represented a sort of control coup by the security apparatus and the militarists in the deep-state government, which has lasted to this day.  These people are still in ultimate control, even under Obama.

During this period, the U.S. used assassination teams all over the world, and promoted local death squads.  The attempts on Castro were just part of their efforts.  Those teams and methods were then turned on the Kennedys, on Martin Luther King, on Malcolm X, on Walter Reuther, on the Black Panthers in the 1960s – anyone on the left or liberal-left who was threatening.  Now the methods are somewhat more sophisticated – usually taking down an airplane with an electrical pulse weapon, as was done to Senator Paul Wellstone. 

Detailed by Ventura is the subservient role of nearly all establishment media in supporting the CIA/Government line on the assassination, which continues to this day.  Journalists were not just supportive, they were recruited by the CIA in nearly every major media institution.  The NYT, CBS and Time Inc. were especially close.  For instance, Dan Rather initially lied about what he saw on the Zapruder film.  Tom Brokaw did a hostile interview with Marina Oswald.  In 2013 Charlie Rose scotched a program taped with Robert Kennedy Jr. about the falseness of the Warren Report. The only journalist who did not cooperate, Dorothy Kilgallen, who got a private interview with Ruby in jail, was found dead right before publishing the story.

Most significant of all was the publication by Life magazine of a fake photo of Oswald holding a rifle, with a copy of the Militant and the Worker in his hands.  To anyone on the left who looks at this, it is so obviously a set-up that it is almost laughable.  It is not just the grafted head on the odd leaning body, or the photo disparities, obvious to experts.   

Neither the Socialist Workers Party, who published the Militant, nor the Communist Party, who published the Worker, proclaimed ‘violent’ revolution, and did not carry guns around.  The SWP was inspired by Trotsky and the CP was inspired by bureaucrats like Stalin.  The plot was to blame the assassination on Castro, in order to allow bombing or another invasion. Claiming to be a 'Marxist', then posing for a picture holding a rifle with these two papers was suspect.  It is a pathetically obvious attempt to weld these disparate images together in the eyes of the viewer.  The picture was published by Henry Luce’s Life Magazine.  Luce was a close right-wing  ally of the CIA.

Ventura collects the names of those people seen on the grassy knoll – all mobsters or intelligence people.  J Edgar Hoover announced the name of the shooter within 24 hours without any evidence.  Ventura has great fun with the idea that Oswald, who had ostensibly just shot the president, and then supposedly just shot Officer Tippet, would go into a movie theater to relax. Or that 10 police cars would converge on that same theater over a .60 cent unpaid admission.  General Ed Landsdale, special ops in the military, who worked with the CIA, was identified in Dealey Plaza that day.  He might have been the command and control person responsible for the whole operation.   The Zapruder film was run through a CIA photo lab before being sent to the government.  Many of the people involved in the assassination stayed at the Cabana Motor Hotel, including Ruby.  Thousands of documents are still marked ‘top secret’ and have not been released to the public, 50 years later.  What are they afraid of?

CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, on his deathbed, wrote down the chain of command for the assassination as he understood it:  LBJ, Cord Meyer/Mayer (CIA), David Morales (CIA), Bill Harvey (CIA), French Mafia Gunman from Corsica.

As Richard Nixon said of the Warren Report, “It was the greatest hoax ever to be perpetuated.”  The hoax continues.

Conspiracies

The main ‘argument’ the bourgeois press uses any time someone talks about Kennedy or King or any other conspiracy or possible conspiracy like 9/11 or ‘false flag’ operations – is they call them a ‘conspiracy nut.’  Perhaps you can be a ‘non-conspiracy nut’ too?  Ventura makes the point that believing the official story is actually more nutty than otherwise.  So let’s look at this philosophically.  Is it logically possible that things are done in secret or behind our backs?  Obviously this is true, unless you are completely naïve.  Is it always true that there is a conspiracy anytime something is not to our liking?  That also cannot be true.  Everything cannot be a conspiracy.  Are there no accidents?  Are there not other historical actors? Is everything the government says untrue?  In other words, what distinguishes the two approaches? Not the term 'conspiracy' but facts.  Not just questions, or ‘who benefits,’ but facts.  The extreme right-wing right now alleges everything is a conspiracy.  Some leftists also think everything is a conspiracy. 

It has certainly been historically true that governments regularly conspire fake outrages to justify military action.  The plan for Cuba by the U.S. military was just that.  We have the Reichstag fire, the Tonkin Gulf incident, 9/11 used as an excuse to invade Iraq, and so on.  It was uncovered by Seymour Hirsch that the ‘red line’ gas attack in Syria a year ago alleged by the U.S. government and Britain against Assad were in fact done by someone else.  This was to be the excuse to bomb Syria.  Recently the shadowy al Qaeda-allied “Khorasan Group” in Syria was supposedly operational against U.S. targets, another reason to bomb Syria and Iraq.  This gambit succeeded.  As exposed by Glenn Greenwald, this group turned out not to be operational at all. 

In the assassinations of the ‘60s there is much evidence to show that these were planned by a U.S. government/state under global attack from the left.  The killing of Kennedy was just one of many, in the U.S. and across the globe.

Prior books on this subject: “American Assassination – the Strange Death of Paul Wellstone,” “Secret History of the American Empire,” and “Orders to Kill” on the MLK assassination.  The first two are reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, October 11, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Decade Zero

"This Changes Everything –Capitalism vs. the Climate,” by Naomi Klein, 2014

Bill McKibben’s 350.org wants a big march.  Chris Hedges wants ‘civil disobedience’ at Wall Street, evidently based on pleading for them to divest from carbon.  The Big Green organizations have worked for years with corporations to reduce carbon emissions and it hasn’t worked.   Al Gore still thinks that a carbon tax will work.  Pipe-dreamer Paul Krugman opines that technological conversion will make a green economy painless and easy.  Ban Ki-Moon is just upset that almost 30 years of UN resolutions have done almost nothing - and proposes another.  U.S. Government wind credits expired this year, leading to a 92% drop in private-sector funding according to Bloomberg. Obama is still going ‘voluntary’ with an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.  Obama figures he can strike deals with the Republicans – and also with Mother Nature. 

What is wrong with this picture? 

We have a world-historic crisis on our hands – probably bigger than any issue that has come along.  Naomi Klein has an urgent hint.  It’s not going to change unless the underlying economic system substantially changes.  Klein does not call for socialism, like all careful and frightened social-democrats.  But emboldened first by Occupy, then Piketty, Klein has decided to put the tail on the right donkey – capitalism.    Not just disaster capitalism – capitalism.

This book is probably the most comprehensive attack on capitalist environmentalism from the soft left.  It attempts to be sweeping and tries not to pull any punches – but of course it does.  Eco-Marxists and left-anarchists have been saying even more radical things like this for years, but now the dialog is creeping into the lefty mainstream.  Klein is a good writer and avoids the jargon or theory that some find difficult.  Although anything ‘without a theory’ actually has one buried within it, and this includes Klein. The book is packed with information and statistics, and her own personal struggle to have a child, all served in context.  Her personal experience as a woman let her see that the damage to living things from carbon starts in the processes of birth.  For instance, many of the aquatic species in the Gulf are now having trouble reproducing because of the BP oil disaster.  This issue is normally ignored by government statistics. 

URGENCY

Carbon in the atmosphere is now poking over 400 ppm.  Only in 2009 did carbon content in the atmosphere go down due to the world recession.  2013 was a record year for increases once again in nearly every industrial country.   As of 9/2014 the level was 397.01. To actually burn all the carbon in the ground – in the form of oil, gas or coal – will heat the planet far beyond the limits of the atmosphere.  But that is the plan of the extractive industries.  These facts are lining up against both Republican deniers and Democratic wafflers, but facts don’t matter in a society based on money. Time is short – Klein puts ‘year zero’ for stopping a 2 C increase in temperature at year 2017.  Only 3 years away.  After that the climate will be heating up more and more quickly. 

Shock doctrine capitalists are preparing for climate change – insurance, construction, finance and security companies are all salivating at the chance to cash in.  The Republican climate deniers around the Heartland Institute are busy protecting their oil/gas/coal and auto sugar-daddies no matter what.  Klein, unlike a recent statement by Krugman, points out that the Republicans are right about what dealing with climate change will bring.  And it is not ‘smaller government’ or an unplanned economy or more ‘free’ trade for every capitalist entity.  For her, it will require exactly the reverse. 

Klein illustrates how WTO rules directly oppose efforts by countries, cities or localities to fight climate change, by calling anything with ‘local content’ an affront to free trade.  In the WTO this kind of lawsuit is not rare, as every country regularly sues every other country over any kind of ‘restriction of trade’ – essentially overturning local democracy.  In one result, the high-quality Silfab solar panel factory in Ontario will be shut down by a WTO lawsuit due to their local labor/local content rules.  ‘Free’ trade is driving climate change through long-range transport while downsizing wages and environmental standards in poorer countries.  In 2002-2008, 48% of China’s carbon was coming from production for foreign markets, for instance.

She even points out that the dissolution of the USSR and other allied states in the early 1990s opened the door to the triumph of neo-liberalism's mass privatization and runaway marketization.  The USSR and other countries were poor in their handling of the environment, but they never had the internal profit logic of capitalism that drives exploitation of all resources completely.

FAKE GREENS

What she especially focuses on is the collusion of the ‘Big Green” groups with carbon emitters.  The National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund and even Pope's Sierra Club have helped delay action for 36 years since 1988, when James Hansen gave his famous warning about climate change due to a warming atmosphere.  They have sold the ‘go slow,’ ‘work with the capitalists’ mantra, which now creates a ‘procrastination’ penalty or worse – the same one we will pay for Ebola.  These corporate ‘green’ astro-turf organizations, like the crusader Al Gore, stood on a pedestal with Clinton when NAFTA was signed with its bogus ‘environmental’ side agreement.  As we can see, an agreement that did nothing to rein in carbon.   Following NAFTA, WTO rules now forbid environmental concerns from impeding trade.  Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership only follows suit.  Roasting these people in print is worth the price of the book.  One outfit – the Nature Conservancy - actually drilled an oil well in a Texas bird refuge they were ostensibly protecting.  Needless to say, the birds are dead. 

Klein follows that with a massive take-down of the hipster capitalist Richard Branson and his PR plan to donate “$3 billion” to fight climate change, specifically alternative fuels, a plan that has come nowhere near realization.   Instead Branson has launched 160 more airplanes into the air. She also hits billionaire ‘environmentalists’ like Bill Gates, T Boone Pickens, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett as climate frauds.  An in-depth chapter on geo-engineering exposes it as a dangerous, untestable plot that would make drought and starvation worse in many poor countries, using the record of prior volcanic eruptions as proof, a la the “Pinatubo effect.”    She carefully delineates how supporting gas and oil fracking as ‘bridge fuels’ actually takes support away from renewables, involves increasing carbon production due to methane releases, creates earthquakes, pollutes water and involves building a massive long-term infrastructure to support this ‘temporary’ bridge.  There is no time for something like this.

Klein also points out that the corporate media have ignored the story for years.  In 2007 the major networks ran 147 stories on climate change.  In 2011, just 14. 

TIME FOR ANOTHER STRATEGY

What to do?  Klein spends a lot of time on what she calls ‘Blockadia.’  These are direct actions occurring around the globe to stop coal plants, strip mining, shale oil transfers and mountain-top removal.  She covers actions that are occurring or have occurred in Romania, Greece, Nigeria, India, China, the U.K., France, the U.S. and Canada, mostly in rural areas or small towns, among many forgotten native peoples.  Governments respond with violence, police actions, media propaganda, lies and lawsuits.  Drawing the line at the Keystone XL pipeline has brought together many unlikely allies in the U.S.  She clearly points out that the issue, even prior to the carbon output, becomes ‘oil/gas versus clean water.’  On the backside of the peak oil curve, more dangerous extraction methods – deep sea extraction, tar sands, fracked oil/gas – indicate you cannot have both oil and clean water.

She lauds these Blockadia actions in two chapters, then says they are insufficient.  She highlights the leading role of native peoples across the globe, as in Ecuador and Nigeria.   Activists in the U.S. and Canada have found First Nation’s laws can be used to stop shale oil mining or fracking there.  In her telling, indigenous people are leading the way, but cannot do it alone, especially without an alternative to the lucrative promises of the energy companies.

Klein clearly shows that this struggle is not just about the environment, but involves increasing democracy and fighting poverty as an integral part of the process.  The support of the Canadian government for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline carrying tar-oil to the west coast of Canada in the face of overwhelming opposition from the population of British Columbia and even Canada shows this is an elite project, rammed through by government fiat.  The Ecuadorian plan to be paid to keep oil in the jungle and Amazon basin requires an equitable transfer from the wealthy North to the poorer “South.”  Klein envisions the struggle against carbon to bring in a new vision of world society – less poor and more democratic. 

Her social-democratic strategy in many countries is direct action and lawsuits.    She praises the renewable energy efforts of Denmark and Germany, who have achieved 40% and 25% energy production respectively due to renewable methods, then says their approach is not sufficient, as coal use in Germany is going up.  She sides with local activity as being key, but then nods to the need for national plans too.  She supports the movement to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in renewables, but only calls this an early action in the movement.  While claiming that a pure technical fix is not possible, she repeatedly cites studies that show that solar, wind and water can produce 100% of present energy needs by 2030.  She even mentions the need for a ‘revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony,’ but does not tell us what that mean, so it comes off as a mere verbalism.  Contradictions abound.

Klein identifies the 1970s as the period that we can focus on to return to a ‘steady-state’ economy.  I have previously pointed to around 1947, prior to the development of the car and suburban economies.  But then any date is arbitrary, as it will be proved in practice. 

THE THEORY

Klein’s hidden theory is ‘capitalism with a human face,’ no matter how much anti-capitalist rhetoric she employs. This leads to her method of ‘movementism’ without a clear method or goal, relying mostly on spontaneity.  She aims nearly all her fire at the coal/oil/gas/mineral companies – they are to be highly regulated and then slowly done away with in order to keep carbon in the ground.  However far more is involved in capitalism and climate change than these industries.   In the process she barely mentions automobile and transport issues, consumer and advertising entities, finance and Wall Street, big Agriculture - Food and Meat corporations, the chemical industry, builders and real estate conglomerates, the massive military establishment (which is the largest user of petrol in the world)  - almost the whole panoply of corporations in our culture.  Global warming pokes into every interstice of the capitalist economy, not just the extractivist side.  She does briefly discuss agro-ecology as the alternative to corporate mono-cropping, which creates between 19-29% of the carbon inputs, but stops there.

Klein ignores any approach to the political parties responsible for supporting these capitalist entities.  For a Canadian, she does not even mention the New Democratic Party, which opposes the Alberta tar sands, and makes only one mention of the Canadian Green Party, which was heavily involved in combating fracking in New Brunswick.  Constructing a political alternative is not on the map at all.  It all ends up being ‘pressure’ on the capitalist parties and the capitalist system, not replacing them.  She is inspired by the struggle against slavery, but the reality of the Civil War brings her up short. The actual social revolutions of the 20th Century are invisible to her.  In short, this is a valuable text focusing especially on carbon emitters, and stands out for its urgency.  But its solutions are partial and immediate and will not go far enough to stop this emergency.   

(“The Shock Doctrine,” also by Klein, reviewed below. Use blog search box, upper left.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
October 8, 2014

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Life Boat Earth?

"All is Lost,” directed by J.C. Chandor, starring Robert Redford, 2014

This film is about a guy dying on his boat.  Yet it is not.  A probably wealthy man in his late 60s, early 70s wakes up in the middle of the southern Pacific or Indian Ocean to find a hole in his sailing yacht.  We watch him attempt to fix every subsequent problem that comes up in creative or practical ways, yet nothing ultimately saves him.  Or maybe it does.

First of all, who is on this boat? Who can afford this, a 48-foot sailboat?  The retired trip of a lifetime evidently.  A weathered yet handsome (it’s Redford) American attempts to brave the ocean alone.  That is a helping of hubris.  He has faith in technology.  Even at age 70, he moves slowly, so more hubris.  He thinks – or perhaps he doesn’t -  that nature will cooperate.  He has enough money and skills to believe it so.

To me it is a parable of present society.  An aging society.  Which is why we never know his name, no back-story, hardly any dialog, a few parting words on a sheet of paper.  If you think this is just an individual survival story, I think you cook with a shallow baking pan.

The man has the world’s worst hatch to below decks – a fancy yet impractical contraption with 3 pieces that lets heavy rains in when transiting from down below to the deck above  The yacht has every safety device known to upscale wallets.  He is a frustratingly slow yet methodical sailor.  He normally does not panic.  The sailboat has few non-electric backup systems.  So when a floating Maersk container slams into his hull just above his on-board computer control and communication system, letting in the salt water, it wakes him up. 

The container seems to be full of shoes and has dropped off a giant ship.  So perhaps consumerism punctures his boat – or this symbolic boat.  It is a quiet day on the ocean – and there seem to be only two kinds of days on this ocean, quiet or stormy – so the man effectively seals the hole with marine glue, sheets of fiberglass and homemade ribbing.  Yet his radio no longer works, nor his bilge pump, nor, evidently, any motor on board, as the water shorted them out.  Like I said, almost no backups.  He hand pumps the water out and hopes for good weather.  He’s miles from anywhere.  Electric technology has failed him.  Another symbol. 

He gets out an old sextant, reads a book of directions, and plots his course on a map the old fashioned way.  Luckily he’s drifting northward towards a shipping channel.  Of course a monster storm comes up, ultimately washing over the deck several times (he neglected to put up the cover tarp in a timely manner) and punctures the hole again.  The man brings out the fancy covered life-raft, which has food, ostensible water, flares, etc.  Ultimately the sailboat sinks.  Nature has over-powered the expensive yacht.  Hmmm.

He continues to float north in the rubber raft, sometimes seeing sharks, and finally reaches the shipping channel.  He resourcefully distills potable water from salt water.  Twice he encounters enormous Maresk container ships that ignore his flares, both hand-held and shot into the air.  The ships seem to be empty of humans, just piled high with containers full of commodities.  No one is watching, no one cares evidently.  Society has been reduced to souless ships at sea. 

The man charts his path and realizes he is now past the shipping channel.  He’s nowhere.  That nighttime in the distance he sees a faint light at water level and in desperation lights a small fire in a plastic water pan on his rubber raft to get their attention.  He throws all his paper into it.  The raft, as you might expect, eventually bursts into flames and he goes overboard.  After all his survival skills, you’d think he’d stay around to see if this last desperate measure worked.  Instead he swallows water and sinks, committing suicide.  We last see him floating down far below the surface of the ocean.  No bubbles.

Long after his lungs have filled with water, he sees a faint light shining far above from what looks like the dark shadow of a boat, and he begins to swim upward.  Still no bubbles come from his mouth.  The last thing we see is a hand reaching down to grab his – similar to the one in Da Vinci’s painting on the Sistine Chapel.  Based on your naiveté, he is saved.  More likely in this parable, he’s very dead.  Not an optimistic ending.  A personal or perhaps more than that – a cultural apocalypse. 

This is a bleak film.  This is no sappy “Life of Pi.”  No Tom Hanks’ Hollywood “Cast Away.”  No “Treasure Island” or even “Lord of the Flies.”  Redford portrays an aging man who thinks he can ignore nature because of his technology.  Age or location do not matter.  Yet no one is there to help when it comes time.  He is as isolated as anyone can be – floating alone in the ocean like a planet in dark outer space. 

(‘Life of Pi,’ reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.  Books on survival, “Deep Survival – Who Lives and Who Dies” and “Into the Wild,” also reviewed below.)

Red Frog
October 2, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Let Us Put Childish Things Aside

"Hey, how ‘bout that NFL?”

I used to play American football until I stopped growing for awhile in 7th grade.  I continued to play some neighborhood soccer, intramural basketball, tennis and ran track, but I left all of it.  I chose not to be a jock.  However, this society markets the idea that being a jock is the best part of an education - so much so that academic or practical learning becomes second-class. 

Yeah, you will find a place in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL or the MLB.  Right.  You’d be lucky to become a high-school coach or a sports physical therapist. 

There was a time when sports were innocent games.  The excitement of high school sports, especially football on a cool fall evening. Playing all night under the hoops.  Powering it against the tennis backboard.  Sweating on a summer day in a partially mowed field with a soccer ball. Not any longer.  Sports is a business and the NFL is the ‘business-iest’ of all.  Let’s look at this outfit.

The NFL itself is listed as a ‘non-profit.’  Don’t laugh.  The government in 1944 gave them a special waiver to declare themselves a non-profit.  Yet NFL commissioner Roger Goodell makes a base salary of $3 million a year, but in the last 5 years collected $105 million with his other bennies.  In 2010 he was reported to have made $44M alone. The NFL made $326 million in dues, licensing and royalties in fiscal 2012, and that amount has probably increased.  The top five managers of the NFL made more than 50% of the earnings in 2010. They say they lost money in 2012, but analysts put that to the many mortgages they hold.  Real estate is one of their prime assets.

Football itself brings in about $10 billion annually, according to CNN.  Yet in spite of this lucre, many teams don’t pay their cheerleaders minimum wage.  This from very profitable franchises. They  behave sort of like the Wal-Mart’s of sports.  At least 5 teams are being sued right now for back pay by members of their cheerleader squads. 

Most teams blackmail the towns they live in to kick in money for new stadiums.  Of course Green Bay can’t and never will, as Green Bay is municipally owned.  We saw it here in Minneapolis.  Hell, this town has gone on a stadium spending spree – new ones for the baseball and football teams, a new one for the local state college team, and even a new one for the semi-pro baseball team is in the works.  They had to override democratic rules that would leave this up for a vote of county citizens – because they would have lost the vote.  Yet not one capitalist economist says there is ever an economic payback to the general public from this corporate welfare.  These upgraded stadiums are now home to upscale consumers instead, not the proletarian masses.   The $5 buck ticket in the bleachers?  Gone. What is really ridiculous is that for football stadiums, there are perhaps only 8 home games all year.  As a defender said in the local paper, ‘executives’ moving to Minneapolis (or your town) need a professional team and stadium as part of their ‘cultural’ experience. This monied audience is the real target for the 'upgrading' of sports.

Detroit has been the victim par excellence, as exposed by its bankruptcy.  The powers that be put Detroit on the hook for a new baseball stadium to replace Tiger Field, while shafting a mostly black retired Detroit municipal workforce out of part of their pensions and health care.  Now the Red Wings want a new arena with municipal funding.  The Lions abandoned the Pontiac Silverdome 12 years ago, which is now a wreck, for a new stadium in downtown Detroit, also partly funded by municipal money.  This has helped a few bars and restaurants around the field, but basically, people come to watch the games, then leave. 

This scam is not limited to the U.S. NFL.  South Africa’s World Cup stadiums are mostly empty, and the towns are struggling to pay for and maintain them.  Brazil will now face the same problem.  Russia’s Sochi Olympics were the most expensive in history.  Those structures will begin to decay as the years go by - more white elephants.   

The parallel between militarism and American football is obvious, especially when there are jet flyovers, celebrations of the troops and military color-guards at every game. The game itself is violent, much like war.  Don’t be surprised that a militaristic society also loves militaristic games. 

The NFL is haunted by concussion issues.  So are colleges and high schools.  Many NFL players, whose work life is very short in the league anyway, are still affected by slams to the head.  Early death, dementia, chronic encephalopathy or Alzheimer’s is their fate, much like the indentured ‘wrestlers’ of the McMahon-controlled World Wrestling Federation. In 2012, there were 251 diagnosed concussions in the NFL, in 2013, there were 228.  They were sued in a class action that settled in 2013 on this issue.  To top it off, a significant number of players go bankrupt or are in significant financial stress after they leave the NFL – around 78% over 5 years.  They are not prepared for the temporarily high salaries, and instead spend freely. 

Then there is the domestic violence and male chauvinism.  Recently we’ve all had to look at bruises on 4-year old bodies or a woman viciously attacked by her husband-to-be in an elevator.  Both of these by black players. Earlier it was the bullying and isolation of an openly gay player by some white Neanderthal.  Legal run-ins by NFL players are constant.  As someone joked, they should announce their legal charges along with their statistics and Alma-mater when they play.  American football is violent and, like soldiers, some carry this logic off the field.  It is based on a macho culture similar to the army.  Which might be why it is the most–watched sport in the U.S.

Then we have the bigotry of tradition, i.e. the "Washington Redskins.' Even though Native Americans oppose that name, big fat white rich people don't.  'Nuff said.   How about the 'Alabama White Boys" as a team name?  Or Georgia Peckerwoods?  Montana Palefaces?  White Phoenix Little Dicks?  Washington White Skins?

For all the people pining after their golden youth, and want their kids to follow the same path.  For those who can’t let go and instead spend their lives obsessed with football - on Saturdays, Sundays, Monday nights and now even Thursday nights!  I’m talking especially about residents of the southern U.S., who put football above even Jesus…  For all the football wives and widows.  These fans must be exhausted!  It’s not a game, folks, it’s a business.  A very corrupt business.  What is wrong with the NFL is what is wrong with capitalism.  Take the sport out of the hands of its billionaire owners, municipalize the teams and stadiums, remove the advertisers, de-professionalize it and ‘perhaps’ you can bring back real football. Honest football.  But perhaps, even as a game, it cannot be rescued anymore. 

Red Frog
September 29, 2014 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bukharin’s Ghost

"Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” by Stephen F Cohen, 2009

The counter-revolutions in the USSR and in Eastern Europe provide valuable information about how not to organize a socialist society.  This book by Stephen Cohen, a historian of Soviet history and a social-democrat of sorts, is an outstanding detailed addition to the literature.  He styles himself in public forums as sort of a latter-day George Kennan, prescribing a rational and non-hostile approach to Russia.  This book is a good companion volume to the analysis of the counter-revolution in Poland, “From Solidarity to Sellout – the Transition to Capitalism in Poland,” reviewed below. (Use blog search box, upper left.)  Cohen identifies the principal initiators and beneficiaries of counter-revolution in the USSR as the majority of the former Communist Party nomenklatura led by Boris Yeltsin.  It was not a ‘revolution of the people’ or ‘oppressed nations’ or some automatic breakdown, as the Western fairy tales go. 

Bukharin

Cohen is a ‘kind of’ co-thinker of Nicolai Bukharin, the executed leader of the Right Opposition in the USSR, who was killed in 1938.  Cohen spends some time on a defense of the New Economic Policy (NEP) developed by Lenin as a post-war strategy, then supported by the whole party.  Cohen thinks the NEP and a ‘mixed economy’ should have become a permanent feature of the USSR.  He supports the general thrust of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Chinese Communist Party, and their approaches to a ‘mixed economy.’  Cohen was a Bukharin biographer, and met with his family.  Doing that time he came into possession of some of the last 4 documents written by Bukharin while he was jailed in the Lubyanka – a novel about his childhood, a book of poetry, a philosophical treatise and a book on modern politics and culture.  Bukharin was rehabilitated by Gorbachev in 1988, along with a million other individuals. 

Cohen shows how, even while Bukharin’s ‘confession’ admitted he was a ‘"degenerate fascist" working for the "restoration of capitalism" he also attempted to undermine the terms and claims of Stalin’s show trial.  Bukharin was, of course, put in an impossible situation, trying to protect his family (which didn’t work anyway) and perhaps spare his life.  He chose, like his politics, a ‘middle’ path.

The oddest part of this section is the complete invisibility of Leon Trotsky.  As an historian, this is negligent.  Cohen mentions Trotsky’s name once, but not as an opponent of Stalin.  He claims the title of most significant opponent of Stalin for Bukharin.  He does not mention that Bukharin collaborated with Stalin in ousting Trotsky from any leadership position in 1924 after Lenin’s death, or later helped to remove Kamenev, Zinoviev and many others from leadership.  Cohen misrepresents Lenin’s Last Testament in the process.  Nor does he mention that Bukharin edited Izvestia from 1934 until 1937, which was full of anti-Oppostion slanders during those years.  A letter to “Koba” from Bukharin was even found on Stalin’s desk in 1953, which shows how close they were.  Bukharin was the original author of the theory of ‘socialism in one country.’ Trotsky, unlike Bukharin, was never rehabilitated by the Soviet bureaucracy, and for good reason.

Gulag Survivors

But I have not come to bury Cohen, but to praise him.  He was one of the first (and perhaps only) U.S. historians to collect the stories of gulag survivors, which he started on during his time in Moscow through contact with the Bukharin family.  He interviewed first-hand many ‘zeks’ - some from the Communist Party elite and later from other sectors, 60 in all, later turning over the material to another academic.  Stories of ‘camp life’ were prominent during Khrushchev's time, then disappeared, so by the time Cohen did this in the 1980s, it was again difficult.  The gulag survivors came out into a society where they were ‘eyeball to eyeball’ with the people who put them in the camps.  A continuing theme in his book is proposals for a memorial to the victims of the Stalinist camps and the purges which even Dimitri Medvedev recently supported.  Of course, it has never been built.  A Nuremberg solution was kicked about, but rejected by Khrushchev as hitting too close to home.

Perestroika & Glasnost

Cohen’s detailed description of the effects of the years of perestroika and glasnost are invaluable.  They provide a very careful rebuttal to the anti-communist and capitalist orthodoxy about who brought ‘democracy’ to Russia, who ended the ‘cold war’ and who began to change the economy.  It wasn’t Yeltsin, it was Gorbachev.  Cohen takes direct aim at every myth promulgated by American ideologues who can't admit a 'Communist' could ever do anything right.  But in the process he exposes Gorbachev to accusations of preparing the ground for counter-revolution too. Yeltsin and his cronies were all in Gorbachev’s camp.  The privatization and ‘grabbing’ of collectivized property began under Gorbachev.  The ‘multi-party’ democracy envisioned by Gorbachev led to capitalist restorationists gaining a large voice in the political arena.  Yeltsin was elected President or Russia by this method.  In his eagerness to do away with the cold war, Gorbachev backed Bush I during the first Iraq war.    

Yet this fits Cohen’s thesis that the ‘existing socialism’ under Gorbachev could have become kind of like a Scandinavian social-democracy if given the chance, and not the disaster that American-approved capitalist ‘shock treatment’ became.  Yeltsin’s shock treatment led to 10 years of the most severe peace-time depression in human history in Russia.  A Scandinavian social-democracy could have certainly been a vast improvement!  It was headed that way until the fateful Belovezh meeting in 1991, when Yeltsin and two other Republic leaders - Balarus and Ukraine - plotted to destroy the USSR, and did. 

Cohen points out that the most democratic period in modern Russia was during glasnost.  After Yeltsin gained power, he re-seized the media, jailed opponents and most famously militarily attacked the Russian Parliament in October 1993 with tanks, dispersing it.  Putin has only continued this process, but perhaps in a less clumsy, drunken way.  As you might remember, Putin gave Yeltsin life-time immunity after taking over. Putin continues to represent the new capitalist oligarchs and Russian nationalism.

Soviet bureaucracy

Cohen has a long defense of Victor Ligachev, who was demonized by the West for not going along with Gorbachev 100%, but backed off as it became apparent that Gorbachev’s reforms were leading to counter-revolution. Ligachev was a transitional figure in the bureaucracy, but without a mass activist Communist Party and working class, any resistance to Yeltsin was aborted.   The August 1991 coup attempt, which did not involve Ligachev, was the pathetic last attempt by a wing of the conservative bureaucracy to retain power. In essence, isolated bureaucratic defense of a workers state is ultimately a failed policy. It failed because the leaders of the military – the armed bodies of men – had already begun to go over to capital, taking their lead from the majority of the nomenklatura.  Some military leaders were already engaged in privatization.  It also failed because it had no mass support.  Cohen puts the main emphasis on Yeltsin, but the ‘one man’ theory of politics is dwarfed by the social class theory of politics – as even a social-democrat like Cohen should know.

Cohen clearly points out that there is no such thing as a monolithic party, in spite of all the song and dance about ‘democratic centralism.’  Cohen identifies at least 3 major groupings in the Soviet CP during Gorbachev’s time which could have become mass parties.  He mourns that Gorbachev did not initiate a mass social-democratic party in the USSR or Russia.  Cohen indicates  that these ‘crypto-parties’ existed in some form throughout the USSR's post-revolutionary history. 

Trotsky’s warning about a counter-revolutionary faction of the bureaucracy came to life when a pro-capitalist majority of the Soviet bureaucracy demanded capitalism and privatization, and took power under Yeltsin.  They had immediate financial benefits from this transition – ownership of factories, offices, etc.  Cohen elucidates how the history of Russia since then is the history of this seizure of public property by this group of  new oligarchs.  Trotsky always pointed out that the bureaucracy was ultimately counter-revolutionary in effect, and also for a faction, in practice.  This book proves the point.  This also jibes with Kowalik’s views about what happened in Poland.  There, the individual factory managers grew more and more independent, and the plan disappeared. 

Reformability

Cohen has a long discussion on whether the Soviet system was ‘reformable’ (in a debate with pro-capitalist ideologues) and, after going through all the alternatives, shows that the facts indicate it was reformable.  In other words, there is no such thing as fate, but only ‘lost alternatives,’ much as in every society.  Even the Soviet CP in 1990 elected their leadership for the first time – something the U.S. C.P. is probably yet to do. 

National Question

Cohen also punctures the myths about nationalistic uprisings all over the USSR.  While it was true of the tiny Baltic republics, most realized that the USSR was a ‘single economic space.’  There was a March 1991 referendum among the populations, which voted overwhelmingly for the Union.  In August 1991 the 9 major republics negotiated a new Union structure.  Only a few months later the Union was dismantled from the top by Yeltsin’s coup.  At that point, even the befuddled Communist delegates in the parliament voted to dissolve the USSR after an hour of discussion!  A fait accompli.  

Hostility to Russia

Cohen eviscerates the ruling class attitude towards Russia and clearly places the blame for the ‘new cold war’ on the U.S. and its allies – a process that started years ago under Clinton, and has come to fruition under Obama and the Ukraine.   If you imagine, as an American, a Russian coup in Mexico, with their missiles ringing the USA in Canada, the Caribbean and Central America, you might know how the Russians feel.  Putin even tried to help the U.S. in Afghanistan, but it did no good.  Cohen pays particular attention to the Ossetian war in 2008, which was a proxy war between Russia and the US.

The new cold war started after the US unilaterally rejected Russian membership in the WTO, adopted sanctions against Belarus and deleted any mention of a Russian/US partnership in 2006.  According to Cohen the new cold war consists of:  1. Military encirclement of Russia; 2. hypocritical denial that Russia has any legitimate security concerns outside its border; 3. even an assertion that Russia does not have full sovereignty inside its own borders; 4. double-standards on behavior; and 5. nuclear superiority.  This geo-political jihad for world domination by U.S. imperialism is ongoing.

Cohen

Cohen is married to one of the editors of the Nation magazine, a social-democratic outfit that criticizes Democrats, then votes for them, and never advocates or organizes for an independent socialist, peoples or working-class party.  It is, in essence, the left-wing of the Democratic Party.  His stubborn defense of Bukharin makes him an intellectual outlier in this bunch – after all Bukharin was a Bolshevik – and his more intelligent analysis of the provocative coup in Ukraine and military/economic encirclement of Russia by the US and EU ruling classes is refreshing.  This all puts him outside the orbit of the Democratic Party, yet that is the party the Nation ends up supporting year in, year out.  

Most notable in the book is its analysis based on the ‘great men’ of Russia.  That analysis fails to take into account that the weaknesses in the USSR were not just forced collectivization or the purges or Stalin, but a long-running bureaucratic system that shut out the working class from exercising ultimate power.  These crimes were outgrowths of that top-end control.  Which is why the bureaucrats found it so easy to ‘take’ the factories, mines, offices, mills, shops and warehouses when their turn came - and to ultimately end the USSR. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 23, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stirring up the Bacon-Eaters – Eat Like an Indian

The September 21 March and Actions in New York USA on the Environment
Let’s talk about meat.  It’s a subject I hesitate to bring up, but it’s unavoidable anymore.  Environmentalism isn’t just about cars, coal or communities.  Meat is a very large contributor to global warming.  Many people are addicted to it, just as they crave sugar, fat and salt.  You tell them to eat less bacon and their eyes bug out, and they stuff their faces with more.  You will have to pry the bacon from my cold dead hands!
Even the fundie Christians ascertain that the U.S. is a “Christian” nation because we eat pork – while Muslims and Jews ostensibly do not.  See?  Pork is what makes America Christian!  A jokey survey of Tweets showed that kale is mentioned in more Democratic states while bacon is mentioned in more Republican states on Twitter.  So bacon is a Republican food evidently. 
There are many ‘productionist’ leftists who think that meat is an irrelevant, personal issue.  The same people think that any measures ordinary people take to slow global warming are irrelevant.  I would argue that they are not. Essentially the governments and capitalist corporations of the world aren’t going to deal with this issue adequately.  As each person realizes that some other method is needed on a personal level, that can translate into public activism.  In other words, if I can eat less meat, or stop eating it, why can’t the society?  
The productionist leftist’s logic is similar to someone who fights racism while being an open bigot or someone who supports women’s rights while being an open male chauvinist.  It is nonsense.  According to the ‘International Vegetarian Union’ vegetarianism was outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1929.  Abortion and homosexuality later followed in the 1930s.  So there is a history to this.
The march and actions on Sunday show again that it is people’s movements that will slow climate change, not the capitalist parties.  In the U.S., 20 million people were in the streets in 1970 when the first Earth Day occurred.  This led to the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the creation of the EPA.  Where did those people go?
To some facts, especially about cows and red meat:
·                     Demand for meat is expected to grow by 60 percent in the next 40 years.
·                     Cattle and other livestock now use over 30 percent of the entire land surface of the planet, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. About a third of all crops grown are used to feed that livestock.
·                     The rainforests of the world are being bulldozed to create pastures for these animals, destroying the lungs of the earth. Cattle are the source of almost 10 percent of the CO2 choking our atmosphere and contributing to catastrophic global climate change.
·                     Cattle manure contributes 65 percent of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere (which is 296 times more heat-trapping than CO2), and cow burps and farts are the source of 37 percent of the methane (23 times the power of CO2).
·                     Twenty percent of the world’s pastures are already degraded from overgrazing, and the planet’s water supplies, already seriously stressed, are being severely damaged from runoff from animal waste and the pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other products used to grow feed crops for factory-farmed animals.
·                     Much of the fossil fuels used in agriculture involve animal ‘husbandry.’
Actually they are trying to develop fake meat in the labs because this cannot go on much longer.  Locavores, gourmands, gluttons and hipsters insist eating ‘grass fed’ whatever, from local signature farms, will someone change this situation.  It does not.  It might treat the animals better (until they are slaughtered, that is) and be more healthy for the consumer, but the effect on communities and the environment is almost the same. 
The corporate-controlled FDA is tentatively – after nearly 40 years of tip-toeing around the problem – asking animal breeders to use less or no antibiotics in animal feed.  For instance, it is regularly applied to chicken feed in all 5 top U.S. chicken factory-farm corporations.  The odds of them complying are nil. Voluntary guidelines?  Really?  How are they going to breed sick and crowded chickens anymore? While this may prevent a pandemic by getting rid of such widespread use of antibiotics, it does not change the climate portrait. 
Meat kills 4 ways - you, the animal, the community and the environment.  1. The higher your ingestion of meat and animal products like cheese, the higher your risk for heart attacks and strokes.  It also leads to other problems, like cancer and even constipation.   2. Animals feel pain, experience fear and have emotions.  Killing them is similar to killing any mammal, even a human. 3. It is far more inefficient to grow crops for animals than to grow crops directly for humans.  Dedicating land to animals essentially leads to starvation – no different that setting aside good crop land for bio-fuels.  It is not just the capitalist commodification of an essential like food that is responsible.  4. And lastly, meat is the SUV of foods, using land, water, oil and artificial fertilizer in immense amounts.  Even the UN has pointed out that meat is one of the prime producers of carbon into the atmosphere.  This is no secret anymore. 
Meat consumption in the U.S. has been going down for years, so something is happening. In 2012 5% of the population were strict vegetarians in the U.S., 2% followed a vegan diet, and 33% of the population followed a lower-meat / pescatarian diet.  Young single liberal females with lower educations were the highest group in these categories.  In Sweden, Italy, Germany & Switzerland, the vegetarian number is around 9-10% of the population.  According to Wiki, eating meat is still prestigious in China, yet 5% of the population is still vegetarian.  It is 31% in India, 13% in Taiwan and around 8% in Israel.  Most of these statistics seem to be dated, so the numbers now are probably higher.
Ultimately the Big Meat industry will have to be seized without compensation, put under workers control, and partially phased out, just like coal plants. 
(See review of “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)
Red Frog
The 'Pescatarian Bolshevik'
September 20, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Humans Sink Lower Still

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Matt Reeves, 2014

Lenin pointed out that ‘of all the arts, for us, the cinema is the most important.’  He probably didn’t have this kind of animal parable in mind however, but he might have.    The recent ‘Apes’ series – as opposed to the older series – focuses on  ‘animal rights,’ in which viewers sympathize with the orange orangutans, mountain gorillas, black chimpanzees, bonobos and baboons.  Like the monstrous aliens of “District 9” living in apartheid-like townships, or even Frankenstein, when so-called scary animals or monsters become more sympathetic than humans, you know something is up.  The first film, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ featured the breakout of the apes from a vicious medical testing facility and a zoo in San Francisco, and their escape across the Golden Gate bridge into Muir Woods.  They are led by an intelligent chimpanzee named “Caesar,’ (Andy Serkis) advised by an intelligent zoo orangutan, Maurice, while the fighters are led by an abused bonobo called “Koba.”  Koba was, of course, the underground name for Stalin.

Jail films resonate with audiences because we’ve all been in a jail – either a job, a bad marriage, an intolerable straight-jacket of a situation or a real jail.  The ape revolution seems to be the answer to the incarceration plague, especially in the U.S.  This is not incidental imagery.

This film takes place 10 years later, in a dystopia after the almost complete collapse of human civilization due to the ‘simian’ flu.  This is something like the avian, swine, Ebola or AIDs virus – and it has wiped out most of the human population.  The freed apes are living on Mt. Tamalpais outside of San Francisco, and haven’t seen a living human in several years.  They have prospered – they hunt, live in a large log village on the mountain and have multiplied their families.  Of course, these are not only innocent and abused animals, or intelligent animals, but perhaps stand-ins for primitive peoples still living in the Amazon or on Pacific islands.  Or any hunted tribe of rebels or slaves – even Iraqis who resent someone seizing their power source - oil. Or something like Orwell’s Animal Farm.  All these resonances show up in the course of the films.

Unfortunately, the humans do show up in this Edenic world.  One particularly stupid one immediately shoots a young chimpanzee in his excessive fright. Evidently some immune humans still remain in the wreck of San Francisco.  They need to turn on the power from the dam near Mt. Tamalpais, as their diesel fuel is running out.  This involves the humans going into ape territory.  The apes don’t need electricity – they have fire. Will the two groups be able to ‘co-exist?’  Caesar decides that letting them turn on the dam is preferable to a war where many apes will die.  Caesar is no push-over, but he knows that fighting could destroy the ape society, so it is a parable of intelligent pacifism.  On the human side, Dreyfus is the commander of the San Francisco colony, a former cop, and a guy who looks like Eric Clapton.  He is preparing to kill all the apes to get access to the dam.  A scientific ‘hippie’ family convinces Dreyfus that they can turn on the dam without killing the apes, as they understand these apes are not ‘merely animals.’  (And if they were ’merely’ animals?)  Dreyfus gives them 3 days... or its war.
 
 SPOILER ALERT

At any rate, while the dam does start working again, the overall attempt fails.  The screenwriters have chosen to put most of the failure on the ape Koba, not the humans.  Koba sneaks into San Francisco and finds the human's armoury of weapons and their preparations for war. Instead of telling Caesar, he keeps this knowledge a secret.  Koba and Caesar have been butting heads, but now Koba, in his rage at the humans, sets fire to the ape log village and shoots Caesar with a purloined weapon, and claims the humans did it.  This is all done right in front of a crowd of apes, so the scene is not credible. 

The war starts.  Bloody fighting around various San Francisco landmarks.  Machine guns, tanks, fire.  The armed apes defeat the humans after the heroic efforts of Koba on horseback.  After the victory, Koba kills an ape ally of Caesar’s by throwing him off a balcony, and jails the rest of Caesar's sympathizers like Maurice in a barred bus.  At this, Caesar’s son finally sees that his father is right about Koba (Stalin). Caesar is discovered badly wounded at the bottom of a cliff by the scientific family.  The woman doctor nurses him back to health in the house he lived in as a young ape in San Francisco in the prior film. The ‘good’ human father meanwhile attempts to stop Dreyfus from blowing up the tower the apes are in by pointing an automatic weapon at him. Then Caesar and Koba have their final showdown – and – contrary to ape law – (‘ape shall not kill ape’) Caesar drops Koba off a tower because Koba ‘is not an ape.’  At the end, we know the ‘war’ will continue – sequel #9, #9, #9?

Clearly this is a money-making machine first of all, like most film series or childish comic casualties like “Batman.’  Ending it would end the franchise, but war is an unending and perpetually giving commodity.  Film is the main medium that a visually-oriented population connects too, not writing.  So the series will continue until ticket revenue drops, not when its narrative logic runs dry.  After all, how many films can center on just humans fighting apes forever?    

More importantly, why do people connect with this series?  Does the audience identify with the humans or the intelligent apes?  I think at this point in both films the apes are treated, except for the example of Koba, as far more likable.  These animal revolutionaries are kinder than we expect.  The humans are either stupid, self-centered or vicious. Only one family of humans respects the apes, while the rest of the humans are an undifferentiated mass, with a leader who will kill for electricity.  The main message is that ‘co-existence’ is impossible because the humans are only interested in re-creating the same society that has been destroyed.  The ‘war’ means that the world has basically returned to barbarism – or perhaps any modern battlefield.  And in that case, innocents must die.

Pessimism about humanity is at the heart of this film, as it is at the heart of many dystopian and apocalyptic stories.  And indeed, when you look around at who controls this world, you can’t fault the idea that much.  Perhaps 'becoming an ape' might improve the situation.

And I saw it at the Riverview Theater
Red Frog
September 16, 2014