Saturday, January 18, 2020

More A-Political War


“1917” - film by Sam Mendes, 2019

This film makes the familiar point that ‘war is hell.’  It might be compared to Saving Private Ryan, the similarly heroic and riveting account of saving a brother, done by two mainstream figures, Spielberg and Hanks.  There is also conventional heroism here as well, as a pair of soldiers, Blake and Schofield, must warn a regiment not to attack the new German Hindenberg line and in the process, save a brother.  But this war seems a bit more pointless than Spielberg’s – dead bodies floating in rivers and lying in bomb craters, a land riven by large trenches in an alternating hellscape of blasted farms and villages.
The Wasteland

The Germans are shown as uniformly ruthless – a pilot, after being rescued by the pair of British soldiers from a flaming plane - stabs one.  The evacuating German troops chop down cherry trees and kill all the cows.  German’s wander in the wreckage of a town in no man’s land, not surrendering but instead shooting at the British.  They leave one trip wire in their former barracks.  In contrast the English are almost uniformly polite and considerate.  One officer, Capitain McKenzie, is rumored to be an officer who will sacrifice his men for glory, still stops his attack upon orders.  In that sense it is a nationalist film.

There are a number of stupid decisions and factual issues made to increase the tension – too many bullets in the rifles (a clip of 5 bullets gets you 8 shots), unnecessary trips into bunkers, needlessly going into a house to finish off a German soldier or even deciding to save the burnt German pilot.  But especially questionable is the general’s decision to send two men many miles through a former no-man’s land to stop a doomed attack instead of just flying over the regiment in a biplane, or landing behind the regiment and delivering the general’s order.

POLITICS?

My grandfather fought on the Somme with the British army and it made him a life-long socialist and Labourite.  Our family still has some of the poems he wrote from the front. In April 1917, the same month as this film is set, the Russian working class and peasants had overthrown the Czar – in great part due to Russian involvement in World War I.  Unrest in Germany, partially over this imperialist war, led to an attempt at a Socialist council republic involving ten working-class organizations two years later in 1919.  So what about the British?  Kitchener lost hundred’s of thousands on the Somme, with 19,000+ dying and 57,000+ injured on the first day.  Wikipedia estimates 350,000 dead just for the British over 5 1/2 months of combat. Which is why this film is not called “1916” but instead is pictured as a tiny and personal event, while ripping the title from the more important Russian Revolution.  That decision is political.  If this film had been about the Somme it would have been a different film, a film less about friendship and more about a mass slaughter.  And we can’t have that.

British Anti-war rally in 1914 from Manchester Guardian

The British Independent Labour Party, British Socialist Party and part of the Suffragette movement led by Sylvia Pankhurst opposed the war even in the first heady days.  Bertrand Russell was fired and then imprisoned for opposing the war.  Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the Labour Party, refused to support a vote for war credits, which sent his career into eclipse for a time.  In Glasgow, Scotland the “Red Clydeside” movement organized workers to strike against the war. There was a reported mutiny of British soldiers at the base at Etaples, France, though it might not have been about the war itself.

In the film 1917 on the other hand there are no politics. This war is just a ‘natural event.’ The film has almost no indications that everyone doesn’t love this war.  One solider in a truck, surveying the empty grass hillsides, asks why they were fighting for this useless, empty place. Yeah, they want to go home.  Of most import, Schofield mentions to Blake that he swapped his heroism medal from the Somme for a bottle of wine.  Blake can’t understand why he’s done this, as he can bring it back to his family as a proud reminder.  A modern viewer with some knowledge of history might think getting rid of the medal means he disliked the war.  Vietnam vets in VVAW threw thousands of medals away on the U.S. Capitol grounds in 1971 in “Operation Dewey Canyon” as part of their opposition to the American war in Vietnam.  But not in this film!   Schofield hints that he doesn’t really want to go back to his family, so the medal won’t matter.  You see it’s a personal issue.  At the end of the film we find he has a pretty wife and two cute children and yes, maybe he’s changed his mind. Ahhhh…

In the film 1917 war is ultimately just ‘sad’ – but heroism redeems it.  It is thoroughly conventional in that sense.

The story is based on a scrap of dialog related by Mendes’ grandfather, who fought in WWI, about a “messenger carrying a message.”  The rest is made-up.  One reviewer said it was more a technical feat - as the best part of the film is the hellscape, the trench sets, the devastation, which mirror on the land, animals and buildings what was also happening to the humans. To actually many more humans than 1917 lets on.

Other prior reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left:  “War is a Racket,” “Lord of the Rings,” “All Power to the Councils!”  “The Peaky Blinders,” “Suffragette,” “A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel.”  Also searches for “Russian Revolution” or “Easter Rising.”

The Kulture Kommissar

January 18, 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Another Anti-Science Antic


“The Marijuana Manifesto – How Lies, Corruption and Propaganda Kept Cannabis Illegal,” by Jesse Ventura and Jen Hobbs, 2016


The prohibition of marijuana and the story of modern U.S. capitalism are inextricably intertwined.  Ventura, former Independent Governor of Minnesota, has co-written a detailed book dragging up every scandal involving the corrupt Drug Enforcement Agency, the long and hidden history of hemp in the U.S., the roots of prohibition and the consequences of the vicious War on Drugs.  If you want to know how a ridiculous and savage policy sausage is made in the U.S., read this book.


POLITICS and ECONOMICS

It is pretty clear that the motivations to outlaw marijuana were and still are both economic and political.  Ventura shows how the initial prohibitions against hemp and weed in the 20th Century started because newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst, an owner of a large logging company, wanted to use trees for paper instead of hemp.  His ally Andrew Mellon of Dupont wanted to make plastic from oil, not hemp and paper from trees too.  They joined together with a government bureaucrat named Henry Anslinger to demonize weed, ultimately convincing the government to ban cannabis in both its forms – all without facts.  Anslinger testified that marijuana made black people, Mexicans and Chinese murderers and rapists, while asserting jazz created addicts.  Hearst’s papers pushed this hysteria like an older version of Fox News.  This racism was an essential psychological method to enable marijuana prohibition, but in the economic interest of certain capital sectors.

In a way, this was another anti-science crusade like climate denialism or opposition to evolution. Until 2019 the Federal government couldn’t tell the difference between the male plant producing CBD and hemp and the female plant producing THC-laden buds, treating them the same.

Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” in 1972, making marijuana in any form a ‘Schedule 1’ drug like heroin.  Ventura shows every president since has enforced this drug war – especially Reagan, Clinton, the Bushes and Obama.  John Ehrlichmann said in 1994 that Nixon’s real motivation was not drugs, it was to punish the counter-culture and hobble civil-rights and anti-war activists by using drug busts to break up organizations.

So what financial forces support criminalization of drugs, including weed in all its forms? It is a rather large group.  It is Big Pharma, which wants to privatize CBD and THC’s multiple health benefits under expensive and long-lasting patent protection.  It is corporations like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, major phone companies, Starbucks, Eddie Bauer, Victoria's Secret and McDonalds who use slave-like prison labor and get tax breaks for each prisoner ‘hired.’  50% of prisoners are in prison for non-violent drug offenses, so they would lose part of their labor force. There is the private prison industry, which needs a guaranteed 90% flow of prisoners, and if they don’t get it, governments have to pay them.  It is Big Cotton, which wanted to prevent the industrial use of hemp because it has many advantages over cotton, including environmental.  It is Big Liquor, which does not want competition, as states that legalize weed see a decline in alcohol consumption. 

France the world's largest producer of hemp - U.S. the largest importer!!

GOVERNMENT COLLABORATION

It is government entities like the DEA, police departments and others who now financially benefit from the Drug War. Incidentally the U.S. government owns patent #507 on CBD, which it is selling to certain pharmaceutical companies.  So they have hypocritically patented a useful component of weed that is otherwise illegal!  Backing them are politicians, mostly Republicans but also corporate Democrats who support all these corporations.  In 2016 Hillary Clinton opposed the legalization of weed and even made the stupid statement that weed ‘needed more study.’  This is a standard line in the last 50 years to stop legalization. As Ventura notes, there have been hundreds of studies done, especially in Israel.  Marijuana is actually a very known quantity.  Historically in the late 1600’s, hemp was REQUIRED to be grown in the U.S. by farmers due to its multiple uses - or they faced large penalties.  In the 1930s New York had hundreds of hashish clubs until the government shut them down.  The U.S. government encouraged hemp growing through WWII and then the policy changed.

MEDICAL & INDUSTRIAL BENEFITS

You may ask, what is the big deal with legalizing marijuana anyway?  It’s just a bunch of ‘hippies’ getting high.  Actually the hippies are right but it goes far beyond that.  As the British Lancet noted, marijuana should not be a ‘Schedule 1’ drug.  It should not even be listed as a hazardous substance, similar to caffeine.  Alcohol is far more dangerous, as are heroin and especially meth.  As to its medical benefits, the Chinese were using it as a medicine in 2737 BC.   The reason it is so useful is that it interacts with the endocannabinoid system within the human body that affects almost every part of human functioning.  According to the various states that have legalized medical marijuana, CBD and/or THC help with:  Pain, epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, opioid and tobacco addiction, other seizures, sleep deprivation, appetite loss, cancer tumors, alcoholism, anxiety, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, the side effects of chemotherapy,  osteoporosis, glaucoma, urinary tract infections, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc., etc.  All with hardly any side-effects.

Hemp was legalized in the 2019 Farm Bill finally, which is why you see CBD shops now springing up everywhere.  The various parts of hemp can be used for:  fabrics, rope, natural plastic, food and fuel oils, protein nutrition, soil remediation for all kinds of pollutants including radioactive ones, animal feed, cosmetics, cleaning products, paper, insulation, an ingredient mixed with concrete and plaster, as a natural fertilizer and herbicide and an absorber of more carbon than trees.  Yet the disparity between federal and state laws does not allow legal cannabis growers and retailers to use the banking system or get a bank loan, so everything has to be done in cash, including paying taxes to the IRS!   By the way, taxes are levied on gross profits, not net, unlike other businesses, so they are even overtaxed.  The DEA has raided legal marijuana dispensaries in states like California.  Ventura cites horror stories from Oklahoma, Florida and Kansas about the idiotic federal prohibition and its relation to various retrograde state laws.

After reading the facts in this book you will understand how cannabis is actually a miracle plant.  It is not just the ‘high’ – which has never resulted in an overdose and is not physically addictive.  If you want to know how capital functions when political clout by private capital operates, then this battle over marijuana is illuminating.  The money is now sliding towards the cannabis industry, which is probably why it is finally being legalized.  Because after all under capital it is money, not science, that dominates.

Other prior reviews related to this issue, use blog search box upper left:  “The New Jim  Crow,” “Drug War Capitalism,” “Budding Prospects,” “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” “Let Us Now Praise The Dead,” “The Truth About the Drug Companies,” “American Made,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Lost Connections,” “The Outlaws.”

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent and inexpensive used/cutout section.

Red Frog

January 14, 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020

WTF #11, “We are a nation of lawyers, not of men.”


Professional degrees in recent Democratic Party politics
Hillary Clinton P - Yale Law School
Tim Kaine VP – Columbia & Harvard Law Schools
Barack Obama P – Harvard Law School
Joe Biden VP – Syracuse University College of Law
John Kerry P – Yale University and Boston College Law School
John Edwards VP – University of North Carolina Law School
Al Gore P – Harvard College
Joe Lieberman VP -  Yale University, Yale Law School
Bill Clinton P – Georgetown University, Oxford, Yale Law School
Al Gore VP – Harvard College
Michael Dukakis P – Harvard Law School
Lloyd Bentsen VP – University of Texas Law School
Walter Mondale P – University of Minnesota Law School
Geraldine Ferraro VP – Fordham University School of Law
Jimmy Carter P – US Naval Academy
Walter Mondale VP – University of Minnesota Law School
George McGovern P – Northwestern University
Sargent Shriver VP – Yale University, Yale Law School
Hubert Humphrey P – University of Minnesota
Ed Muskie VP – Cornell Law School
John Kennedy went to Harvard University.  Before him Adlai Stevenson went to Princeton and Northwestern U Law School.  Only 4 did not go to law school.

Prospective Presidents:  (With net worth from Forbes just for fun)
Michael Bennet – Wesleyan University and Yale Law School – $15M. (business)
Joe Biden – Syracuse University College of Law - $9M. (book sales)
Michael Bloomberg – John Hopkins and Harvard (MBA) – $52.4B. (business)
Cory Booker – Stanford, Oxford, Yale Law School - $1.5M.
Pete Buttigieg – Harvard University & Oxford College - $100K.
John Delaney – Columbia University and Georgetown University Law School - $232M. (business)
Tulsi Gabbard – Hawaii Pacific University - $500K.
Amy Klobuchar – Yale and University of Chicago Law School - $1.9M.
Deval Patrick – Harvard University Law School - $1M.
Bernie Sanders – University of Chicago - $2.5M (book sales)
Tom Steyer – Yale and Stanford (MBA) - $1.6B. (business)
Elizabeth Warren – Rutgers Law School - $12M. (stocks and real estate)
Marianne Williamson – Pomona College - $1.5M. (self-help guru)
Andrew Yang – Brown and Columbia University Law School - $1M. (business)

9 of 14 are lawyers and 2 of the 5 have MBAs.  12 of 14 are millionaires.  Most went to upper-crust Ivy League schools. I’d hate to know about the Democratic Primary dropouts … Do you see patterns?

One Pattern:
Dick:  “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” (Henry The Sixth by W. Shakespeare)

This is rebel Dick’s answer to his leader Jack Cade, who envisions a quasi-communistic social revolution without money, with everyone having enough clothes and food. In the play Henry the Sixth Shakespeare actually slanders Cade as an ally of the nobleman Richard of York instead of being an independent pre-proletarian and peasant rebel.  In this Shakespeare proves himself to be an ally of one wing of the nobility, the Lancasters, covering for Henry VI, a Lancaster. 
Wikipedia:  Actually Jack Cade's Rebellion was a popular revolt in 1450 against the government of England, which took place in the southeast of the country between the months of April and July. It stemmed from local grievances regarding the corruption, maladministration, abuse of power of the king's closest advisors and local officials, and recent military losses in France during the Hundred Years' War. Leading an army of men from southeastern England, the rebellion's namesake and leader Jack Cade marched on London in order to force the government to reform the administration and remove from power the "traitors" deemed responsible for bad governance. It was the largest popular uprising to take place in England during the 15th century.
Instead of class war, what followed was “The War of the Roses,” now made famous in an accidental way by Game of Thrones. 

Ultimately we have to eliminate the bourgeois legal system set up to protect private property and all its attendant consequences.  In a capitalist society where the favored and almost only redress for all kinds of conflicts is the monetized legal system, lawyers and lawsuits proliferate like cancer cells. 

Other prior reviews on issues of the law, use blog search box upper left:  “With Liberty and Justice for Some” (Greenwald); “The Divide” (Taibbi); “99 Homes,” “Legal Logic Behind Raids,” “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” “A Time to Kill” and “Gray Mountain” (both by Grisham); “The Trial Before the Trial,” “Eric Holder,” “Bad Cops, Bad Cops,” “Prison Strike Against Modern Slavery,” “Are Prisons Obsolete?” (Davis) “Slavery By Another Name,” “The New Jim Crow” (Alexander).

The Kulture Kommissar
January 10, 2020

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Techno-Cornucopia Vanishes


“Civilization Critical – Energy, Food, Nature and the Future,” by Darrin Qualman, 2019

This is a systems’ analysis of how the natural world works and how present capitalist civilization is breaking every logical natural link, leading to disaster.  Without a theory any understanding is limited and flawed and Qualman has a theory.  Qualman’s background as a farmer in Alberta, Canada gives him a real-world understanding of how nature functions.  He also delves into the past to understand how pre-industrial society existed.  Qualman has massive data backing up his ideas and pounds them into the readers head.  Basically, Qualman makes the familiar point that a closed circular system like earth cannot afford open-ended and unending linear growth. 


Politically, Qualman is not a socialist and carefully couches solutions in vague reformist political terms, as his real focus is on natural laws.  He doesn’t brand capitalism as the enemy but instead calls it ‘eCivilization.’  Because of this he seems to be a technological determinist, divorcing technology from economics, but denies that.  He does not mention global warming’s ‘Great Acceleration’ right after World War II around 1946, as he identifies human interference in nature with the beginnings of the industrial age, citing 1850 as a crucial year.  In the process his tiny chart lines muddy the dates.  The book ‘seems’ to come off as deep nature ecology, harking back to a romantic time before machines, before coal, railroads, steam engines, shafts and tractors.  At the end he does not recommend returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle at all.  The book’s understanding of soil is incomplete, not mentioning agroecology or soil fertility except in passing.  He cites Marxists Fred Magdoff and J.B. Foster in his Acknowledgements, but also uses the term ‘communist dictators’ like some cold-war scribe.

Biological Systems Analysis:

I’m going bullet-point some of his excellent insights, as they can be of great value in constructing an actually sustainable socialism.

1.            The natural world is a circular system, not a linear one.  eCivilization runs as a linear system.  Everything that comes in and goes out must also return in a biogeochemical cyclic system.  In other words recycling is not just a ‘nice thing to do’ but essential to natural functioning.  Human shit (as Marx noted) and all natural products have to find their way back into nature, while things that cannot be recycled or only pretend to be recycled (plastics, cell phones, etc.) break the cycle.  Putting things in landfills short-circuits recycling. 

2.           eCivilization actually ‘decycles’ not recycles. 

3.           The world runs on sunlight.  Photosynthesis is the basis for nearly all processes, primarily food production but also gas, oil and coal. 

4.            An extensive carbon-energy eCivilization ruins the future and reaches into the far past to literally fuel the present. 

5.           Externalities are ignored and un-priced in a linear system.  They are ‘free’ - out of sight, out of mind, until no longer able to be ignored.

6.            Artificial fertilizers deplete the soil and ruin water, creating dead zones, ocean acidification and toxic tides, while being made using natural gas. 

7.            eCivilization speeds up time in one direction, while the biosphere operates at a certain slow pace.

8.           Species destruction is a direct result of habitat destruction.  Habitats are being destroyed on a daily basis in the interests of growth.

9.           GDP is a false way of understanding progress.  It combines desirable and undesirable / useless economic inputs while ignoring externalities.  Yet capitalist governments and markets all worship GDP and growth.

10.       Negative feedback loops that balance functioning have been removed and only positive feedback loops are preferred, leading to non-stop acceleration.

11.       Unelected capitalists and bureaucrats are actually in charge of nature, not ‘democratic governance.’

12.        Any economy is a subset of the biosphere.

13.        Social and economic complexity requires more energy.

14.        Most biologic processes are local and many solutions can be local.

15.        Human capital ultimately over-exploits natural capital, as trawler fishing in the Atlantic depleted the cod stock.

16.       The building blocks of any society are bio-chemical – nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, sulfur and water. 

17.        eCivilization is structurally unsustainable, no matter its advertising.  It is also structurally unjust.

18.       Consumerism is unsustainable.

19.       Modern efficiency actually leads to more consumption. (The Jevons paradox.)

20.        In eCivilization simplifying natural webs results in natures’ poverty, aka monocultures, while technologic complexity increases at the same time.

21.       Energy flows through but materials recycle.


Some quotes: 

“Industrial agriculture is a black box to convert fossil fuel energy into edible fuel energy.”  Alternatively the process is: “fossil fuel calories into fertilizer into food calories.”

“8 units of grain production are required to make 1 unit of pork production.”

“In its current form, mass production depends almost as much on the garbage truck as on the assembly line.”

Unending growth and sustainability together are “merely nonsense on stilts.”

“Today machines do 99% of the work and humans do perhaps 1%.”

“To save minutes, we consume eons.”

“Progress, our secular quasi-religion, encourages magical thinking that licenses non-rational activities.” 

“The rising tide that has lifted our boats now threatens to submerge our cities.” 

Solutions:

Qualman’s vague solutions are to ‘limit growth,’ ‘limit sprawl,’ ‘limit extractions and emissions,’ ‘limit interventions into natural cycles’ and instead manage ‘biosphere and business.’ He quite rightly wants any society to function along the lines of science.  His eco-solutions are found in immediate sun-based technologies – solar and wind – wind being created by sun-based heat differences.  Energy-conscious and health conscious agriculture and diets are part of his solution, though he is also vague on this.

On the issue of theory, Qualman ignores the fact that seemingly stable ‘circular’ flows actually change over time too, so circularity is only an approximation.  Dialectical flow is more accurate, combining different values of circular and linear in opposition to each other.

Qualman paints a dire and apocalyptic portrait of the present and the future.  The disconnect between his solutions and his analysis is somewhat ridiculous and represents a huge failure of political understanding.  This may reflect Qualman’s time as a small businessman and independent farmer, which allows him to coddle the profit motive. What is required is quite literally a revolution in society – in theory, in technology, in power and class relations, in economics, in our grasp of nature.  It will not come by half-means, quarter-means or compromise.

Other prior reviews on this topic, use blog search box upper left:  “This Changes Everything” (Klein); “Anthropocene or Capitalocene?,” “Marx and the Earth” and “Ecological Revolution” (both by J.B. Foster); “The Sixth Extinction,” “Ecology & Marxism,” “History of the World in 7 Cheap Things,” “A Redder Shade of Green,” “Stop Tar Sands Oil,” “Tar Sands,” “Climate Emergency,” “Planning Green Growth,” “The Collapse of Western Civilization,” “The Vanishing Face of Gaia,” “The Party’s Over.” 

And I bought it at May Day Books, which has a huge selection of discounted books on the environment from a left-wing point of view. 
Red Frog

January 7, 2020


Friday, January 3, 2020

Stories of Nigeria


“Girls at War and Other Stories,” by Chinua Achebe, 1973

Achebe is in a group of older African novelists well known in the ‘West’ – Amos Tutuola, Ousmane Sembane, Nadine Gordimer, Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.  Achebe is probably the most celebrated for his novel Things Fall Apart which details the effects of colonialism on Nigerians and traditional Ibo culture.  The stories in this collection were written over a period of time, some when he was only in secondary school. They show the conflict between ‘modern’ ways of doing things and the cultural reality of most Nigerians.  A few of the stories, including the title one, reflect the Biafran war for independence, where Achebe was Minister of Culture. 
 
For the modern urban reader, these somewhat dated stories smack of many prior and negative African stereotypes.  As such they are a bit sad to read but then they mirror events even in advanced capitalist societies.  These are stories of village and market town life, not of the big Nigerian cities.  People live in huts.  For the rich there are multiple wives.  Palm wine is the local intoxicant.  Two corrupt parties with almost identical acronyms vie for power. Buying votes is de riguer, as no one believes anything much anymore.  White Christian missionaries force their ideas on the locals and some locals take them up. Naked madmen walk the dirt roads.  Those who marry those their family do not like are outcast.  Herbalists, or ‘medicine men’ provide health care, including dumping patients in ‘the bad bush.’  Superstition, magic and terror reign in multiple ways, such as sleeping with ghosts.  One story involves an addiction to a rare substance - sugar.  Schooling is only for the rich.  The village priest is not to be crossed. 

The best stories are the war ones.  One is about a man who luckily gets his bicycle back and is able to make a living after the war.  He is assaulted by thieves who steal a stipend paid by the government, yet carries on because money is not everything.  Another is the title story about a young Biafran woman who joins the armed rebellion, then after a few years ends up as a consort to a rich powerful man just to survive.  It involves another government official who tries to take her under his wing, but also to steal her from the other man.  All ends tragically. 

Prior reviews on African literature and issues below, use blog search box, upper left:  “Famished Road,” “Black Panther,” “Searching for Sugar Man,” “Mandela, Obama, Castro & Kennedy,” “FGM,” “Monsters of the Market,” “American Exceptionalism,” “The Dream of the Celt,” “The Race for What’s Left,” “Last Train to Zona Verde.”

And I bought it a May Day’s excellent used and cut-out section!
The Cultural Marxist
January 3, 2020

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Cranky Yankee Returns


A Minnesota Yankee in King Trump’s Court
Listen up, you dour Minnesotans.  If you ever got out of the state to head south – except to Disney World in Florida – you’d have an idea how different the U.S. South is from the North, and especially from the cold North in Minnesota. Which is not the Midwest, it spite of our geographically-challenged media.  You can’t discover the world just by looking at documentaries or movies.

Some reflections while driving:
Stone Mountain, GA.  On one side a nice walk up a hill.  On the other...

One thing you start to notice is all the junk on southern freeways – plastic bags, shredded tires, dead animals, dead cars.  It’s no wonder Lady Bird had that “Keep America Beautiful’ program.  She was from Texas.  Those mournful cars, stickered or not, forlorn, left behind in some kind of poverty rapture. There must be stats on broken car to road ratios which closely correlate with low wages and poverty.  In Kentucky they don’t pick up the dead animals, which are shredded beyond recognition over time.  In the North we have groups that volunteer to pick up the garbage – adopt a highway.  Not so much in the South.  I guess they figure their jail gangs will do all the cleaning up for them. If you’ve read Bowling Alone you know the South has fewer social groups beyond family and church.  And it shows.  I did see one courageous young man blue bagging piles of garbage along a Tennessee freeway about every 100 yards.   Lots of bags and that was it.

The majority of the South was built yesterday.  Before the 1960s and the advent of air conditioning, most people didn’t want to boil to death and so the “Sun Belt” stayed sunny and empty except for the people that hadn’t escaped.  Then it changed and they had to build mini-malls, one story chain stores, fast-food joints, parking lots and roads everywhere.  The ranch houses in the woods followed.  They brag about all the northern ‘snow birds’ who come south for the winter.  Well, there are also ‘heat birds’ who come North for the summer.  They don’t talk about them.  It’s not hot in the summer, it’s not!.  (This year was one of the hottest years in Southern history for Southern cities.)

Subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, killing heat and heavy rains, the South is like a punch drunk Christian Hero if you watch enough of the Weather Channel.  Especially that Dixie alley coming out of Texas or Louisiana, stretching across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.  You can only tell the Weather Channel reporter that “The only important thing is that we're alive” and “Thank God!” once while looking at your decimated home and crushed or flooded pickup.  But twice?!  After that you have to start to wonder.  Granular change … very granular…

Then there is ‘revenge’ driving, a cousin of road rage.  This usually involves people playing games on freeways by getting in front of you and then driving really slowly.  Repeatedly.  Usually in beat-up cars, because taking your anger out on other people on the freeway beats standing up to the local capitalist.  Did I say that?  I did.  Not to mention the clowns in their jacked-up Silverado’s with airplane light packages on the front of their pickups, blinding everyone, their version of a Monster Truck rodeo.  I suspect the beds of those trucks have never seen a scratch.

You might know of all the factories that have moved or have located in the South.  I’ll just mention auto plants.  In one drive through Alabama I counted 3 plants just off the freeways – Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai.  VW is in Chattanooga, Tennessee ("We Sign Off..." ad).  Toyota has ones in Kentucky, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, Nissan has them in Tennessee and Mississippi, Kia has one in Georgia, Mazda in Alabama, Volvo and BMW in South Carolina and BMW in Alabama. The foreign capitalists know where the cheap labor can be found! But they are not alone. GM has them in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas.  Ford has them in Missouri and Kentucky.  Fiat-Chrysler is the only one that does not have plants in the South. If you want to know where Detroit went, it mostly went south.

There are no unions in these plants.  2 large recent votes also ‘went south’ for the UAW.  It was not just the opposition of the full range of southern Republican politicians – the modern neo-Confederate factory plantation aristocracy – it was also a split between the more passive and servile workers and the less passive and servile workers.  And I suspect this split is based on gender and color lines.  If you’ve been around middle-aged 'white' male southern workers, they are more servile than in the North, in Minnesota.  A Minnesota worker has some tradition, some dignity, some knowledge that he’s not just a clown or a ‘hand’ or a brown-nose.  Not in the South. Looking up to your betters is big stuff here.  That is because the class and color-caste systems are stronger.

However proletarianization brings forth … proletarians.  Atlanta is home to many large corporations and so attracts labor from the North too. At a bar on North Avenue, the Northside Tavern attracts northern transplants to listen to party blues.  A beautiful blonde in a short dress came down and sat next to me at the bar and we got to talking.  Naturally.  I was wearing a dress jacket and jeans, as I’d come to pick up some friends.  I was not dressed in a NASCAR T-shirt.  At one point she leaned over and said, “Ahm’ pretta sic o’ rednecks…” I had to leave but that little comment tells the tale.  There are granular changes going on, even here.

Spelling Problems.  Jesus is an American Patriot!

This is an area where a Georgia politician can compare Trump to Jesus and the Democrats to Pontius Pilot.  Which tells you that reading more than the Bible might be necessary.  I listened to an hour-long broadcast of Richard Wolff on his Alternative Radio show in southern Illinois around Champagne-Urbana talking about Marxism.  Then I got into Kentucky and the Jesus and anti-abortion billboards, Trump love and monuments to Jefferson Davis accumulated.  An official state park in Fairview, KY celebrates Davis’ birth.  So a note to Joe Biden:  Winning Democratic primaries in most of these states will not help in a general election.  Democrats at their convention might as well ignore them.

Military bases are all over the place.  Most of the bases in the U.S. are located in the South.  I drove by Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Arnold AFB in Tennessee and Dobbins Air Base in Georgia.  Georgia alone has 13 bases. The most notorious is the “School of the Americas” in Fort Benning, Georgia, home to torture training for Latin American thugs. These federal bases provide a large economic stimulus to the communities they are in, dominated by politicians who want to ‘shrink’ federal dollars to anyone but themselves.  And we wonder why the South provides such political support (and personnel) to endless wars.

I go into a Burger King in Tennessee looking for the vegetarian “Impossible Whopper.”  Sorry, but road food is pretty awful and you have to get your breaks when you can.  The store is run by young people spilling food on the floor, not paying attention to anyone waiting to order, basically horsing around.  In Minnesota you do not see that level of chaos in fast food joints.  It is the little things… I left.

Other acerbic takes on the South below, use blog search box upper left:  “Southern Cultural Nationalism,” “The Neo-Confederate States,” “Florida Will Sink,” “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” “May Day in the Southern U.S.,” “The North is Not ‘The Midwest,’” “Monroe, Alabama & To Kill a Mockingjay,” “Go Set a Watchman,” “Selma,” “Meridian.”

The Cranky Yankee

Athens, Georgia

December 31, 2019