Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Kiss and Tell


“Post Office,” by Charles Bukowski, 1971

Bukowski has always been a conflicted figure – both repulsive and attractive.  This ‘ring of truth’ book drove his persona into the national limelight.  Unlike Bukowski’s image as a hard-drinking, womanizing, lazy bastard, in this book Bukowski’s alter-ego Chinaski works at the Los Angles Post Office over two periods for a total of more than 15 years.  No shit!  No Tom Waits’ coffee drunk loitering in dark bars, Chinaski here lugs heavy bags of mail up hills, through rainstorms and sorts mail like a tired machine, hung-over, dreaming of scoring at the racetrack.  That is when he’s not being forced to work overtime.  He is cursed by petty and implacable post office supervisors, nutty coworkers or pathetic, mostly female customers waiting for their letters. 

This is probably the ONLY book written about working in the post office and as such, deserves a pride of place in the literature of labor - even though that might not have been its intention.  I myself got hired at the Post Office in the 1970s after passing the tests.  But when they toured us through the job-to-be – sitting at a machine for 12 hours sorting letters by zip code – I never showed up for work. 

Chinaski/Bukowski shows up, and defies his bosses time and time again.   They write him up and write him up to no avail. This is mostly during the 1960s and the spirit of rebellion is in the times, even if ‘the times’ are invisible in this book. This is the book’s main flaw.  Rebellions are breaking out all over the country; students are on strike; there are continual confrontations in the street with police; murder is the order of the day.  The ‘brothers’ at the P.O. are seen by supervisors as dangerous thugs.  The postal workers union (APWU) is nigh invisible, though in 1970 there was an illegal postal workers wildcat strike that went national.  Los Angles was part of all this.  Yet hung-over gambler and sex addict Chinaski barely notices or cares about any of this.  You see, it is all about him.

In the Cold Rain & Snow
So the book becomes a humorous exercise in solipsism.  At this point in history, clammy sexist attitudes towards women and drunken writer romanticism don’t really fly, though they can still be funny.  After leaving the Post Office the first time, Chinaski tries to make money at racetracks.  He succeeds for awhile and just comes off as another greasy parasite when he wins.  

Workers in U.S. culture are usually depicted as buffoons or lumpens.  Here the book leans to the latter, a form of vicarious slumming.  The real value of the book is not this low-life shtick, but its crazy descriptions of 1950s and ‘60s life as a route carrier or mail clerk sorter – helpful should you be so lucky as to get hired at the Post Office.

Other reviews on fiction books about working:  “Factory Days,” “Polar Star,” “Red Baker,” “Cade’s Rebellion,” “Night Shift.”  Use blog search box, upper left. 

And I bought it at Second Story Books in Ely, MN.
The Kulture Kommissar
June 18, 2019

Friday, June 14, 2019

Capital Against the "Grand Narrative"


“Capitalist Realism – Is There No Alternative?” by Mark Fisher, 2019

This is another thin book from Zero Books in their non-academic public intellectual series.  Thinness is a virtue, let me tell you.  Fisher’s supposed main point here is to challenge the philosophic designation of post-modernism as the present functioning of culture under capital and replace it with the notion of ‘capitalist realism.’  This is much like authors who challenge the ‘anthropocene’ designation for the present environmental period and want to call it the ‘capitalocene.’  Fisher argues that Fredric Jameson’s idea of ‘post-modernism’ no longer makes sense because the situation has gotten much worse since the 1980s.  ‘Modernity’ as formally described no longer exists, so it is not even a reference point. 
     
Fisher is inspired (of course) by Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, David Harvey and the French neo-Marxists – Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, Badiou, Lacan, Lyotard and Baudrillard.  Marx and Franz Kafka provide backup.  Movies, among them “Children of Men,” “Wall-E,” “Office Space” and “The Parallax View” make appearances illustrating points the author is trying to make.  ‘The Big Other” makes repeated visits too, which moves me to caution writers against this pompous vagueness.  NAME the ‘big other’ for fuck’s sake.  It is not true that HE does not have a name – especially for Marxists.

Fisher argues that capital has moved from a discipline society to a soft control society – control through culture.  He paints the familiar picture of the ‘conquest of cool’ – how cultural rebellion has been commodified in such a way that now actual rebellion (in the global north I would assume...) is unthinkable. The entertainment-industrial complex has created a hedonist environment where constant entertainment and food - music, videos, drink, pictures, television, movies, games, drugs - saturate the population, especially youth. This cultural soup undermines any stern ‘grand narrative’ opposing capital, as belief in anything but enjoyment and happiness is at zero.  Boredom is the enemy!  Our emotions are all that matter!  Thinking is stupid!  Even many ritual protests against aspects of capital are inert: “Protests have formed a kind of carnivalesque background noise to capitalist realism.”  Instead of class struggle we have charity.  I.E. there is no future beyond the infantile present.

Fisher argues that there is nothing ‘real’ about capitalist realism – ‘reality’ under capitalism is an ideological concept that pretends to be natural.  Fisher discusses the issue of increasing mental health problems under capital, which show that falsity and stress have actual consequences and reflect an underlying reality denied by capital.  He also looks at the increase in bureaucratism under lax ‘horizontal’ post-Fordist capital, which gives the lie to its pretensions of increasing freedom.  Much of this is self-imposed by workers upon themselves. He calls this rise in capitalist bureaucratism “market Stalinism,” with the call center a reference point. 
 
Eat and Text, Eat and Drink, Eat and Facebook
Fisher, in his remarks about labor, only references public workers – in academics, in the civil service, in the British National Health Service.  He has nothing about labor in the private sector and nothing about the global south.  The various chapters in the book seem not to be a tight argument, but instead a looser series of observations.  For instance, he remarks that control societies are based on debt, not on punitive ‘enclosure.’  But he has nothing to say about debt, only about illusions.  Nor is he aware that “Fordism” is very much alive in much of the world, even in Europe and the U.S.  He is not part of any organization except perhaps the British Labour Party.  Ultimately the book comes off overwhelmed, as it seems to portray ‘The Matrix’ as successful and all that is necessary for capital.  As a consequence, his suggestions on how to change the situation seem slight.

However, the book contains some interesting insights and neo-Marxist references, worth a look to update your own ideas.  Fisher is dead set against the heroic nostalgia of 1870, 1917, the 1930s or the 1960-1970s, and that makes sense.  The present and future is the thing.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 14, 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Cult of Expert Nonsense


“Psychology and Capitalism – the Manipulation of Mind,” by Ron Roberts, 2019

This short book centers on the uses of bourgeois psychology to capital in the realms of control and illusion.  Studies have shown that since neo-liberal capitalism was introduced in the late 1970s, rates of mental distress have increased markedly.  This has affected oppressed populations the most.  Yet the methods of contemporary psychology and psychiatry center their ‘treatment’ on individuals alone, with no historical content. They ignore how capital has configured society.  This is on purpose.

You will note the psychological theories that used to be taught in school - Freud, Adler, Maslow, Jung, Skinner, Rogers and others – all of them conflicted.  This undermined any idea that psychology was a science.  The present large division between ‘talk therapy’ and biological drugs – the ‘couch and the brain scan’ approaches, as Roberts put it, also conflict, though biological reductionism is now the most prominent.  Roberts counts 11 modern forms of psychology at present - all of which are not integrated. These contradictions hint at the ideological aspect of modern psychology. 

Roberts looks at the uses ‘personality’ and ‘character’ studies have, and how they enable military and corporate entities to control warfare and workers alike.  Pop psychologists on PBS offer up ‘4’ aspects of personality, and rigid individual categories like neurotic, introvert and extrovert, ‘passive aggressive,’ ‘the self,’ ‘A personality,’ ‘beta males,’ nature and nurture, narcissism and intelligence fill common talk – all ahistorical and individualized, with questionable scientific bonifides.  Loneliness is the exception, as it is now commonly and obviously understood to be linked to social disconnection.

Roberts outlines the misuses of psychology as an insider.  He discusses ‘military psychology’ and its collaboration with torture; advertising manipulation; IQ and the bogus aspect of twin studies; poor drug science and especially the role of the individual. As to the latter, he says about current psychology: “…the individual is the primary reality … By amazing coincidence, it is also the cornerstone of ‘rational’ self interest and individualism upon which the entire field of economics is predicated.”  
Corporate psychology pushed through HR departments is especially geared to getting the worker to be agreeable, conscientious, punctual, resilient and flexible.  Especially flexible!  Psychology essentially “privatizes responsibility” in Robert’s words. 
PTSD - Exception to the DSM Rule

Roberts looks at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) – the bible of psychology.  The categories were developed by committees, not by research.  Half of the members of DSM committees have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  The National Institute of Mental Health no longer supports the DSM, calling it ‘unscientific.’  The PTSD category itself exposed the rest of the categories, which are considered disconnected from social experience.

One stunner is that the Jason Bourne series (‘Treadstone’) is actually based on a real CIA program, MKUltra, which attempted to train assassins to be able to do anything without compunction.  The ‘defense’ industry is the largest employer of psychologists, which should give us all pause. 

Roberts lists a few ‘social psychologists’ who look at the links between society and individual functioning and concepts like alienation and consumer fetishism – Wilhelm Reich, Kenneth Gergen, Eric Fromm, R.D. Laing and Slavoj Zizek – all absolutely marginal to the field as practiced now.  Every psychology student should read this book.

P.S. - There is an excellent commentary on 'mindfulness' as a method of corporate and individualist quietism in The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/14/the-mindfulness-conspiracy-capitalist-spirituality

Other reviews on this issue, below.  Use blog search box, upper left: “Propaganda,” (Bernays); "Bright-Sided," (Ehrenreich); "The Happiness Industry," "Lost Connections," "Shopping World."

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 10, 2019

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Devil's Dance


“The Management of Savagery,” by Max Blumenthal, 2019

This investigatory book details the support or enablement of Islamic reactionaries by the U.S. government, military and CIA since Afghanistan in the 1970s.  It does not probe into events before that, such as support for the Muslim Brotherhood against Arab nationalists like Nasser or against left-wing Palestinian organizations like the PLO.  The relationship is conflicted of course, as each side utilizes the other when necessary, but also comes into conflict.  The book title comes from a 2004 Iraqi document by the founder of Daesh (ISIS) as to their plans, which certainly describes the functioning of U.S. policy in the middle east too.
The Eagle and the Scimitar

This is a familiar story with an astonishing wealth of facts that Blumenthal has gathered as a journalist.   He names names – the think tankers, journalists, politicians, cultural figures, advisors, professors, billionaires, generals, organizations, NGOs and lobbyists who promote the imperialist ‘Washington consensus’ - and their allies among the jihadis, the Israelis, the Brits, etc.  He also names the reactionary hacks pushing imperial war and Islamophobia, who have grown up in response. 

The template for U.S. bipartisan collaboration with Islamic reactionaries for the purpose of ‘regime change’ is Afghanistan.   The ‘regimes’ are usually leftists of some kind, or partly secular governments that do not toe the U.S. or corporate line. Or allies of an undeclared U.S. ‘enemy’ like Russia or enemies of a ‘friend’ like Israel.  The broad outline of what happened in Afghanistan is well known.  The CIA, the U.S. Congress, both parties, Washington ‘think tanks’ and ruling class organizations politically backed, funded or supplied weapons to the Islamic mujahedin in order to overthrow a Soviet-backed government in Kabul.  In the process, al Qaeda (AQ) was created and bin Laden celebrated by the U.S. and its allies like Saudi Arabia. 

Blumenthal describes how the same sectarian religious strategy was used in Iraq, Libya and Syria, with references to smaller efforts in Russian South Ossetia and Yugoslavia’s Bosnia and Kosovo.  Blumenthal includes the role of U.S. allies like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and NATO as consistently supporting these 14th century Islamic political fundamentalists as battering rams for imperialism.  Iran, Lebanon and Yemen are involved in these sectarian battle plans, though not addressed in the book.

The relationship is similar to the use the FBI has for the Mafia. Remember, our hero Robert Mueller was the case officer overseeing Whitey Bulger.  It is similar to the relationship the CIA had with death squads in Central America or now, rightists in Venezuela.  Blumenthal calls it ‘humanitarian militarism’ for its use of democratic phraseology to enable bloodshed and reaction.

The blowback caused by these regime change plans include massive migration, the strengthening and spread of armed anti-working class jihadist groups across the world, massive death & destruction, a huge increase in government disinformation and the propping up of Islamophobia, the international 'alt-right' and the false narrative of ‘the clash of civilizations.’  Both political Islam and Western reactionaries feed off this conflict. 
The British Independent - 1993

Here are some choice quotes from the book:
  1.     Zbigniew Brezinski (Carter’s national security advisor) in Afghanistan: “For Brezinski…the mujahedin and backers like Zia’s Pakistan and the Saudi royals represented a reactionary ‘arc of Islamism’ that could be encouraged to provide a powerful counterweight to communist influence.”
  2.     At “a CIA black site in rural Virginia…special-forces soldiers trained Pakistani officers and visiting Afghan mujahedin…”
  3.     Knight-Ridder reported the main complaint of Afghans in refugee camps:  “What they did not like…was that the Communists in Kabul wanted to send their daughters to school.”
4.     Saudi-trained Taliban police:  “Throw reason to the dogs.” 
5.     “Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya became the first country to issue an international Interpol arrest warrant for bin Laden.” 
6.     Banjamin Netanyahu:  “A graduate of MIT from suburban Philadelphia who later worked at Boston Consulting with Mitt Romney.” 
7.    1996 “Clean Break” Likud plan:  “…violently replace the leadership of any regional state that challenged Israel’s agenda – a feat that could only be accomplished with direct American military intervention.” 
8.     al Qaeda: “We want the United States to invade Afghanistan.”
9.     Howard Stern on 9/11:  “We gotta drop an atomic bomb.” 
10. Dan Rather on 9/11:  “George Bush is the president…As just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”
11. al-Arian on the 2000 Florida election and the issue of ‘secret evidence’ against Muslims in courts, which Bush opposed but Gore did not:  “We campaigned around Florida (for Bush) and we said this (election) is not about Iraq or Palestine; it’s about civil rights.”  According to them, they turned out 1,500 more votes for Bush than would have happened otherwise.
12. Clinton’s 1998 Iraq Liberation Act: “…committed the United States to regime change and doled out $97 million to Chalabi’s Iraq National Conference…”
13. Michael Ledeen (arch-conservative):  “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business.”
14. The Green Zone in Iraq:  “The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was a study in neo-colonial arrogance, nepotism and libertarianism run amok.” 
15. In 2006, al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq declared a caliphate and ordered all Sunni Muslims … to pledge allegiance to its new emir …Abu Umar al-Baghdadi.”  (al-Baghdadi later became a founder of Daesh.)
16. “Islamophobia became the language of a wounded empire.”
17.  "A former Goldman Sachs vice president and longtime Hollywood hack named Steve Bannon…”
18. “Bannon clearly sought to transplant the clash of civilizations narrative into domestic politics, with Muslim immigrants and their ‘cultural Marxist’ defenders as the target of a reborn ‘alt-right.’” 
19.  Obama, February 2011:  “…signed a secret finding authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support to Libyan rebels.”  (Most of whom were jihadis.)
20.  Military humanism:  “Their brand of interventionism appealed directly to the sensibility of the Democratic Party’s metropolitan base, large swaths of academics, the foundation-funded human rights NGO complex and the NYT editorial board” which allowed them “to mask imperial designs behind a patina of ‘genocide prevention.’  With this tactic they neutralized progressive antiwar elements and tarred those who dared to protest their wars as dictator apologists.”
21. Obama, August 2011:  “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.” 
22. 1986 CIA memo on Syria:  Syria:  Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change: … we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or mutiny, setting the stage for (sectarian) civil war.”  The authors believed the Muslim Brotherhood would be key in this scenario.
23. Clinton on Libya: She wanted to support “the hard men with the guns” as long as they opposed Gaddafi.  The 'hard men' were jihadis. Weapons from Libyan co-thinkers found their way to Syria, into the hands of AQ, Daesh and other extremist right-wing factions. 
24. CIA lead analyst Douglas Laux of the Syria Task force on the Free Syrian Army in mid-2012:  “There were no moderates.”
25. A former U.S. ambassador to the Middle East:  “The ‘red line’ was an open invitation to a false flag operation.”
al-Nusra, AQ in Syria - Ally of U.S. against Syrian Government

Blumenthal gives short shrift to 9/11 Truthers, as they hide the actual involvement of the Saudis, AQ and CIA/FBI.  9/11 was only partly an ‘inside job’ – it was carried out by U.S. allies and former allies.  He details the extensive links between AQ members in the U.S. who functioned as ‘double-agents’ and the FBI/CIA.  The FBI/CIA did almost nothing prior to 9/11, though they had some foreknowledge on the activities of their sources.  He reminds us that Trutherism was first pushed by Alex Jones, a far-right white nationalist.  Blumenthal shows how the Benghazi hearings ignored the real issue of jihadist control of Sirte enabled by the CIA and NATO bombing.  He also deconstructs the ‘White Helmets’ as a jihadist propaganda group created and financed by Britain and the U.S., a group which gained a Nobel nomination and an Oscar. Blumenthal and other reporters hold the White Helmets responsible for the fabricated chemical attacks attributed to the Syrian military.  

This is a thorough book that documents history since the Afghan war, reminding anyone who paid attention and telling anyone who didn’t what U.S. policy was and still is.  Though, as Blumenthal points out, now the government has real ‘enemies’ – Russia & China.

Other reviews on this topic below.  “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire,” “Finks,” “War With Russia,” (Cohen) “The Death of the Nation,” (Prashad); Dirty Wars,” (Scahill); “The Terror Factory,” “Slave States,” “Lipstick Jihad,” “The Left and Islamic Literalism,” ‘Argo’ and ‘Zero Dark 30,’ “Rojava,” “What is the War on Terror,” “Erdogan,” “Blow Back to Iraq,” “Warrior Cops.”    

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 6, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

Instead, sabotage!


“Native Tongue” by Carl Hiaasen, 1991

This book makes relentless fun of the bastards behind the corruption and destruction of Florida’s natural and social environment.  Greedy real estate interests, absurd theme parks and golf courses cover the landscape with the help of local capitalist governments.  Alligator farms, snake pits and exotic animal cages desecrate a natural environment slowly being paved over from shore to wetland, from barrier island to orange grove.  Mangroves, cypress swamps, panthers, birds, fish and Seminoles better get out of the way of the money machine. 
No More Talk...

To oppose this circus of greed is a strange group of compadres – similar to Abbey’s The Monkey-Wrench Gang of the southwest desert.  They ultimately don’t believe in using reason or logic to persuade the despoilers - because it doesn't work.  Instead, sabotage!  A former governor hiding in the woods on North Key Largo with a panther collar around his neck, guns and gasoline in tow.  Two greasy redneck burglars with hearts of gold.  A rich old lady that plots to stop a shore-line golf course and condo development, sometimes using her pistol.  A dark-skinned cop that sides with them secretly.  A theme park actress who burgles her boss.  A former journalist and flak who tries to protect the environment with reason and bad publicity, then endorses different tactics.  And a dolphin that kills with love. 

This book, like other Hiaasen books with similar themes (“Sick Puppy” for one...) will make you erupt in chuckles so that people in coffee shops stop and talk.  One target of Hiaasen’s humor are overweight, pale tourists shelling out too much money for the junk that can be Florida.  His lead dickhead is a ex-Mafia snitch who becomes a successful theme park entrepreneur, aided by a steroid-sucking security thug.  The ex-Mafioso lies, cheats and steals in building his money-making tourist trap, while fabricating two ‘rare blue-tongued voles’ in order to extort money from the EPA and tourists.  This crude, golf-playing, obnoxious boss could be Donald Trump.  He is the familiar model of the unrestrained, sociopathic capitalist, a hyper ‘Scrooge’ whose only interest is lucre.
Florida Mangrove

Hiaasen was a reporter in Miami in south Florida, so he’s familiar with the types that run the state.  He has nothing but contempt for what they have done.

Other reviews on Florida or sabotage below, use blog search box, upper left:  “The Monkey-Wrench Gang,” “Hayduke Lives!” (Abbey) “Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands,” “Sick Puppy,” (Hiaasen) “Florida Will Sink,” “99 Homes,”  “Back to Blood,” (Wolfe).    

And I bought it at Chapman Street Books, Ely, Minnesota, USA.
The Kulture Kommissar
May 31, 2019

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Redder Badge of Courage


“April Morning," by Howard Fast, 1961

This is historical fiction about the heroic period and motivations of the American Revolution.  It is the dramatic story of the day before and the day of the confrontation on Lexington Green between British redcoats and Massachusetts farmers and townspeople.  The lead character, Adam, is a 15 year old boy, who maybe ‘becomes a man’ on that day.  It is comparable to a book many U.S. students read in high school, “The Red Badge of Courage” about the Civil War, but April Morning is better written and more believable.

The local farmers and townspeople in various villages throughout Massachusetts were organized in Committees of Correspondence – official anti-English bodies with a military arm that ‘trained’ with old birdshot guns, some rifles, even a blunderbuss.  Late on the night of April 19, an unnamed rider alerts the townspeople of Lexington to the approach of a large body of British soldiers.   They confusedly gather on the Green in the dark, argue, then decide to confront the British with words, partly led by Adam’s father Moses.  Moses is one of those people who tiresomely debates everyone about everything.  In this case he is dead set against a military confrontation.  And so they select a speaker to address the British, their Reverend.

In the cold early morning, 66 men and boys line up on Lexington Green with their shabby weapons held at ease. When the British get there, there is no ‘parlay’ or speeches.  The English fix bayonets, then open fire, killing Moses and several others, while everyone else runs for their lives, including Adam. No one shoots back. The rest of the day describes their use of exhausting ‘guerilla war’ tactics against the British, as the redcoats retreat on the road from Concord back to Boston.  This is where Adam gets his ‘baptism of fire’ and learns not to be terrified.

Of course there is a girl to impress; a mother, granny and little brother to return to; a dead Father to mourn.  The rural people did not want an invading English army, which had cruelly occupied Boston.  They resisted, initially in the most na├»ve way possible.  But eventually they inflicted a bloody punishment on the English army due to their extensive organization, political consciousness and anger.

This is a familiar male ‘coming of age’ narrative and would be an excellent replacement for “The Red Badge of Courage” in schools.  The problem is that ‘coming of age’ in this context reinforces the idea that warfare is ‘the’ key to masculinity – which it is not.  With that caveat… Fast’s writing is detailed, political and descriptive, to the point where you feel you have experienced what the rebels at Lexington went through.  

Fast himself was a member of the Communist Party for a time, was jailed for not naming names during the McCarthy witch-hunt, then quit the CP after the revelations about Stalin in 1956. 

Some other U.S. based political fiction reviews below:  “Spartacus,” “Citizen Tom Paine,” (Fast); “The Road,” (McCarthy) “Red Baker,” (Ward)“Factory Days,” (Gibbs)“Cade’s Rebellion,” (Sheehy) “Amiable With Big Teeth,” (McKay)“American Pastoral,” (Roth) “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” (Baldwin) “Hayduke Lives,” “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” (Abbey) “Affliction," (Banks)“Gray Mountain,” “Sycamore Row,” (Grisham), etc.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at Chapman Street Books in Ely, MN. 
Red Frog
May 28, 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Spotless Minds


“American Exceptionalism and American Innocence – A People’s History of Fake News-From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror,” by R. Sirvent and D. Haiphong, 2019

This book was written for new activists.  It is not about how the bourgeois press covers U.S. politics, domestic or international.  It is a brief political history of the U.S. from a left-wing point of view, up to the Trump administration – so actually past the ‘war on terror.’ 
For new activists

The focus is on the colonial and imperialist character of the U.S. – topics that exist outside the mainstream of Republican and Democratic party thought. The authors argue against the idea that the U.S. is the most exceptional country in history, something put forward by corporate politicians and media to this day.  This is the elixir that allows repeated crimes by the U.S. to be committed, unseen or unremembered.  As such, it enables an essential political innocence for the population, especially some citizens of pink and beige skin.  Spotless minds, as they say.

The usual issues are taken up – native American genocide, African-American slavery and the dark sides of the American revolution, WWII and Korea.  The authors discuss Charlottesville, the ‘meritocracy’ and black wealth; imperialism and Black Lives Matter; U.S. inequality; the NFL and black labor; U.S. military involvement in Africa; ‘human rights’ hypocrisy; white saviors; the Russia-gate diversion; the failure of the ‘politics of inclusion’ under Obama; the faltering nation-state and its’ borders and finally, the repressive role of the U.S. military.

Quite a lot of topics.  There is a certain amount of repetition and mixing of topics within chapters.  There are 50 pages of end notes listing the quotes used, as they frequently quote other writers.   The style is rhetorical.  The book is inspired by the history of black radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. This is not a book for people who have covered these topics before, as nearly all of this will be familiar to them.  It is a book for people who are unfamiliar with the topics of imperialism, racism and colonialism as they relate to the U.S. 

Of most interest to me was the current Democratic Party strategy of identity ‘inclusion’ – even into the most repressive institutions in the U.S. – the police, the military, corporate board rooms and the Democratic and Republican parties themselves.  ‘Inclusion’ means for instance celebrating browner people having roles in those institutions, while at the same time those institutions shape them.  Ultimately the skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality and even class of those included can no longer matter, as they carry out the role the institution has for them. Inclusion puts a smiley face … 
  on what the author’s call ‘racial capitalism.’

‘Fun’ facts from the book:
1.    Wesley Clark, former NATO commander, pointed out that the 2001 U.S. plan to  intervene and try to overthrow governments in 7 countries in the middle-east and north Africa succeeded by 2007.
2.    The original native-American population of the U.S. was about 15M.  By 1890 fewer than 250k still lived on just 3% of the land.
3.    The white-supremacist legal system in the U.S. under Jim Crow inspired Hitler to create his own.
4.    During the Korean War, the U.S. leveled large parts of 18 of 22 northern cities and blew up every large dam.  Dracarys!
5.    The founder of Citibank became the richest man in the U.S. through trading slaves from New York to Cuba.
6.    “Oprah Winfrey has accumulated a billon-dollar fortune by prescribing individualist solutions for systemic problems.”
7.    Black Lives Matter sent delegates to Palestine – an example of ‘black internationalism.’
8.    A 1999 jury in Memphis concluded that MLK’s assassination was the work of various government agencies.  (See book reviews of the MLK killing below.)
9.    Matt Taibbi describing an NFL draft:  “creepy slave-auction vibe with armies of drooling, flesh-peddling scouts…”
10.  “…more wealth leaves Africa than enters it, by a figure of more than $40B.”
11.   $18B of the $32B in ‘aid’ to Africa in 2015 was used to pay outstanding interest to corporate lenders.
12. Dambisa Moyo:  “China treats Africans not as charity cases but business partners.”
13. Gaddafi presented a plan to the African Union for an African military alliance and a currency independent of the U.S. dollar - right before Libya was bombed by NATO.
14.  Vice Admiral Moeller said that AFRICOM’s true purpose is to maintain “a free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.”  (AFRICOM is the U.S. military organization in Africa.)
15.  U.S. nuclear arsenal contains almost 7,000 nuclear weapons.
16.  5 corporations control 90% of U.S. media.
17.  Most NGO’s are an arm of U.S. policy.  In Haiti, the “NGO Republic,” the NGOs number between 3,000 and 10,000 and almost run the country. 
18.  The Clinton’s role in Haiti:  Discouraged domestic food production; helped with coup against Aristide; aid money used to build hotels; opposed a minimum wage increase.
19. Even Jimmy Carter called the U.S. an ‘oligarchy.’
20. In 2017, Rachel Maddow spent 53% of her show talking about Russia-gate.
21.  One-quarter of all Democratic Party challengers in the 2018 midterms were former State Department, military or national security intelligence operatives.
22.  By 2014 Obama had transferred ¾ of a billion dollars in military weaponry to police departments.
23.  The increase of ‘black faces in high places’ has not changed the condition of the U.S. black proletariat.
24. Clinton recruited 50 GOP officials, billionaires and national security hawks to her campaign in 2016.
25.  “The concept of inclusion has fit nicely into the neo-liberal framework of individualism and meritocracy.”


Trump is dealt with as an extreme symptom of “American” exceptionalism, but not the cause. His case as a corrupt capitalist and vicious white nationalist is clear.

Other books on this topic reviewed below, use blog search box, upper left:  “American Theocracy,” “The Open Veins of Latin America,” “The Secret History of the American Empire,” “Why the U.S. Will Never be a Social Democracy,” “Whitewash of the Vietnam War,” “Land Grabbing,” “There Is Only One Race,” “How to Kill a City” and “MLK.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 24, 2019 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tell the Saudis!


GoT - Where Are The Pitchforks?

The bind that a modern writer has when dealing with a fictional world like Westros set in some kind of endless medieval period ‘might be’ how to undermine that world.  In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,” the role of the Westerosi peasants, laborers, townspeople, conscripts, prisoners and ultimately victims is almost non-existent. Barring short shit-throwing efforts against Joffrey and Cersei, they are merely objects to the lords and ladies of the 7 Kingdoms.  It is, after all, a ‘game of thrones’ centered on Westros– a title which clearly makes fun of the whole power and wealth-driven process.  Many people cheering for their favorite king or queen might have missed this.  GoT is much like the present, as is evident.  Yet the TV series and the books 'Game of Thrones' is based on leave the peasantry and townspeople uninvolved or bystanders – unlike actual history.  And so in GoT we are left with kingdoms.  The people have no independent ‘agency,’ as the academics like to say.
Where are the Pitchforks?

The only Westerosi forces that represent something democratic outside the kingdoms are the Wildlings, who recognize no royalty; and the Brotherhood Without Banners, backed by the God of Light.  And perhaps Jon Snow, who rejects his Targaryen claim to the throne. 

The narrative arc of the White Walkers and the Night King is clearly about climate change, not an 'othering' identity as some liberals have recently suggested.  This overwhelming existential danger ‘should’ have allowed the various factions – the 7 Kingdoms, the Wildlings, the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Dothraki, the Unsullied – to unite.  Like Trump and other climate deniers, Cersei and Euron Greyjoy had no truck with this.  The environmental danger was neatly disposed of with one unbelievable stab wound by Arya, so that wide social narrative fell apart and we were left with the little kingdoms again.  Without that tricky stab, the Night King would have won, as the climate change zombies had killed almost everyone.  Which they still might.

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DAENERYS:
Daenerys had been pictured as a megalomaniac for a long time, so her legions of ‘supporters’ should not be surprised.  That would mean they have ignored the narrative of someone who wants everyone to ‘bend the knee’ or else.  She is the ‘queen’ to rule them all - shades of LotR.  This might disappoint the Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren fans, but then it says something revealing about them.  Ah, the limits of bourgeois feminism!
London after the Blitz or ...

Daenerys is like the U.S. military, which champions itself as a 'liberator' (because it freed the slaves in 1865) and then dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - a firestorm worse than this.  JRR Martin likened the dragons to nuclear weapons in prior interviews and writers' opinions do actually matter.  In that war the U.S. also incinerated many German (Dresden) and Japanese cities full of civilians through conventional bombing.  Later they heavily bombed 18 of 23 cities in northern Korea, then wiped out a bunch of villages in Vietnam to 'save them' while leveling Hanoi. More recently there have been several Iraq wars using massive bombing and artillery where the victims were again civilians.  These laid waste to cities like Baghdad, Fallujah and Tripoli.  Aleppo and Raqqa were recently destroyed by U.S. bombers to save them from Daesh, though civilians were allowed to leave – unlike Daenerys.   

To this day, gruesome military interventions are styled as ‘humanitarian’ efforts to free people from tyrants. (nearly always in order to put another tyrant in their place…)  If you didn’t like the ash-covered and body-charred city of King’s Landing then you shouldn’t be cheering for the military or royalty.  But in the U.S. this is second nature for part of the population.  Now we are waiting for more bombs to fall on Iran or Cuba or Venezuela or the Donbass or Chinese ships or ?  Unlike part of our population, JRR Martin does not like war or ‘good kings’ so this is partially reflected in this story.

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Betting Pool - Spoiler
So who won the game, as the betting pools predicted? 

We have Drogon to thank for melting that damn Iron Throne.  We have Jon Snow ‘doing the right thing’ and putting another mad Queen out of our misery, but he gets punished for this.  So Bran Stark, the mystic 3-Eyed Raven, ‘wins!’  He rejects war with Sansa, his sister, who gets independence for Winterfell and a crown.  6 kingdoms and counting! He won’t have a son, so no lord has to ‘bend the knee’ to a line of his creepy raven kids.  He’s a cipher who knows everything and does nothing.  They wheel him into meetings and wheel him out, like someone in a nursing home.  The Iron Throne is now a wheelchair!   The new-old Hand Tyrion Lannister, the compassionate dwarf, conducts a comic meeting about rebuilding King’s Landing – yet no mention of cholera or burying the dead.  From tragedy to farce.   

Arya goes off 'west' to find Ireland or Iceland on a Stark ship, which made no sense at all.  From assassin to explorer.

For killing Daenerys, Snow is exiled to Castle Black by Grey Worm, which is really quite a light sentence for a queen-slayer.  Jon gives up any claim to royalty, leaving the craziness behind, including Castle Black.  Perhaps he will find another Ygritte beyond the Wall in Scotland with Giantsbane and the Wildlings - who by no accident are also called 'the Free Folk.'  Jon's is an anti-royal path and he's about the only one. The Dothraki and the Unsullied go home, much to their relief I’m sure, as being cannon-fodder is an unpleasant duty.  Until climate change forces some of them to again cross the other ‘narrow sea’ and find refuge in Germany, France or England.  They are, after all, representative of Africa and the Middle East in this narrative, but have lost their blonde ‘savior.’

This agreement came about in some kind of “Runnymede” discussion among the remaining lords of Westros, tired of war and authoritarian rulers.  The writers (and Martin) were no doubt plumbing history to see how to ‘break the wheel.’  This happened historically when the English nobles got King John to sign the democratic Magna Carta at Runnymede (a ‘meeting meadow’ near London) in 1215.  No Magna Carta here surely, and no King John or Jon or Cersei or Daenerys.  Tarly, the Book Worm, nevertheless suggests democracy.  They all laugh at him.  Even Sansa has an indulgent smile.  Poor sweet boy.

So that is how royalty got its 'kind of comeuppance' on GoT.  Partial independence, a blank mystic king, more power to the lords and peace for a time. We will have to wait for all of them to be totally disposed of by revolution.

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 WRITING
As to the complaints about the change in writing after the show-runners took over from JRR Martin’s text, there is an excellent article by Zeynep Tufekci in the Scientific American (here: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-real-reason-fans-hate-the-last-season-of-game-of-thrones/?redirect=1 ) that partly explains the change from ‘social’ writing to individualist, psychological writing that occurred in ‘Game of Thrones.’  Tufekci points out that many beloved characters continued even when their deaths were inevitable.  The “Long Night” episode should have seen most of them dead.  But most of the 'fan favorites' were still alive after this bloodbath.  Brienne of Tarth even gets mercy sex!  Tufeckci also spotlights the weak logic of ‘fate’ or genetics, the same fate that Bran ‘knows.’

C.G. Gibbs made this same point in 2015 about present U.S. fiction at a literary talk at May Day Books for his novel ‘Factory Days.’   At present the memoir, the family story, dysfunction, psychology, the ‘character,’ the ‘hero’ are still the center of much U.S. television, film and fiction.  Some have called the hyper-individualist memoir the ‘literary expression of neo-liberalism.’ Essentially, the socially-conscious early 20th century writing of people like Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Richard Wright, Jack London, Mike Gold, Jack Conroy, Meridel LeSeur, B. Traven, Agnes Smedley, Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrell, Tillie Olsen and Edward Dahlberg became a thing of the past, especially as it relates to the working classes and capitalism.  African American fiction is about the only strain to partly carry on this U.S. tradition past the 1940s. 
The real pyramid had a vastly larger 'bottom.'

And so GoT is done.  In reality, any story set in a medieval economy and society, with so many situations, history and characters could never be finished, as it reflects the real world – which never stops.  Any ending is arbitrary.  Individuals die but history continues because society is not built on individuals but on the social relations of millions.  It should end up with the revolutionary destruction of the serf economy that Westros and the Iron Bank are built on, the subsequent advent of capitalism, which is 'in the egg' in King's Landing, and its eventual replacement by world-wide socialism.  But JRR Martin will have to write that story until he is about 92 years old. He’s 71 now…

Even the GoT documentary about how they shot the last season reveals the hundreds of extras, artisans, artists, organizers and technical workers needed to do this film or any film.  The actors, director and show-runners are only the few at the top of a very big pyramid.

Other reviews on GoT, below.  Use blog search box, upper left, under ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘GoT.’  Reviews on fiction books, type ‘fiction.’  A link to YouTube program 'Democratic Dimensions' where CG Gibbs discusses the present dearth of socially-aware fiction and the literary mafia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpC8nqtw0kU

A ‘tip of the hat’ to Barry Link for the Scientific American link.

The Kulture Kommissar
May 21, 2019