Saturday, September 29, 2012

We Are Bill Murray

What is to be Organized?
I have a modest proposal.  It’s not about eating babies or the rich.  It is about how the Left might organize itself.  Right now, lets look at the terrain.  We have literally hundreds of political, social and cultural groups organizing on different issues – or the same issues - all over the U.S.  You may be a member of several.  You may be active.  You may just give money or participate in an event occasionally.  Or you may just read stuff on the internet and wish you were. 

Being an activist in the present situation in the U.S. is a mostly thankless task that only people especially ‘driven’ take up over a lifetime.  It is like becoming a musician or a painter or a long distance runner.  A calling.  Internal forces and external events combine to create a certain kind of person, a distinct and tiny minority presently.  The ‘usual suspect,’ you know.  So popular that if radicals had a skin color and an accent, they’d never get hired.  But we can usually 'pass' right now.

Working over a lifetime in a small grouping is not something most people want to do.  Yet the point of all this activism is to spread the ideas and organization, and eventually attain enough power to change some aspect of society, or perhaps all of it.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes there are small, medium and occasionally massive breakthroughs.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter – because it is the struggle that counts, even if the majority of people are busy worrying about their personal lives and not their social lives.  Existential, you see.

However, if you really care about social change, this is not sufficient.  It hasn’t worked as a social solution.  How can the Left in the U.S. – and by this I mean all the socialist and anarchist organizations, all the truly radical activist community and labor groups, all the ethnic or cultural radicals – actually build a force powerful enough to challenge the social strait-jacket?  The relegation to the edges? The capitalist class?

It is pretty obvious that if all of these groups found some common independent platform and independent action program to agree on, and formed one organization, or ‘front’ – then the working class – which is the class we really represent – would have the beginnings of political representation.  Something not presently available within the Democratic Party.  It would draw other groups within the class and other classes to it.  The organization could start as an activist front; a socialist front; an anti-capitalist front, a 'classist' front, a populist labor front, a Black / Latino front, or some other formation.  It could aim to build a mass oppositional force that represents the majority of the country – the 90% or the 80% - not the corporations, the rich or the upper middle class.   All the groups could still exist, but they would have a common organizational structure linking them all.

I think there is enough agreement to form an organization like this - though there are some groups that, by their history, would not agree.  There are enough people in Minneapolis right now that would ‘join’ right away, and could form a fairly large group.  Of course, there is the human factor.  Many of the present leaders of various groups are committed to power in their little or medium-sized group, but are barely seen as leaders by anyone else.  The small-group mentality extends across the board.  Many groups live in a fantastical ‘linear’ world where each group will spring into prominence as the situation becomes radical.  Yet we know that spontaneous events rise … and then fall.  We’ve all lived through them.  Each group has its moment in the sun. And then the sun usually sets. So if the ‘leaders’ can’t agree – nothing happens over the long run.   

Let me give an example of the failure of the American Left when they did not ‘seize that moment.’  I am sure you have your own examples.  The most radical section of the American labor movement formed, under the initiative of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, the “Labor Party” in 1996 in Cleveland, OH.  This group eventually came to represent over a 1 million workers.  Yet at their first convention, the Labor Party refused to run candidates.  They wanted to be ‘educational,’ create an organization, work on single-payer and form a pressure group on the Democratic Party.  At the Pittsburgh convention 2 years later, they finally allowed the possibility of actually running someone, but no one actually ran.  By 2000, the only person running was Ralph Nader (who had spoken at both Labor Party conventions) and many Labor Party activists supported Nader.  The Green Party took off, while the Labor Party withered.  Of course, now the Green Party is withering.

The Labor Party failed to seize the moment of massive weakness in the American political system – Clinton’s attack on labor through NAFTA.  Part of this was due to being threatened by the Social Democrat in DSA in the leadership of the AFL-CIO, President John Sweeney, who said they would be expelled from the AFL-CIO if they ran anyone.  The other part was that they did not want to go through a fight with the most powerful forces in the U.S.  And the Democrats are one of them.  At the time, labor activists in Minneapolis did not understand the moment had passed.  But it had.  

What was the real result?  The ever-rightward drift of American politics, now concretized in a Republican Party not much different from the John Birch Society and a Democratic Party that is a re-incarnation of moderate Republicanism.  These are the wages of failure.

The Labor movement will never truly become aggressive until it feels it is not alone.  Or at least a wing of it feels that way.  Without some large formation working to its left, or inside it, it will not move - unless some kind of catastrophe happens perhaps.  Who's waiting for catastrophes?  Many.  And we may get them, but not of our choosing.

Moments pass.  They are precious.  Without the right organization or intent, revolutions pass.  Opportunities go by.  History flows along.  Time passes.  Quietude returns. And then everyone has to learn almost everything all over again later when ‘shit happens’ again.  It is like a giant version of Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray barely able to advance each day.  We are Bill Murray.

This process is dialectic.  Eventually people figure it out, just as Bill Murray did, and push back.  Capitalism is in trouble right now, world-wide, but as we know, they can worm out of most situations like Houdini.  After all, they have the money, guns and propaganda.  Yet if we are unprepared for their next ‘heart-attack’ – similar to 2008 – and all we have is our hundreds of little organizations – they will escape again, and the working class majority will be left behind again. 

The U.S. has a history of mass left populist organizations – the Populist Party, a formation joining the Knights of Labor and the farmer-based Grange; the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs; the Farmer-Labor Party, combining unions, farmers and middle-class intellectuals; the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s based on various strata of the population.  Yet since the rise of financial capitalism and the planned destruction of unions and working class employment in the North in the 1980s, there is little experience with long-running mass movements.  This is almost no organizational residue from these periods of any size.  The labor struggles against givebacks and plant closures in the 1980s, the Jesse Jackson campaigns, the anti-intervention protests centered around Central America never grew to truly mass status or permanent status.  The biggest has been the anti-war movement against the second Iraq war, which combined with world-wide protests against that bloody idiocy.  Yet, capital produces war like beer produces urine.  Even Occupy never became a truly mass movement. It is only the labor unions and the labor movement that have endured, which is why they have been under relentless attack for 35 years.

So my proposal is less ‘waiting’ and more openness to cooperation, more openness to close collaboration, to raising our sights, every group actually working together in a permanent formation that seeks to make it easier for people to be ‘activists.”  No one wants to be an activist in a tiny group except the truly committed or the ‘passers through.’  It has to be made easier for ordinary people to join, and stay.  Continuing the present trajectory will only result in putting our faith in events alone.

After all, 'workers of the world unite' is not just for others consumption, but also our own.

Red Frog
September 29, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

Snack Daddy Gives the ‘Russian Arriviste Hand Job’

"Absurdistan,” by Gary Shteyngart, 2007 

This is another book praised by the New York, Seattle & Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, the New York Observer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and even our own lame Minneapolis Star Tribune, which called it, “Hip and Hilarious.”  Which they know a thing or two about!

I agree this is a funny book, and I don’t mind poking fun at drunken Russians, crooked killer Azerbijanis and over-ripe ghetto girls. Even Halliburton, American Express and KBR come in for locked-on funny shotgun blasts.  But, as the philosophers say. let us ‘deconstruct.’ 

This is certainly a fucked-up, crazy world, and if they weren’t shooting everyone, it would be even funnier. 

“Snack Daddy,” or Misha Vainberg, is a gargantuan Jewish over-eater trapped in St. Leninsburg in Putin time, rapping about vaginas and spending money like the son of the 1,273rd richest man in Russia.  Which he is.  Daddy, a Yeltsin ‘primitive accumulation’ gangster, is blown up on a bridge over the Neva in Leninsburg, and Misha falls into depression.  Misha spent his college education in the U.S. at Accidental College, which is somewhere between Oberlin and Antioch in the Midwest of Ohio, majoring in multiculturalism.  Of which there is no Russian word.  He longs for New York City and his puta, Rouenna, a Bronx Dominican hybrid that wears thongs and talks ghetto.  You know, of course, the author is a Manhattan jack-off just from this premise.  So young Vainberg (vain, get it?) wants to get back to the U.S., or at least Europe proper, to be with his Rouenna.  But he cannot, because gangster dad killed an Oklahoman - which might not have been a bad thing, of course.  So Misha has to go to Absurdistan – somewhere on the Caspian Sea and somewhere in an ex-oil city like Baku – to get a bribed Belgian passport, and get the hell out of that so-called shithole, Russia.

The whole point is to eat, drink and be merry, which is supposedly a whole lot easier in the United States.

That is the premise.  We’ve covered Russia before, in reviews of “Life & Fate” by Vasily Grossman; “Soviet Women – Walking the Tightrope,” “Enemy at the Gates,” about the battle of Stalingrad, and “Reinventing Collapse,” by Dimitry Orlov (search for all reviews below) – but never on the humor trail.  And actually, no book was as hostile to Russia or Russians as this one, in its fond way. 

This guy Vainberg eats all the time, loves American rap music, loves spending money, attends telephone talk therapy, and perhaps could be a mirror for all the upscale American youth and New York hipsters that will never read this book.  But he’s a sympathetic character, so you forgive the subterranean American satire.  He’s a dedicated atheist, and that is a relief, and he even has a jones for the Soviet Red Army. The main targets are drunken, confused Russians; scheming Azerbaijanis, Texan whore mongers from KBR; and fulsome ghetto girls – in fact all girls, who are mostly moving vaginas.  This could be the true vagina monologue.  Russia, Azerbaijan, and all the other ‘stans’ around the Caspian come in for appropriate ridicule by a somewhat sophisticated American writer who spent a lot of time holed up in various writers retreats.

Absurdistan is in the middle of a war between two ethnic groups that are almost identical, the Svani and the Sevo.  One insists the footrest for Christ’s crucifixion cross tips to the left and the other insist it tips to the right.  The Svani are sheep-fuckers and the Sevo are merchants.  The real difference is, of course, who gets an empty oil pipeline through their land.  In a break from the personal story, Vainberg in his ignorance sides with the Sevo, as much as he might value a sheep now and then, and ends up being appointed the Minister of ‘Multi” Cultural Affairs and Emissary to Israel, or some such thing.  His main pro-Israeli project was to build a … holocaust museum.  (See review of "The Holocaust Industry," below.) Ah, you plugged in muthafucka, you.

Later Misha discovers the real reasons for the war, which involve the Department of Defense, USAID, the UN and Bechtel, and escapes Absurdistan with the help of American Express and the Mountain Jews. 

In the end the New York sophisticates, and the rest of us Americans can laugh at the dumb Dominicans, the whorish Absurdi women, the chauvinist and ruthless Absurdi men, billowing Rick Ross track suits, stupid Texans, sad Russian culture and piles of over-eaten food, and feel good about ourselves.  They – and we - are not really the targets.  You see, Misha loves New York.  So who got the hand-job from the Russian arriviste?

NEWS P.S. - If you want to know the real world of Azerbaijan, a recent news event could shed some light.  NATO held a English training event in Budapest, where among others, Azerbaijanis and Armenians were participating.  An Azerbijani killed an Armenian in his sleep with his axe.  The Azeris do not believe the Armenian genocide every happened, and evidently, Azeris really really hate Armenians.   Or as some like to call them, "The Jews of the Central Asia."   The Azerbiajanis are mostly believers in Shia Islam while the Armenians are the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity.   Well, the Hungarians had to put the Azeri in jail for life, after conviction.  The Hungarians under Orban finally let the Azeri go for 'humanitarian reasons."  Hungary was hoping for an oil deal in a swap for Hungarian government bonds.  The Azerbijani went back home to a hero's welcome, was pardoned at the airport, promoted to higher military rank and got, get this, back pay for his time in jail.  He was welcomed by a huge crowd as a national hero.  A few days later the Azeribaijanis told Hungary they were not going to buy any Hungarian bonds.

In Yerevan, Hungarian flags got burnt.  Not sure if the Hungarians were burning Azeri flags.. And so you see - Absurdistan really does exist.

And I did not buy it at May Day Books.
Red Frog
September 24, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Invisible Government of "Clean" Coal

“Propaganda,” by Edward Bernays, with an introduction by Mark Crispin Miller, 1928/2005

This book, a classic 1928 primer on media manipulation, is one of the origins of Noam Chomsky’s “manufacture of consent.” This phrase was first used by Walter Lippman, who was one of Edward Bernays’ heroes. Bernays is a product of early U.S. 20th century positivism, an atmosphere of ostensible science, uplift, moderation, intelligence and expertise.  In this thin book, Bernays in essence sells the job of the ‘public relations counsel’ to American and even international political campaigns, the government and corporations as something as necessary as corporate legal counsel.   And nowadays, everyone has one - so he won that argument.

The term ‘propaganda’ originated long ago in an office of the Catholic Church, and until World War I, it had a relatively straightforward meaning.  However, after that war, in which deceptive government propaganda was used to entice Americans to support a horrible slaughter, the term fell into disrepute.  Remember ‘the war to end all wars’ and ‘the war for democracy’ and ’Huns’ and ’Prussian barbarism?’  Those were propaganda phrases.  Nowadays, even when using propagandistic methods, no corporation or government ever admits to it.  That was for the “Russians,” you see.  “Americans” never do that.

Mark Miller points out that Bernays own record had its ups and downs.  He finally abandoned work for tobacco companies in the 1970s when the toxic effects of tobacco were finally well known, but he also promoted the 1953 invasion of Guatemala for United Fruit, as well as selling a lot of Lucky Strikes before that. 

In theory, the question is, what predominates – appearance or material fact?  Many leftists believe that the ruling class will always be in power due to their massive propaganda apparatus, which extends through newspapers, TV, radio, magazines and into the internet.  Most Marxists, on the other hand, do not believe that illusions are permanent if material facts continue to contradict them.  Statistics show that decreasing numbers of Americans believe the government, journalists, corporations, political parties, religions or advertising tell the truth anymore.  This slow, quantitative drip can someday turn into something else, if actual, real conditions don’t change.  False consciousness, which the U.S. is swimming in, only works as a temporary palliative.  Of course, how long that period is, is up for argument. 

Bernays actually does call the secret manipulators of public opinion an ‘invisible government.’  His exact quote?  “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society.  Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”  While being homey about his examples of successful propaganda campaigns – around the use of velvet in clothing, or dramatic hats for women (he uses a lot of fashion examples), repeated references to cooking classes put forward by baking companies, soap sculpturing, art competitions, physician recommendations, piano spaces or radio programs about cars, the essential ‘plutocratic’ perspective comes through time and time again.  Bernays, again, and I quote:  “Democracy, therefore, requires a supra-governmental body of detached professionals to sift the data, think things through, and keep the national enterprise from blowing up or come crashing to a halt.”  So if you are too busy to pay attention to social reality, and like some ‘expert’ to do your thinking about finance, politics, the environment or what restaurant to eat at tonight, Bernays is your man.  After all, Johnny has a toothache.

Bernays is not a reactionary.  He approves of the strides women had made; and distains the propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan.  But then, “When the example of the leader is not at hand, and the herd has to think for itself, it does so by means of clichés, pat words or images …” “Good government can be sold to a community just as any other commodity can be sold.”  Or... “Recently, the word ‘Bolshevik’ has performed a similar service for persons who wished to frighten the public away from a line of action.”  Worked for awhile, didn’t it?

Economically, he makes the statement that, “today, supply must actively seek to create its corresponding demand.”  They don’t teach that at the University of Chicago.  He turns one of the great clichés of bourgeois economics on its head. 

The key line, I think, is his thought that, “some think ... propaganda will tend to defeat itself as its mechanism becomes obvious to the public.  My opinion is that it will not … unless the propaganda is untrue or unsocial.”  Unfortunately for Bernays, so much propaganda is just that.  The recent flood of negative presidential campaign ads unleashed in U.S. 'swing states' can be counter-productive, as what they tell the viewer is that neither candidate has anything to offer.  At some point, it is very possible that viewers will turn off the ads.

I would argue that the internet and other media are right now breaking down a unified propaganda message by the ruling class.  Opinions not allowed on the network news get a hearing on the internet.  Most people are not watching the U.S. network news anymore, unless they are in their 60s and above - witness the multiple ads for geriatric products on those shows.  The audience for the fake-liberal version of the network news NPR is also aging.  However, that is also why some corporations are attempting to create a ‘two-track’ internet, and governments censor their internet, or use it to further perfect their police state. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 20, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Machu Picchu Speaks Again

“An Anthology of the Writings of Jose Carlos Mariategui,” forward and translation by Harry Vanden and Marc Becker, 2011.

Some non-fiction books are read to absorb facts.  Some books are read to bolster a polemic or to refine theory.  Some books are read for affirmation.  Some for background. Some even for enjoyment.  This book is one of those you read that stimulates thinking.  Unless, of course, you are a Peruvian, in which case it might help on all of these points.

This anthology is a compendium of 3 fragmentary books and many newspaper articles from the Peruvian Marxist JC Mariategui, from 1924-1930.  Mariategui was instrumental in the founding of the Peruvian workers movement and in a real, concrete and creative analysis of Peruvian society.  Mariategui in essence uses the Marxist ‘method’ to come to socialist conclusions about his country, Latin America and world politics. 

One of Mariategui’s great theoretical contributions is the incorporation of the ‘indigenistas’ – indigenous people – into the socialist project.  Peru had a population of which 4/5s were native Peruvians, descended from the Incas.  The ordinary republican liberals ignored the indigenistas, except in the sense of a vague humanitarianism, charity and social work.  Like Mao Tse-Tung and the Russian Bolsheviks, Mariategui understood that the problem of revolution could not be solved without bringing in the peasant majority.  One of his main continuators, Hugo Blanco, a Trotskyist activist who led a peasant uprising around Cuzco in the 1960s, still leads the “Federation of Campesinos of Cuzco.”  

His second great contribution was to point out that Inca society incorporated many aspects of primitive communism that still existed within the indigenista communities, and that this provided a road for a modern communist movement to appeal to the Peruvian peasantry on the land question.  His solution to the poverty and oppression of the native people and the Peruvian land problem was not social work.  It was the destruction of the feudal land-tenure system which existed in the highlands and the virtual slavery of the large capitalist farms on the coast dedicated to cotton and sugar, and their return to collective ‘Inca’ ownership.  Small individually-owned plots, according to Mariategui, are not viable - and this has been proved given the experience of the counter-revolution in Russia on agriculture (see review of "The Race for What's Left," below).  One example of the "Inca" collective work is the irrigation projects administered by the peasant communities themselves. (also similar to local collective Indian water management as mentioned by Vandana Shiva, reviewed below.) He evaluated the Peruvian capitalist class and saw they could not even complete a bourgeois revolution in land rights, but in fact ceded power to the feudal power of ‘Gamonalismo’ – large landowners who also controlled the local state apparatuses.  He makes equations between the actions of the Soviets regarding the Russian peasant collective ‘mir’ and the Inca equivalent, the ‘ayllu.’ 

His third contribution was to itemize the semi-colonial/imperial character of the Peruvian economy, in which cotton, sugar, oil and copper were privately owned, and pulled out of the country by firms from the United States and England, the profits exported, and very little left for Peru except as minimal taxes and low wages.  In essence, U.S. mining corporations had replaced the brutal Spanish conquistadors.  Because of the production of these resources by the indigenista workforce, which took them away from local production, food products had to be imported.  Additionally, the Peruvian government now had to go to the English bankers begging for loans from the Peruvian profits exported to London!

On questions of organization, he rejected premature attempts to form a ‘party’ not rooted in the masses, and advocated that all ‘classist’ labor groups be incorporated into one organization - one front.  His style was generally one of polemics against ideas, not people.  He opposed the ostensibly ‘progressive’ but actually bourgeois-nationalist APRA.  In 1928, he was finally part of a group organizing a Marxist and ‘vanguard’ Leninist ‘Socialist Party.’  However, democratic-centralism was not mentioned related to this group.

Mariategui’s education was wide-ranging, and in these selections he writes about psychology (Freud), literature (Gorky), the women question and feminism (Kollantai), ‘race,’ film (Chaplin) and art (Breton).  Here and in other writings, Mariategui shows his close acquaintance with many aspects of European philosophy, especially the French revolutionary syndicalist George Sorel.  Mariategui is notably interested in feminism, and seeks to identify it closely as part of the Peruvian struggle for liberation, and not just an odd, ‘western’ idea.  He analyses the white/ creole/ mestizo ruling and middle classes in Peru, and elsewhere in Latin America.  He describes their attitude as one of looking down on the former black slaves, the indigenistas and any other non-white nationalities like the Chinese, and hence they are more likely to sympathize with the imperialists on even this cultural level.  He opposes Pan-Americanism as a ‘cloak that hides U.S. imperialism” but supported Pan-Latin American unity against imperialism, following Jose Marti and Bolivar.  He followed the revolutions of the time in Mexico and Nicaragua, and also the U.S. military interventions in Haiti, Nicaragua & Panama

One section is a refutation of a ‘spiritual socialist’ attack on Marxism by Henri de Man, a Belgian, called ‘In Defense of Marxism.”  His comment on de Man’s approach denounced ‘drug-like Oriental occultism and Asian metaphysics.”  However, Mariategui was also influenced by Catholicism, and incorporated the need for ‘myth’ and ‘belief’ into his struggle for socialism, somewhat similar to the role it plays for Zizek. (see several Zizek books, reviewed below.)  Mariategui was a Leninist in the sense that he believed the working class could not passively wait for capitalism to collapse, but that it had to rise to the historical occasion.  But he adds that in essence, the voluntarism of a revolutionary is driven not just by logic or reason, but by an over-arching myth that can also transform a proletariat.  The anthology links his influence to the development of Latin American “liberation theology’ by Gustavo Gutierrez.

Mariategui’s method is to look at the actual conditions of Peru, and draw his strategy and tactics from that, not from a sterile repetition of Marxist verities.  In this, he actually follows Marx.  American Marxists - especially in the socialist organizations - would do well to follow his example.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 16, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer Reading

“The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown, 2003

Well, this is a summer read and Gramsci would be proud that we even took the time off to look at this historical murder mystery.  But it is not just a period piece or a whodunit.  It is a ‘who will find it?”  The object of desire is, of all things, the “holy” Grail.  Now, before you stop reading about such a hackneyed subject, let me explain.  This book is a bit subversive and it reached a mass audience, especially women.  

Brown’s harrowing chase between cops, innocent accused killers and the dark forces of the Catholic Church’s Opus Dei and the ‘Priory of Sion’ engender sweat-inducing escape after escape, into un-believability.  A possible love affair burbles in the heat of the chase, but goes nowhere.  Famous European sites in France, England, Scotland & Italy make their appearance.  Intricate puzzles are solved by historical knowledge, common sense and code-breaking.  But the heart of the book, to my mind, are the historical and cultural arrows shot at Christianity and the Catholic Church. 

In 2003 the Church had a somewhat more pleasant mien.  Today, the Church is led by Pope Ratzinger, elected in 2005, who headed the Church’s Office of the Inquisition, and who was also a former Nazi youth (don’t these seem to go together?).  Ratzinger has purged and continues to purge all liberal and left-wing elements in the Catholic Church, and blocked with American fundamentalist Protestants to oppose gay and women’s rights on a visceral, political basis.  He also continues to cover-up the biggest organized child abuse scandal in history. 

Brown brings to the surface the centuries-long issue of the ‘divine feminine’ principal that the Church under Peter, and under the first “Christian” Roman Emperor  Constantine attempted to extinguish – through blood and censorship.  The Gnostic verses – or gospels the official church left out of the Bible as being ‘heretical’ like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Coptic Scrolls - are part of that history. They were cut out of the Bible by Constantine at the Council of Nicaea, which voted on the principals of the Church, including announcing Jesus’ divinity. Brown claims the Priory of Sion is a real organization, which attempted to preserve an alternative story to the official line of the Church.  Dove-tailing a bit with a key part of Brown’s book is James Cameron’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” presented on the Discovery Channel.  It claimed, through linguistic, biblical, forensic, archeological, historical and scientific means, that ossuaries filled with bones found in a family crypt below a Jerusalem apartment block contained the bone remnants of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, a brother … and a son.  And the DNA in the bones of the young man matched those of both Jesus and Mary. To my mind, this is a better explanation than the Bible.

Brown litters his book with the cultural artifacts of the battle between Church orthodoxy and a perhaps more profound truth.  The real issue is the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth – was he human or divine? 

Brown’s fictional interpretation is that the Priory of Sion – peopled by Leonardo Da Vinci, Bottincelli, Victor Hugo and Issac Newton  – were busy protecting an actual ‘Grail” from the Church.  The Priory was connected to the Knights Templar and the Masons.  The Grail in this version is not a ‘drinking chalice’ but actual proof that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, and they had a child.  The "Grail" is a woman, in essence.  And furthermore, that child went on to have bloodlines in France, the Merovingians.  Most people think the Priory is a hoax, used by a Merovingian dynasty to gain power.  But that, to me, is not the relevant issue. 

The real issue is the more materialist background to this story.  Brown describes a wonderful collection of historical details that escape most of us.  “Friday the 13th” is supposedly named after a Friday the 13th in which a Catholic Pope attempted to kill off the Knights Templar in one fell swoop.  The devil has horns because the goat was a pagan symbol of fecundity, and so the Church turned it into its opposite.  The person sitting to Jesus’s left in the “Last Supper” is a woman – not a man.  Her long red hair and clothing with matching colors to Jesus’ own mark her as Mary Magdalene – who was not a prostitute, but a high-born Jewish woman.   Note that Peter is putting his hand across her neck like … he’s going to cut her head off. Brown wants to show that DaVinci really understood what the Grail was.  Some of the Gnostic verses attribute a very close relationship between Magdalene and Jesus – even intimating she could become the new head of the “Christian” movement.  The cross – and the word ‘crucifix – come from Hebrew words meaning torture.  Think about that next time you put one around your neck.  Mithras, a pre-Christian god, was born on December 25 – which is also the birthday of Osiris, Adonis and Dionysius.  The newborn Krishna was presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Sunday is the Christian ‘holy’ day because the pagan god’s holy day was ‘Sun” day too.  Even Eve’s ‘apple’ is a fantasy.  There were no apples in the Middle East.  However, there were pomegranates, a large, red fruit.  The book is chock full of this kind of thing.

At the end of the book, Brown cannot finally ‘pull the trigger’ on the Catholic Church by releasing the evidence of the real “Grail” – I think out of timidity.  He even makes one of the ostensible ‘good guys’ become the prime evildoer, just to hedge his bets.  If he had done so, the book would have ended in a period of future science fiction – as no one to date has produced more documentation than has already been released.  And that might have been a stylistic problem as a writer.

The "DaVinci Code" film was a somewhat cowardly and dull remake of the book.  Tom Hanks plays a professor who doesn't believe some of the 'divine feminine' stuff he has just written a book about (!). He argues with one character in the key scene in the book about the 'Grail" theory.  This argument is not in the book, nor are other parts of the film, which eventually goes on to portray a 'counter-mythology' that actually goes beyond the book.

However, the impact that Brown’s book itself had was to further undermine idealist Christian mythology before a mass audience – partly through introducing a new myth, but partly through a more historical version of Christianity and the fabrications of the Bible.  Due to fundamentalist religion’s hostility to women’s issues – and certainly the Catholic Church is a proud reminder of that – a book putting a woman at the center of Christian history, which just by accident restores sex to a place of honor, not repulsion, and finally gives a factual, scientific interpretation to Christian history over an idealist fantasy – seems a bit subversive, don’t you think?

P.S. - In the 9/18/2012 Huffington Post, Michael D'Antonio, a religion writers, cites a new document that has just been analyzed by scientists and others.  The ancient Coptic document includes the phrase, "Jesus said to them, my wife..." using a term that undoubtedly references a woman who was his spouse and not some metaphorical partner." Of course, this is not news, except perhaps to D'Antonio.  But D'Antonio's conclusions are very perceptive about what this would mean for the Christian faith and the Catholic Church.  I.E. the ideological patriarchy of the Church and Christianity would collapse.

And I got it from a co-worker…
Red Frog
September 10, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Sale While Supplies Last

“The Race for What’s Left – the Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources,” by Michael T Klare, 2012

Klare is a well-known authority on oil depletion, attempting to replace conventional pro-corporate oil historians like Daniel Yergin, author of “The Prize.”  This book extends the analysis of peak oil to other resources - including minerals and food – or ‘peak soil,” but fails to include water.  (See reviews of “Blue Covenant,” on water and "The Party's Over" on peak oil, below) In a sense, every single mile of the earth is up for bulldozing or drilling.  Locally, rumor has it that the site of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in Shakopee has been bid on to provide sand for fracking.  Permits have just been approved by our “Democratic” governor in Minnesota to dig up parts of the Mesabi Range looking for that tiny half-a-percent of useful nickel and other metal in the ore, which will leave behind lakes of sulphuric sludge.  Klare is also someone who is cognizant of global warming, which brackets this discussion. 

Klare, however, is not an eco-socialist, hence cannot identify the struggle for profits under capitalism as a key culprit.  His view is that it is ‘bad’ industrialism, a ‘bad’ industrialism absent any social content, as an abstract ‘fact,’ a supra-class entity, a product perhaps of just ‘bad’ thinking.  Like most people immersed in neo-liberal economic thinking, he is leery of government control of oil exploration and recovery, as if private versions, while also suspect, are merely equivalent.  In the final page he advocates ‘a complete transformation of industrial society, with all finite resources systematically replaced by renewable alternatives.”   What this might mean on a social level is left to the imagination.  But it seems to means replacing ‘black’ capitalism by a ‘green’ capitalism.  If it doesn’t happen, he predicts widespread war, starvation and environmental catastrophes.

In the process Klare’s analysis shatters the notion that we are living in a ‘post-industrial society’ dominated by paper-shufflers and ‘service providers.’ That fantasy is shown to be the lie that it always was, a lie designed to hide the blue-collar working class and the very material roots of society.  One of his key observations is that one of the ‘feedback loops’ of the melting Arctic is that the melt increases the possibility of deep water oil and gas production in the Arctic, which will then result in more melting.  And on and on. The extractive humans are one of the feedback loops. 

Klare’s book is for the most part a factual history of the last attempts to wring the earth of its remaining wealth.  The first section concentrates on common energy sources.  It locates every single project across the globe seeking oil and gas out of any source; seeking minerals of every kind from copper to lithium, and attempting to buy cheap, arable land to grow food.  He points out that energy is what runs industrialism, and oil and natural gas are past peak in all of the major fields of the world.  The only remaining significant sources for regular oil and natural gas are in deep offshore areas – the Gulf of Mexico, off Brazil, Africa, in Asian seas and in the Arctic Ocean. These areas are beset by political and environmental problems that make them somewhat less easy to exploit than sinking a pipe in a Texas prairie or a Saudi sand dune.   The Deepwater Horizon disaster was only the latest example of what oil drilling in deep water can do.  Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 113 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and damaged another 32.  A huge storm off Newfoundland in 1981 sank the massive 15,000 ton ‘Ocean Ranger’ oil platform, drowning 62 workers.  Ownership of various ocean areas in the Arctic, off China and even in the Falklands are claimed by a number of nations who refuse to compromise on boundary lines, which could result in more resource wars.  However, in one typical omission, Klare never mentions the Iraq wars once.

Klare then studies every replacement technology for ‘easy’ oil & natural gas – tar sands, shale gas, extra-heavy oil, oil shale, coal-bed methane gas, coal oil – you name it.  These technologies are popular across the political spectrum.  The Harper government has pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Treaty because of the Athabasca tar sands projects in northern Alberta.  The Obama administration lauded shale gas in 2010, in spite of the dangers to water and soil through fracking.  The Obama administration reopened off-shore drilling in the Gulf, but also off Florida and in the Arctic, both advocated by Republicans.  (Drill, baby, drill.) Venezuela is also investigating the exploitation of its ‘heavy oil’ deposits in the Carabobo area, hoping to get 60% of the profits.  Chinese companies are buying into these technologies all over the world, including the Alberta tar sands. (See review of “Tar Sands – Dirty Oil & the Future of a Continent,” reviewed below.)

Thirdly, regarding minerals, Klare’s story takes you to various formerly invisible parts of the globe, mostly in Africa, where rare and heavy metals used in high-tech, large deposits of copper, bauxite (for aluminum), uranium and iron ore are hidden underground.  The most surprising is Afghanistan.  It is not oil Afghanistan has, but vast deposits of minerals – ‘the world’s largest deposit of copper;’ ‘the largest unexploited iron ore deposit in Asia;” and ‘promising deposits of bauxite, gold, lead, tungsten and zinc, niobium, lithium and other rare earths.”  Klare estimates the minerals to be worth more than $1 trillion.  Now you know why we have occupied this country for 11 years. 

Greenland, Mongolia, Niger, Gabon, the Congo, Guinea, Kazakhstan and Bolivia are all sites of new mining endeavors for minerals, especially rare earths – those used for military, airplane and high tech gadgets, along with the batteries in Toyota Priuses. Here, Klare gets cranky about Bolivia’s Evo Morales, instead quoting corporate opponents of Morales.  Morales wants to not only exploit the lithium-rich brine under the massive Salar de Uyuni salt flat, but also build a facility to make lithium batteries and perhaps even electric cars.  While Klare moans about the ‘resource curse,’ when a country wants to do something about it by not being just a raw materials exporter, he blanches.   The most notorious source of rare earths are the ‘conflict metals’ mined by hand coming out of the Kivu regions in eastern Republic of the Congo, where militias have turned the local populations into virtual slaves so that more throw-away cell phones can be manufactured. 

Last but not least is food, and the land to grow it.  Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates were the first to realize they could not rely on the ‘market’ to provide all the food their growing populations need.  As a result, they have bought large tracts in Ethiopia and Sudan to grow rice, vegetables and raise cattle.  Both countries land is for sale to the highest bidder – even at the expense of the nomadic peoples who live there.  The Chinese have now begun to buy vast tracts of various African countries, and many African farmers are being displaced by these projects.    Even India is joining in. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine what will happen in Africa when Africans are dying of hunger, while food in privately-owned massive protected plots is being shipped to Ridyah.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?  

Oddly enough, some of the best and deepest black organic soil and also cheapest land in the world, which fell into decay after the 10- year economic collapse starting in 1990, is in Russia and the Ukraine.  Once the large collectives were abandoned, and the land parceled off into tiny 10-acre plots to the farm workers, these plots could not be maintained due to their small sizes, and the land was abandoned.  Now large-scale capitalist agriculture is coming to take their place. And I don't doubt the Russians will be as dubious as the Africans about having their food flown to India or China or the U.S.

In the way this book is written it sometimes actually makes you admire the heroes of capitalist avarice for their technological and financial derring-do, their foresight, their adventurous spirit, in going to the ends of the earth to wring ever last bit of market value out of the old girl.  And indeed, humans are quite amazing sometimes.  After all, a Russian diving sub put a Russian flag at the bottom of the sea below the North Pole.  Beat that.

Klare has many gaps in this book, and they weaken his argument.  Recycling is never mentioned, except obliquely.  It stands to reason that if, for instance, iron ore is in short supply, the existing steel and iron in the world becomes minable.  Indeed, steel recycling is a big business, even in the States.  He brings up the issue of the rare metals in catalytic converters.  If this is true, would not every car, and every catalytic converter, become a ‘minable’ object?  People have been known to steal them off regular cars for the money.  Klare, in his discussion of food and soil, doesn’t mention the shortage of phosphates, which are essential to non-organic, mass-produced fertilizer.  Phosphorus is predicted to run out in 50 years.  There have also been problems with shortages of cement – which is made out of limestone, clay & gypsum – due to the massive building projects all over the world.  Gypsum is not a common compound.  Nor does Klare mention capitalist commodity speculators in his discussion of high commodity prices in the last few years.  Some estimates of the gasoline price run-ups allocate 30% of the hike to speculation, if not more.  Essential commodities should not be subject to market forces – in fact, 70-85% of commodities trading is not done for any other purpose than speculation. 

Lastly, it is not just the environment or ‘indigenous peoples’ or polar bears that are endangered by these practices.  The workers who have to dig up the soil in polluted pits or dangerous underground mines, exist in frozen, brutal conditions on cold and dangerous drilling platforms, or slave away under the sun wading in water to grow rice for Saudi billionaires are also a target of ‘peak commodities.’  They, in essence, will be the ones to decide who actually benefits from these techniques – the world citizen, or the world billionaire. 

And I bought it at May Day Books excellent used section!
Red Frog, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Black Helicopters Make Us Safe

Black Helicopters

Standing outside Mayday Books last week, one of the permanent volunteers noticed an eerie but familiar sight.  He saw helicopters flying over downtown Minneapolis, buzzing low over the West Bank, with soldiers hanging out the windows and doors in full combat gear.  These were both Black Hawk’s and small Huey’s of some kind.  They looked black against the blue sky.  The Star-Tribune, in a late article, reported that these were military maneuvers being done in various cities in the U.S. by U.S. Special Operations Command, in collaboration with the Minneapolis and St. Paul police.  They landed on the Federal Reserve building and buzzed the 5th Street Towers and the Stone Arch Bridge.  After scaring residents of the city, the SOC finally announced that ‘there was nothing to worry about.’  War games, as they call them.  Activities like this are being combined with unannounced military/police ‘war game’ attacks late at night in Florida and fully-armed troops patrolling neighborhoods in St. Louis and Wisconsin.  Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles have also ‘hosted’ the black helicopters. 

All of this is possible preparation for martial law or urban combat.  There is no other reason for this kind of ‘training.’ 

NPR Completes Editorial Assassination

Early this morning NPR had a story about the attempted assassination of the new Parti Quebecois premier of Quebec by a fascist, who killed two other people.  The host, after insinuating that the Parti Quebecois was some kind of an extremist bunch, then asked his reporter what happened. After a very short description of the attack, the reporter went into a very negative description of the Parti Quebecois, alleging it was going to bring the Pope back to Quebec, separate immediately and raise chickens in the streets.   There was no background – nothing about how the Liberal Party had dug its own grave by raising tuition and outlawing public gatherings in Montreal.  Nothing about the actual nature of the Parti Quebecois as a traditional European social-democratic party.  It was almost as if the news – a fascist shooting – was not so important as ‘perhaps this guy had a point.’ NPR is a neo-liberal news outlet which can only do a reliable job of cultural programming.  The rest of its ‘rep’ – news without the spin – is a complete lie.  It can be a full-time hobby to sit down with almost any NPR news item and dissect it's bias, usually in a right-wing direction.  But that would be a sad hobby indeed.  I prefer to just turn it off.

Yes, those evil Frenchies in Quebec.  I’m going to stop eating French fries - again.

Rahm Emanuel Sent Back to Chicago

The Democratic Party sent Emanuel back to Chicago so he wouldn’t get in the way of any cameras in Charlotte.  After all, he has a possible massive teachers’ strike to contend with.  Emanuel, Obama and Arnie Duncan have all enabled the destruction of the public school system through the new version of ‘vouchers’ – charter schools - and neo-liberal attacks on teachers, seniority and pay.   Can you tell the difference between the Democratic plan to privatize the American school system and the Republican one?  Probably only at the rate each will be applied.  Of course, don’t tell that to the leadership of the national teachers unions.

Support the Chicago Teachers and send Rahm back to Charlotte - permanently.

P.S. - 25,000 Chicago teachers and other school workers finally went on strike Monday.  This event, like the Wisconsin occupation of the Capitol, like Occupy all over the U.S., is round 3 in the most recent fight between the ruling class and the working class in the U.S.  And it is only fitting that the arrogant neo-Liberal Emanuel is the focus of the teacher's ire.  This is a strike with national implications - and national repercussions.  Romney came out to back Emanuel up. The whole country can now see that when it comes to education or unions or teachers - both Parties stand against them, and for privatization.  Victory to the strike.

Red Frog, September 5, 2012