Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tepid Brew

"The New Black (The Old Black) – What Has Changed and What Has Not With Race in America,” edited by Kenneth W Mack and Guy-Uriel E Charles, 2013

If you thought the election of Barack Obama threw a bomb amongst the racists and bigots – you should read what it did to the non-white academics!  However, this is no “Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.”  This is more like ‘grind out another article for my CV.’ Scholars write in a peculiar opaque and dull language, full of academic jargon and clichĂ©’s, micro-issues and cagey ass-covering.  So I’ll get right to it.

When academics think that black people are a ‘race’ we’ve already made concessions to the racists.  There is only one race, the human race, and pretending that blacks or Latinos or Asians are different races is like pretending that schnauzers and poodles aren’t dogs, but space aliens from different planets.  Reference: Ashley Montagu. 

Of these 11 essays, only two are a bit radical and only one actually points to ‘class’ as a real construct.  The rest choke on their own obscurity or ordinariness.  The one that takes that particular cake is written by a Latino Harvard law professor.  It describes how Justice Kennedy, the swing justice on the Supreme Court, holds the future of the ‘Second Reconstruction’ in his hands.  Really?  Really?  He’s the guy?  Another was about the notorious arrest of famous black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates on his own front porch, even after he’d shown his ID to a Cambridge cop.  This incident is to serve as the prime example of police ethnic profiling.  Another essay by a Latino professor debates whether a ‘civil rights’ or a ‘law enforcement’ approach is appropriate to deal with undocumented immigrants, and settles on a blend.  That’s it?  Nothing else?  Another, which could have been written at any time in the last 30 years, is about unconscious bias against black Americans among many white people.  Another is whether Obama is a ‘free black man’ or not.  Question mark.  Or whether Obama is ‘post-black’ or not.  Another question mark.  Lots of questions, lots of vagueness. 

Of personal interest was a story of growing up in a black army family in an upscale neighborhood in Birmingham, AL, and whether the author’s family had been some kind of civil rights pioneers in the Army. (Maybe…maybe not.)  Not sure what this had to do with the main theme, but interesting nevertheless.  A factoid post by an Asian professor explains that many ‘independents’ are actually minority people, not whites as is the stereotype - only 60% are white, and 40% non-white.  This he claims explains part of the shift of independents towards Obama in the elections.  Independents now make up a bit more than 40% of the whole electorate, which shows that allegiance to either party is eroding.  However, these factoids are not followed to their logical conclusion. 

The thread running through all these essays is:  With the election of Obama, are we in a color-blind, a ‘post-racial’ society, and hence a post-civil rights period in the U.S.?  After all, the increases in the non-white middle class, non-white politicians, non-white soldiers, non-white entertainers and sports heroes are the fruits of the civil rights movement.  Even government hiring benefited from that movement, which lessened hiring discrimination.

One essay definitely says no to the first part and ‘yes’ to the second part of the question.  Ethnicity still matters … and a civil rights approach is no longer sufficient.  This essay by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres insists that ‘black’ is not a measure of skin color any more, but is a measure of class position in society.  The ‘new blacks’ are those at the bottom, no matter their color.  They cite the large white membership in a prison NAACP chapter in Maine as an example.  They cite the continuing presence of mostly black and Latino people at the bottom of society as proof.  They quote Andrew Young to the effect that the SCLC in the 60s had no interest in economic issues.  Hence they imply that just concentrating on issues of ‘law’ or ‘rights’ is not sufficient in a capitalist society to assuage the oppression of minorities.  Another essay by Glenn Loury maintains that Obama is not a ‘prophet’ but a politician, and he does what politicians do, not what prophets do.  And black folks still need prophets.  OK, pretty oblique, but we get it.  Prophets don’t aid Wall Street, don’t send out drones or conduct military ‘surges’ in foreign countries, don’t ignore poverty, don’t mass arrest immigrants, don’t promote the NSA, don’t ignore unions, don’t bust weed dispensaries.  And they don't approve bills to cut food stamps or promote pro-corporate trading plans like the Trans Pacific Partnership - 'NAFTA on steroids' or approve the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Bloomberg had an editorial this week by one of their editors titled, "Obama Hijacks Republican Agenda."  The jist of it was that almost every program being pursued by Obama had its origins in prior Republican policies.

Obama is a political bomb that has been thrown into the midst of people whose outlook is primarily ethnic or ‘nationality’ based. The whole Democratic Party and Republican Parties electoral appeal is secretly and not-so-secretly based on this slant, not class.  The Republicans try to represent ‘whites’ and non-whites who want to get ahead, mostly petit-bourgeois businessmen or their wannabes.  The Democratic Party claims to represent a vague ‘middle-class,’ various sectoralist ethnicities and non-white middle-class professionals.  For instance, they figure as long as they run a Latina in a somewhat Latino neighborhood, that is all that is necessary.  She may be an ally of the real estate industry, but that doesn’t matter.  This sectoralist tactic has been the Democrat’s tactic since Tammany Hall.  Of course, in New York it was Irish or Italians or Poles in Chicago.  Now it might be Latinos, Somalis or Meong. 

Yet if these non-white ‘progressive’ professionals still believe in civil rights AND economic rights, not just nice words, then they have been disappointed repeatedly by Obama and his administration.  Evidently having a mixed-ethnicity president from Harvard Law School does not deliver us to the promised land.  This is the conundrum that runs through these essays, which most of them cannot answer. 

This volume mentions John Hope Franklin quite a lot.  He was a leading black historian of slavery and black people whose most eminent work was “From Freedom to Slavery.”  Franklin was not a leftist, but stood by W.E.B. Dubois when he was being red-baited.  He seems to be one of the first in the academic community to interweave black and American history into one story – when prior to him it had been two stories, one almost invisible.  At the time this was certainly a progressive achievement.  Now it is not such an outlier.  Perhaps this fading inspiration is why most of these scholars cook such a tepid brew.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
January 29, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?

"Rise of the Warrior Cop – the Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” by Radley Balko, 2013.
Balko has written a factual catalog of the ‘standing armies’ that have developed out of our local police forces.  These forces are by nature badly-trained, over-armed, legally immune and backed by the most powerful class in society.  Balko is something of a left libertarian and while not a working-class radical, even he thinks that this development might be irreversible. 

Yeah, not pretty.  Balko describes dozens of botched SWAT raids on innocent people that included shot dogs, broken-down front doors, guns pointed at the heads of children and old people, and, no surprise, police killing some of those innocent people.  The most well-known was a raid in Maryland's Prince Georges County on the home of a mayor, Cheye Calvo.  The SWAT team bashed the door in without notification, killed his dogs and tracked their blood all over the home, held guns to everyone’s head, ransacked the home, only later to say that the mayor wasn’t the intended recipient of a package of marijuana that the SWAT team had delivered itself.  They never apologized and no cop was held personally responsible.  Only the taxpayers of the county, who had to pay the large settlement.

Balko traces the history of the obliteration of the 4th Amendment against ‘unreasonable search and seizure,” the 3rd Amendment against quartering troops in citizen homes, the ‘Castle doctrine” and the Posse Comitatus laws, among others.  The “Castle” doctrine comes from English common law, which says that a home is a family’s ‘castle,’ the most private sphere, and hence has special protections from unwarranted invasion.  Posse Comitatus laws say the ‘army’ cannot be used against civilians by police authorization, only on authorization of Congress.  It limited the use of a standing army on American soil but not the conversion of police into soldiers.  The 3rd Amendment also limited the use of a standing army. It was included in the Bill of Rights because of the British Army’s ignoring of this practice in regard to colonists’ homes. 

The police did not always exist.  Early sheriffs used to deputize neighbors to deal with crimes in post-colonial America.  Similar to the present Cuban neighborhood committees, instead of incarceration, forms of ‘equitable justice’ were meted out by male citizens. The first real 8-man police department was set up 175 years ago in Boston, 62 years after independence.

However, the national political language of the ‘war on crime’ revved up in the late 1960s as a response to black uprisings in the ghettos.  So really underlying this 'war' is a war on minorities.  This war then also became the ‘war on drugs’ and later after 9/11, the ‘war on terror.’  All of these combined with the never-ending ‘culture war’ against hippiedom, black and Latino culture and modernity.  Balko clearly shows that these legal developments were thoroughly bi-partisan on the part of both capitalist U.S. parties.  Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, the Bushs and now Obama each had a hand in furthering militarization of the police.  They have gone from being an ostensible ‘part of society’ into a force ‘over society.’   Marxists have always understood that the armed wing of the state – which includes the police – has never represented the working-class majority in this country.  Yet this development in the last 45 years is a large step in the direction of a more oppressive state.  Combine this with NSA spying on the U.S. population, a constant stream of racist cop shootings, the militarized wall along the southern border, the largest prison system on the planet and the development of a privatized, non-citizen U.S. military.  In all this, we are seeing the structural outlines of a complete police state already in place. 

The pieces of this state have been assembled bit by bit, as the ruling class chipped away at legal protections and introduced financial incentives for the police to become more like an occupation army.  Balko cites the introduction of the SWAT squad (“Special Weapons and Tactics”) by LA’s Chief of Police Darryl Gates in the late ‘60s as the forerunner of militarization.  Now nearly every town of any size has a SWAT squad, even tiny ones of several thousand people.  They have been mostly used for serving ordinary drug warrants but also regulatory inspections re liquor, breaking up parties, raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and grow areas, poker games, football pools, medical doctors, music concerts, raves, high schools, massage parlors, strip clubs and whole neighborhoods and towns.  As an example, a federal version of the SWAT squad, ODALE, set up under Nixon, made a notorious 1972 raid on an alleged ‘drug lab’ in Humboldt County, California, as described by Joe Esterhaus in Rolling Stone.  It found nothing, but cops ended up shooting the resident in the back as he ran from descending military helicopters and police bashing in his door.  He was just ‘collateral damage.’  The cops later set up a fake ‘drug lab’ on the property to try to cover their tracks. 

The Supreme Court has been key in promoting police militarization.  No-knock raids were first authorized under Nixon, and even the knock or announce in ‘knock and announce’ raids were so brief as to be useless.  Judicial oversight is nil, and police requests are nearly always rubber-stamped.  Exclusionary rules (excluding evidence obtained by cops breaking a law) have been undermined.  The National Guard is now allowed to pursue drug arrests, as it has a drug war unit itself.  The Guard is not subject to the Posse Comitatus act.  Routine forced-entry raids, even police tanks ramming homes with battering rams, were allowed.  Use of loud and dangerous ‘flash bang’ grenades were routinely acceptable – notably resulting in a death of a 57-year-old black woman in New York, Alberta Spruill, in a mistaken raid.   Warrantless raids are more and more allowed, under more circumstances.  Cops in raids gone bad are reviewed by their own supervisors, not an independent entity.  As a result, they almost never face consequences of any kind. Clinton had a “Troops to Cops” program, bringing veterans of our various wars into the police departments.  Clinton’s ‘one strike and you’re out’ rule - banned those with drug convictions from public housing.  Essentially all this has created a ‘drug war’ exception to the 4th Amendment, instead encouraging a militarized response by police. 

There is big public and private money in all this.  Balko tracks laws or federal entities like Johnson’s LEAA or Reagan’s “Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement” act (enthusiastically backed by Joe Biden) or his “Byrne Grants” or Clinton’s COPS program.  They provide federal dollars based on drug arrests to buy military guns, tanks, gear, vehicles, training or receive free, older military equipment from the U.S. military.  Or the RICO laws that allowed civil asset forfeiture of any property belonging to a drug suspect.   No drug arrests, no moola, which prioritized this kind of ‘crime fighting’ over every other kind.  In 2008, Obama/Biden increased the funding for COPS by 250%, to $1.55B.  Biden has been one of the long-standing proponents of this policy towards the police.  The Department of Homeland Security has increased grants to $34B in ‘anti-terror’ monies, which are further bulking up the police in tiny towns in Idaho destined to fight Al Quaeda.  2011 was the biggest year in Pentagon giveaways to police in history.  Military vendors now target police departments. 

Balko mentions some of the barriers to this process – the Warren Court, Chief Justice William Brennan, Congressman Sam Ervin and an occasional police chief in San Diego and a few other cities who preferred ‘community policing’ to community attacking.  Key has been public outrage when exposed to the crimes and idiocies of these Robo-cops.  Yet none of this has swayed the leadership of the Democrats or Republicans to veer away from their various ‘wars.’  Except the ‘war on poverty,’ of course.  That was easy for the Congress of Millionaires. 

Balko has a list of suggested reforms, starting with ‘opening the books’ of the police regarding SWAT raids.  They also include ‘community policing,’ changing police culture, ending the ‘blue code of silence’ where officers cover for each other, ending the drug war, ending  the financial incentives to militarize, imposing more civil liability on police officers and ultimately removing politicians who promote these ‘war’ policies. The recent victory in Colorado and Washington State legalizing marijuana is the first break in this massive attempt to criminalize the U.S. population, especially minorities.  It is a warning shot over the bow of the centrists and rightists and their kept media who think that the American population is the real enemy.  But it came from a civilian movement, not from the Democratic or Republican Party.

Whether burning to death the SLA, Philadelphia’s MOVE or the Branch Davidians in Waco, or assassinating suspected Black Panthers or rightists at Ruby Ridge, the police have made it clear that no one will survive their wrath.  The police response to public protests at the 1999 Seattle WTO meetings became a template for ‘protest cages,’ pre-emptive and mass arrests, ‘terror’ charges, journalist detention, rubber bullets, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, sound cannons and Darth Vader gear at every public protest since, including the 2008 RNC here in St. Paul.  Law or no law, good tactics or bad, innocent or not, the paramilitary policy is prevailing.   The only bar to this is mass resistance and a fundamental change in society.  Otherwise, we are heading in the direction of a ‘democratic’ police state.  Some even maintain that we are already there.

Other reviews on these topics - “Bad Boys, Bad Boys;” “The New Jim Crow,” “The Wire,” and “Are Prisons Obsolete?” all reviewed below.

P.S. - recently had a story on the increasing number of police shootings, which no national database tracks, though it has been mandated by national law in the 1970s.  So the killings go on, partially hidden.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

James Earl Ray Didn't Do It

'Orders to Kill,' by William Pepper, 1998

Few books can convince as well as this one.  This book is based on Pepper’s 20 year meticulous investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King.  The King family eventually did not believe that James Earl Ray killed King.  A civil jury found he did not do it.  Ray, like Sirhan Sirhan and Oswald, was only a patsy.   But no real criminal investigation was carried out.  That is because the Memphis cops and the FBI, as in the Kennedy assassinations, were part of the plot.

The assassin of MLK was a Memphis police marksman named Earl Clark, who fired from directly across the street from the Lorraine Motel, through a row of bushes in an empty lot.  This empty lot has now been replaced by an odd underground museum to King.  Clark stored his rifle in a cafĂ© named “Jim’s Grill” owned by Lloyd Jowers, which was just up the street.  Jowers testified to all this before he died.  Clark was part of a triangulation of shooters – the others being military and secret police - stationed on nearby buildings.  James Jesus Angleton, head of the CIA, is the primary candidate for who organized the hit, much as he is the primary candidate regarding the Kennedy brothers.  The press, the Memphis police and the CIA proceeded to cover up the many loose ends.  At one point they even tried to set up Ray to be killed while escaping prison.

In spite of the cover-up of the true assassins by bourgeois news outlets like CNN, the real story is there if you want to find it.

Celebrate MLK Day by finding out who was really behind the assassination.

Red Frog

January 20, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Texting While Washington Burns

Why People Don’t Buy Books

At Mayday we’ve noticed a decrease in book buying, and we’re always speculating on the answer to the question, “why?”  Of course there is not one answer.  A ‘movement’ bookstore needs a movement, or at least ‘movements’ – or even ‘movement.’  In U.S. politics there is little – it is at a glacial pace right now, bubbling slowly underground, dispersed and inconsistent.  In the U.S. still the ‘quantity’ stage.  A victory by Ty Moore might have changed the profile of socialism and radicalism here in Minneapolis, but it fell just short.  This might be the main answer.  Nor are there any left book blockbusters coming out, like Zinn’s “People’s History” or Naomi Klein’s “Disaster Capitalism” or Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.”  Klein is coming out with a new book on the environment and mainstream environmentalism, but I’m sure that is not going to change the tide.   

Then there are the monopolistic practices of Amazon, which, while not making a profit as such, has used that to drive paper and hardback book prices down to very low levels.  They also provide a nationwide exchange for resellers.  Amazon’s low prices are intended to drive brick and mortar stores out of business, and they have virtually succeeded.   It is no secret that monopolistic capitalism is the primary monster behind the destruction of smaller outlets.  Just count the closed bookstores around town.

Then there is cheap downloading of books, offered by Amazon, Barnes and Noble and others.  You can get a cheap copy of any book existing as an almost invisible digital file on your drives, all for $10 or less. Books without copyright are free.  While the quality of this experience suffers from that of a real book, quality is no longer valued in a digital world dominated mostly by portability.  Even our discounts of 15-20% cannot beat that.

Then there is the surfeit of books.  There are more books coming out now that at any time in history.  Only more sophisticated readers can sift through this avalanche. 

The U.S. Department of Education says that 32 million U.S. adults can’t read or have great difficulty reading – 14% of the population.  The problem here in the homeland of money is actually getting worse.  Chris Hedges looked at political speech and, based on vocabulary,  showed that recent bourgeois politicians like Bush and Gore spoke at a 6th to 7th grade level – i.e. to a nation of 12-year olds.  Hedges insists the real illiteracy figure is 20% - 42 million adults and beyond that, 50 million who read at a 4th-5th grade level. These are the exact people who need a revolutionary view the most.  The Bolsheviks solved this through film and that is perhaps where things have to go for some people.

Then there is the ugly truth that even for people that read, older people and younger people are reading less.  Visuals have completely replaced reading for what I call “a-literate” people.  Cable, television, DVDs, movies, video downloads, internet streaming, documentaries, U-Tube – images instead of text.  It’s easier!  Even internet reading is truncated - microscopic Tweets or IMs, short blog posts or reviews of a book suffice.  The profusion of tiny portable cells or tablets over table-top computers makes reading long pieces more difficult.  That is the ‘medium’s message.’  And the ‘medium’ is getting smaller and smaller.  

Or book clubs?  Most do not read political material, and if they do, they do not last long.  The founder of the Labor Party, Tony Mazzocchi, started reading groups in his local as one of his first acts.  How many locals or unions have reading groups now?  A 'labor movie' night has just started at the Minneapolis Labor Center, which is certainly better than nothing, but it does not involve reading.   

The other part is the gradual degradation of American culture through commercialization.  The internet has made a vast profusion of knowledge available.  Everyone can now be an amateur reporter, an analyst, a historian.  However the sheer volume can hide the wheat from the chaff.  Again demanding more work, not more cute animal pictures.  An ‘active and aware citizenry’ is actually a negative factor for those who rule an economy and politics dominated by monopolistic cultural, economic and political organizations.  They don’t want it.  So entertainment or infotainment is the new drug of choice – besides liquor and god, of course.

Or take our ‘higher’ educational institutions.  Mayday is very close to the West Bank campus of the U of Minnesota.  Being close to a campus, you’d think some professors would recommend the store, or send their students to buy books at it, given the university’s role as ‘the beating heart of knowledge.’ Or that intellectually curious student might flock to something off the beaten path. Au contraire.  Given the overall right-wing state of the professoriate in fields like philosophy, political economy, English literature, history, political science, even women’s studies and Afro-American studies, we see very little slop-over from academe.  The most ‘left’ departments like geography are almost invisible.  Disappearing employment is the primary or only concern in academe, not knowledge, and unless it gets you a job in corporate America, well … let’s go have a beer.

Then there is poverty and inequality, which are increasing.  Books are not getting any cheaper, while wages are decreasing.  Some have even claimed that paper books are ‘luxury items’ and should become even more so, with expensive covers and many added features like pop-ups and audio inserts.  So a cheap download can be a substitute, or no download at all in conditions like this.  Even with discounts, used and marked-down books, reading actual paper books cannot survive without work.

If you do an analysis of the shelves of a store like Barnes & Noble downtown, you will see them over-filled with self-help books, pop psychology, religion, spirituality, Christianity, shelves of genre, cookbooks, picture books, fad books.  Their normal ‘book’ fare is overwhelmingly mainstream - there is almost NO overlap between Mayday’s stock and theirs.  If I may say so, the books at Mayday actually reflect a higher intellectual level than the general stuff at B&N, which ‘should’ attract some people.  But in an anti-intellectual society where being really reality-based is suspect, that might be a curse.  Yet Mayday has survived thanks to the intense loyalty of many movement people in the Twin Cities. It attempts to provide a community space where readers can actually talk and meet.  It also has a surprising amount of visitors from other cities and countries.  Then there is a trickle of students and young people.  Without all these folks, it would have gone the way of so many other actual bookstores.  We thank you for visiting.

P.S. - Good News!  In April 2014, figures came out that tracked an INCREASE in independent bookshops.  It is nowhere near the height, but the implication is that the cheap digital file and the uber-capitalism of outfits like Amazon are pushing people back towards real books and real bookstores.  Localism in action, I guess.

Red Frog, Craig & the Gang
January 18, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Do You Want to Get Rich?

"The Wolf of Wall Street,” by Martin Scorsese, 2013

Wait, did someone do “The Hangover III?” Or “The Great Gatsby Goes to Wall Street?”  Look, its Jonah Hill and Mathew McConauhey!  And Leonardo DiCaprio!  Hookers and blow.  Tits & Ass instead of ‘Travel & Expenses.’  Piles of Quaaludes.  A bland blonde from the soap operas.  Fran Dresher accents.  Is Michael Douglas going to show up with Gordon Gekko?  No, the real King of Queens - Martin Scorsese - returns for 3 hours.  You’d think this was “The Sorrow and the Pity” its so long, but it is just another very cheezball film.  The sexist brokerage world in all its ostensible glory.

This film is an insult to wolves - and women – but then what do New Yorkers know about wolves?  Evidently they’ve never left their 5 boroughs.  Wolves never hurt humans, unlike Wall Street firms.  The 2000 film, “Boiler Room” was also about Stratton Oakmont, the central firm in this film.  If you were really telling the tale of Wall Street, why would you remake an earlier film, especially about such an uncharacteristic outfit?  Even a story about Bernie Madoff as an individual would miss the mark.  Scorsese isn’t really telling the tale of the central pillars of Wall Street or U.S. capitalism.  He’s just pretending to.

As one of Scorsese’s characters might say, it’s time to rip someone a new asshole.  And I know just the person.  This director has basically made the same movie over his whole career - ‘Gangs of New York,’ ‘Raging Bull,’ ‘Taxi Driver,’ “Mean Streets,” “Good Fellas,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Casino.”  “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on Jordan Belfort’s own memoir, fits right in.  Most of these films are for conformist dullards who need a thrill in their life, while the sociopaths take them as guidelines for living.  Violent, mostly working class underdogs attempt to make it ‘big,’ but never as workers.  For the most part, Scorsese glamorizes lumpenism as a way of life, and this group of films are his testament to that.  The noveau riche drug-addict Belfort is the greedy punk down the block who succeeds.  He was broke, near eviction until he used his gift for gab. Yet his parents were lawyers.  As one scene announces, ‘getting rich’ is the American dream. 

In this film Belfort, the head of Stratton Oakmont, despises the ‘bus riders,’ just like suburbanites do everywhere.  He gives the little people who buy his bogus penny stocks the finger over the phone, as they actually believe his spiels.  Plumbers, electricians, the working class – the chumps – the people who do actual work.  The dull, sober people of the FBI and courts are the enemy too.  Ultimately, as his father says, he’s stupider than they are, but a man ‘of large appetites’ won’t let a limitation like that stand in the way.  Its up to you who to sympathize with.  

The only scene of any gravity in this film is the last scene, set at a sales seminar hosted by Belfort after he has been barred from the securities industry and Stratton Oakmont shut down by regulators.  It is in Auckland, New Zealand.  Belfort/DiCaprio as the newborn sales genius strolls on stage in his casual white shirt and asks the audience members to ‘sell him a pencil.’  They make fumbling attempts.  Then the camera pans to the faces of these somewhat desperate, ordinary people who ‘want to get rich’ but never will.

Scorsese’s portrayal of Belfort is by turns comedic, sympathetic and then pitying.  After all, DiCaprio won a Golden Globe for his comedic turn in this film - he didn't win it for drama.  The key scene is when Belfort decides not to bilk working-class people anymore, but to bilk 'rich people,' and put the money in the pockets of his group of desperate brokers instead.  Scorsese ultimately buys this conceit, which is also Belfort’s.  In a way, they both work together here.  Belfort makes fun of WASPs and the ‘white-shoe’ firms in the rest of Wall Street – just as the heads of Salomon Brothers and Bear Stearns used to do.  It is a familiar Wall Street pose. 

Anyone in the brokerage industry, and I’m one of those, sees what look like many factual errors.  Most rich people already have their own brokers – they don’t take cold calls and sign up to open a new account over the telephone.  Most rich people don’t even buy OTC/pink sheet penny stocks, though Belfort’s method of selling IBM, then “Unknown Stock X” ‘might’ work.  For Oakmont Stratton, the real fraud was in IPOs, and I think that is where the real money came from.  When Belfort/DiCaprio tries to explain an IPO – an Initial Public Offering – to the film audience, he gives up because he thinks it’s too complicated.  It’s not.  Most IPOs are offered to select clientele prior to the offering opening date.  They are not sold to individuals on the day of the offering, certainly not at 1:00 PM in the afternoon.  The difference between brokers who handle individual clients and the oft-pictured institutional trading floor of chaos and insults are combined here.  In this film the ‘trading floor’ or whatever it is, has very few computers, everyone sits on top of everyone else and yells into phones like some Viagra call center in Bangalore.  In most firms, the retail brokers would be in cubes or offices and have at least one computer by this time.  On the trading floor the capital market traders would have a computer too.  Maybe this is how Oakmont housed their staff, but it looks bogus.  Belfort then tells the FBI that he can help them with “internet’ and “CDO’ stock issues as an informant, even though the events in this film greatly predate the 1999 tech crash and the 2007 CDO crash.  Stratton Oakmont finally hires an occasional lawyer who they don’t listen to.  No one in these situations deals with the SEC or the FBI without real attorney involvement. While the SEC is mentioned, they are invisible in this film – camping in the offices of Oakmont and evidently ignored. (!) Yet the SEC was the one who banned Belfort from the industry in 1994.  In a U-tube video, Belfort himself said the hookers were in the basement, not on the trading floor having public sex as depicted in the film.  And did you know Belfort was Jewish?  Scorsese gives you the impression he’s another greasy Italian.  How much liberty did Scorsese take?  Or Belfort?

Essentially their key method of market manipulation was to secretly own low-end bogus companies or somewhat real ones (in this film, Steve Madden Shoes) and sell the (private?) stock to Oakmont for a higher price.  Oakmont would in turn do a public IPO and sell the shabby shit for an even higher price to their clients.  After the IPO, the principals would sell and pocket the differences, and the stocks would become worthless.  Then they’d hide the money overseas in Switzerland. Stratton Oakmont’s principals must have hid their ownership behind bogus shadow companies, as the ownership of a company in an IPO would be in the prospectus, ostensibly vetted by attorneys and ratings companies.  Belfort and other company executives secretly owned large pieces of 34 companies between ’90 and ’97 that they did IPOs on.  They were indicted on money laundering, high pressure sales tactics (i.e. lying) and stock manipulation charges and forfeited millions.  Stratton Oakmont was banned from the securities industry in 1996 and went bankrupt later.  Belfort and Porush (Hill) finally pled guilty to criminal charges in September 1999 after a 9 month undercover investigation where they ‘ratted’ on others.   Little of this is made very clear in the film. 

Belfort was given a kid-glove 3 year sentence, just like Michael Milken.  What happened to the $20M in the bank, portrayed in the film?  Why does Belfort/DiCaprio say while in prison that he remembers he’s still ‘rich?’

The real issue in this film is, does everyone in American want to be rich?  It seems to say yes, and that is the reactionary heart of its message.  This lie is the foundational myth of capitalist culture.  The film is no indictment of the corrupt methods of the larger Wall Street, but a celebration of a fucked-up attempt by a dental school drop-out to beat the odds and get rich.  And he succeeds for awhile, until the whole predictable traffic accident commences.  Now Belfort’s still selling the same snake oil as a motivational speaker in California, living in an ocean-front manse on Manhattan Beach, driving a Mercedes.  He studied Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” for his own memoir, which he then sold to Scorsese, who swallowed it whole.  He’s behind on his payments to the government.  He's peddling himself on CNN.  Just another creepy guy making money, who got Scorsese to celebrate his gonzo life. 

Prior books from inside the ‘securities’ industry, “House of Cards,” “Liar’s Poker,” and “The Big Short,’ are reviewed below. Also a review of the film "Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps."

In Nov 2014, Michael Lewis had this to say about this film:  "What did you make of “The Wolf of Wall Street”?  It was much more about Martin Scorsese’s inner life than it was about Wall Street."
It didn’t speak to you, then, about what you had lived through? "No. I thought it was a very funny movie in its own right, but I didn’t think, “Oh yeah, that describes the world I came from.” It was like a very, very, very distant cousin to that world."

Red Frog
January 15, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Wilderness

"Into the Wild,” by Jon Krakauer, 1997

Bored with suburbia?  Tired of your dull job?  Marriage doesn’t appeal?  Don’t want to spend the rest of your life in a virtual straight-jacket? You’re not the only one.  Chris McCandless didn’t.  He admired Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London.  He disliked his bigamist, upper-middle class father.  He gave away thousands of his own money, drove his B210 Datsun into the Arizona desert, burned his cash and eventually hitchhiked to his doom in the Alaska semi-wilderness. 

You may remember this young man from news reports in 1992, or the 2007 film by Sean Penn, “Into the Wild.”   Krakauer is the excellent author of “Into Thin Air” that described a disastrous mountain-climbing expedition he experienced on Everest; ‘Under the Banner of Heaven,’ centered around a crime by fundamentalist Mormons, and ‘Where Men Win Glory,” the real story of Pat Tillman, former NFL player and Special Forces soldier and victim of a military cover-up.  There is a death at the heart of every Krakauer book.  This one, Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, aka Alex, resonates with anyone who has tested themselves against the elements or society.  Never been in a confrontation with cops?  Or gone on a hike in dangerous conditions?  Hitchhiked across the country?  Got lost?  Stood up to conformism?  Rode a motorcycle, climbed a mountain or lived off the land? 

If you care, this book is a real ‘page-turner,’ as they say.

Young men especially feel like they have to test themselves against conditions and not always play it safe.  McCandless was a young college graduate from Emory College in Atlanta and decided to chuck it all, heading out on the open road.  He had started a Republican club at Emory, and had also supported the struggle against apartheid.  He had great sympathy for the poor, yet felt, as Krakauer put it, that the ‘best government is the government that governs least’ – a quote from Thoreau.  He was sort of an anarcho-environmentalist.  He was very friendly, yet he always left people.  He was confident to the point of ignorance.  He valued a Spartan existence, always testing his body, living on very little food, until there was none at all.  He was skilled at many things – a good piano player, a runner, a business-boy, resourceful, courageous - yet failed at some key things.  Ones that cost him his life.

Krakauer writes this book as an exploration of the ‘type’ represented by McCandless, and discusses other adventurers like him.  Krakauer makes plain that McCandless loved nature and himself more than society or people.  He structures it as an argument with people, mostly Alaskans, who thought McCandless was incompetent.  Other young men have gone into the wilderness and died.  Many have also lived, like John Muir and Krakauer himself.  Krakauer depicts his own reckless assault climbing a mountain called the ‘Devils Thumb” in Alaska as something a McCandless-kind of person might do.  He was 23 at the time. Many young men believe the concept of mortality doesn’t apply to them. 

Krakauer identifies some of the mistakes that McCandless made.    He had romanticized living in the wild bush, based on his reading of various authors.  Yet Jack London spent only a year in Alaska.  Thoreau spent most of his time around the contemplative Walden Pond near Concord, and only climbed Katahdin Mountain in Maine once.  Tolstoy claimed to be an ascetic, but that ruled out wilderness trips.  While a Kerouac-like hitch-hiker, he didn’t read much of the Beats. McCandless is a bit similar to the more political “Monkey Wrench Gang,” who haunted the desert around the Grand Canyon to save that desert from destruction.  Or even more the over-confident hiker of the film “127 Hours,” who saws his own arm off with a dull blade to get out of a crevice. 

McCandless traveled around the western U.S. – living in the Mojave Desert near several towns, paddling down the disappearing Colorado River to Mexico, working hard on harvesting operations in South Dakota, hitching up the West Coast.  His survival through all this with very little money or possessions made him confident in his own abilities.  His final dream was to make it in the Alaska bush, living off the land for awhile, with just a .22 rifle, a pretty thin pack of belongings and a book on wild food.  

Krakauer understands McCandless and defends him from accusations he didn’t know the difference between a moose and a caribou, or between the seeds of wild potato and the poisonous wild sweet pea.  He praises him for being able to live off the land for so many weeks.  However he cites some key mistakes McCandless made.  McCandless started living in an abandoned Fairbanks bus in an area that was really not far from habitation.  30 miles from a major road and town.  A few miles from some hunting cabins.  6 miles from a Forest Service cabin with emergency food.  16 miles from Denali, where tourists got on and off buses every day.  This was not in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  As Krakauer notes, nothing much IS anymore. 

When McCandless decided his sojourn was at an end July 3rd, he left the bus to hike back to the main road.  However, he was stopped by high water on the Teklanika river.  He didn’t have a typographic map of the area, which would have shown him how to get over the river at a shallower ford upstream, or downstream at a Forest Service cable car. (!)  Krakauer theorizes he didn’t believe in maps.  In another confusion, he took the word of some South Dakota hunters and butchered a moose he had shot.  But instead of cutting and drying it in sunlight (pemmican) he attempted to ‘smoke’ it, which didn’t work and led to much waste of meat.  Krakeuer also doesn’t understand why McCandless didn’t try crossing the river a few weeks later to see if the waters had gone down. 

His fatal mistake was in storing seeds from wild potato plants in baggies, which made them susceptible to mold when eaten.  Krakauer and others had originally thought that McCandless had eaten the poisonous seeds of the wild pea, which were almost identical to those of the wild potato.  Upon doing more research, he found out it was the mold on the good seeds of the potato plant that killed him.  This made him too weak to hike out.  He was slowly starving to death due to the effect the seeds had on his digestive system.  He died wrapped in his sleeping bag in the bus August 19.  Krakauer, writing the initial story for Outside Magazine, had followed McCanless path and eventuall visits the bus.  The scene is creepy, as all of McCandless’ stuff is still there, his graffiti on the walls, many months after his body had been removed by police. 

Sometimes it’s hard to escape the real world.  Other times, not so much. 

(Read review of “Deep Survival,” below.  Other mentions - “Monkey Wrench Gang” and Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums,” are also reviewed below.)

January 11, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Women are the Secret Revolutionaries

Celebrate Indian Women

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am constantly surprised by the high-quality radicalism among some Indian women.  Of note, on Monday Kashama Sawant of Socialist Alternative was sworn in as the first socialist city counselor in Seattle for almost 100 years. She is a community college professor, yet is dedicated to the working class.  She represents a tiny crack in the monolithic structure of Democrat/Republican control of all political power, joining people like Bernie Sanders, a more moderate socialist, and Greens in various offices. 

Leftist intellectual figures such as Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva are world-class activists and writers.  Roy has written a number of journalistic articles and books attacking repression in India - books like “Notes on Democracy” and “Walking With the Comrades.” (Both reviewed below.)  She has been threatened for her writings and activism.  Shiva, a scientist, has been a long-time activist around agricultural and food issues, and is globally known.  Her many books include “Water Wars,” “India Divided” and “Soil Not Oil.”  She is a pioneer in efforts for sustainability and organic agriculture and against GMOs, the corporate ‘green revolution’ and bio-piracy. Others include activists and writers like Saru Jayaraman, who leads the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCU) organization here in the U.S., which fights for the rights of food workers and the $15 an hour minimum wage. Javaraman and ROCU are one of the main sources for the $15-an-hour campaign waged by socialists, SEIU and others.  (Her book, “Behind the Kitchen Door”, reviewed below).  And academic leftists like Meera Nanda, who analyzed the reactionary Hinduism suffusing Indian neo-liberal politics, in “The God Market.” (also reviewed below.)  She is a professor in India who teaches the history of science. 

Or activists like Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association, a group affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.  She heads an organization combating the rape epidemic and oppression of women in India.  Tens of thousands of Indian women and men have turned out to protest the avalanche of sexual attacks.  As part of this, P.J. Kurien of the Congress Party (their Democrats), a deputy chair of the Indian Upper House, has been accused of multiple rape and abduction charges.  Female members of Parliament of the Communist Party of India, Marxist, from the southern state of Kerala, have threatened to boycott the parliamentary session if action against Kurien is not taken.

Why?  These women are mostly from the educated middle-classes.  They have been radicalized by their contact with the misery of the Indian masses and the notable oppression of Indian women, which mostly affects the poor and working class, but also the middle-class.  India is ranked as one of the most chauvinist societies on earth - though no match for Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Afghanistan.  While some are not Marxists, they have been drawn to anti-capitalist perspectives by the very nature of Indian and U.S. capitalism. 

Let us celebrate progressive Indian women and all those women from the global “South,” especially those living in fundamentalist Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Buddhist countries who combat religious obscurantism, classism and female oppression.  In many of those countries their lives are in danger just from speaking out.  In Afghanistan a whole layer of progressive Afghani women and men were exterminated as teachers of girls by the Mujahedin in the 1970s.  This was part of a sexist war waged with help from the U.S. CIA under the Democrat Carter and the Republican Reagan.   

Of course, this doesn’t change the character of whole ethnicities.  Class still prevails.  Reference the Indian Embassy employee Devyani Khobragade, who was recently arrested for falsifying documents in order to pay her captive live-in maid and nanny less than minimum wage.  Or take upper-class bigot “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua and education deformer and privatizer Michelle Rhee, who remind us that reactionary politics are not limited to white people – or men.

Red Frog
January 8, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johnny Get Your Gun!

"War is a Racket,” by Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, 1935

We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the most bloody World War I, a holocaust in which 16 million died and 20 million were wounded, ranking as the second-most gruesome capitalist conflict in history.  It was second only to the 60 million total deaths in World War II – a war Butler could smell on the horizon when he wrote this book. 

Butler’s ideas were formed after his participation in the disaster of World War I, and in U.S. imperialist forays into Haiti, China, Cuba, the Philippines and Nicaragua – ironically many of them countries the U.S. later continued to invade or attempt to control.  He himself was the son of a Quaker lawyer and politician.  There will be much coverage of this anniversary, much of it trying to rehabilitate this war in the eyes of history.  This has already started in Britain where Wilson’s ‘war to end all wars’ is now being portrayed as necessary by bourgeois commentators.  Much as Vietnam has been buried by either a layer of youthful forgetfulness or of nobility, World War I is the next candidate for prettification.

As a dialectical response to the bourgeois butchery of World War I, the working classes responded with the success of the Bolshevik revolution, and the near success of the German and Hungarian revolutions.  World War II ushered in the Chinese, Korean and later the Vietnamese revolutions.  In both, capitalist classes in various countries vied for colonial and/or imperial control of various colonies and economies, and while some succeeded generally, they lost control of large chunks of the world for a time. 

Unlike the creepy heroes of official U.S. militarism like Patton and McArthur, who shot down unemployed soldier bonus marchers in 1932, Butler sided with the soldiers who had been stiffed of their war bonuses by the government.  This booklet also describes an extraordinary 1935 plot by the American Legion, (ex-WWI soldiers and officers), the American Liberty League, and various Wall Street capitalists and military figures to seize control of the U.S. government, and remove Roosevelt.  Many were sympathizers of Mussolini or Hitler.  Butler was asked to participate in this plot, and instead blew the whistle on it in testimony before the U.S. Congress.  This plot has been hushed up in official U.S. histories.

Butler was one of the first - and perhaps only - active U.S. generals who decided to oppose aggressive wars on principle.  He was an isolationist, but his isolationism made him actually take seriously the name of the Department of “Defense.”  He proposed rules not allowing planes, ships or men from being deployed outside of the near boundaries of the U.S. mainland.  In these essays he defines why the military should only be used in defense of an invasion.  He also carefully delineates why an invasion of the U.S. mainland would have been logistically impossible – and probably still is.  Unlike pacifists or liberals who oppose wars because they are ‘violent’ or because they will not succeed, Butler carefully shows the profits made by U.S. firms during World War I were key. 

Butler indicates that, had the U.S. not joined Britain and France and guaranteed victory, the debts of those countries to U.S. war material manufacturers might not have been paid back.  Hence the U.S. had to join Britain and France in order to insure their profits.  Butler itemizes the war profits for various industries that made between 25%-300% more profits during that war than in the prior period of peace.  As Butler understands, war is good for business – because of the vast volume of product needed, much of it destroyed; because of the waste, excessive markups and lax government supervision.  All of this was re-confirmed during the Iraq Wars, yet no hue and cry over ‘war profiteers’ ever arose on a mass scale during those wars, unlike the discussion after World War I.  This is an example of how our political discourse has degraded since then. 

Butler said:
“I spent 33 years in the Marines, most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer for Capitalism.”

Can you imagine a general now saying those same words?  It is only a measure of how the distance between society and the generalissimos of the U.S. military has increased.  While many retired generals opposed the Iraq War because of its adventurist nature, none that I know of has ever drawn a consistent connection between the economic system and the war system as did Butler. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
January 5, 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Science is Relative?

The Big Bang Theory is a Situation Comedy

Sacred cows are made to be poked, and Albert Einstein is one of the most sacred of all.  A beloved scientist who sympathized with socialism and atheism and opposed World War I, it seems he nevertheless left an idealist legacy at odds with material reality.   Stephen Hawking is another sacred cow, less loved, but now the premier gnomic cosmologist, and a particular fan of mathematical descriptions of the universe that match science fiction.  Hawking is now treated like a crippled Oracle of Delphi, even though what he says seems absurd to many people, and even some (!) scientists.

As befitting any sacred cow or received orthodoxy, an intellectual opposition develops, per dialectics.  Marxists have been key in opposing religious/idealist methods hiding under the guise of science, and continue to do so.  Every time science heads in an idealist direction, it strays from material reality and becomes bad science.  The criticisms of Einstein and Hawking fit this role.  In essence, these two seem to represent a decay of scientific understanding under capital.

Michael Gimbel published a somewhat odd pamphlet in 2011 called “Dialectical Materialism vs. The New Physics,” almost 19 years after Alan Woods and Ted Grant’s book, “Reason in Revolt” (reviewed below).  Gimbel is a union activist in the U.S. Workers World Party, a split-off from the U.S. Trotskyist SWP in the ‘50s.  The WWP understood that Stalinism / bureaucratism would be attacked from the right, even within a workers state. I.E. every anti-bureaucratic movement was not progressive.

This pamphlet takes up some of the same themes as Woods’ book and those in the Glenn Borchardt book, “Ten Assumptions of Science”(also reviewed below).  It focuses on Einstein and Hawking, and some recent developments in physics and cosmology.  Gimbel especially highlights Lenin’s polemics in “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism” over very similar issues with earlier relativists like Poincare, Avenarius and Mach.

Essentially the theories of general and special relativity and the ‘new physics’ discussed in this pamphlet are incredibly fanciful, with little scientific logic or proof.  Yet they hold sway over the majority of the scientific establishment.   Gimbel holds them up to the light as a layman would do, but his main ammunition is quotes from scientists who carefully contest many of the suppositions of the ‘new physics’ - which might now be called the ‘old’ physics.  Gimbel quotes scientists like Glenn Borchardt, Dean Turner, Christoph Von Mettenheim, Halton Arp, Fred Hoyle, David Talbott, Josef Tau, Hilton Ratcliffe, Eric J Lerner, G. Sagnac and others that expose the weaknesses and contradictions of these mostly mathematical theories. 

Concepts such as the ‘heat death of the universe,’ mathematical string theory, multiple universes, time travel, the big bang and its dimensionless singularity, ‘infinite’ finitude, the red shift, curved space, perfectly ‘empty’ space, space-time, nuclear fusion, light ‘particles,’ light-bending by gravity, wormholes and the subjectivity of all observation are brought into question.  If you have any intellectual curiosity at all, I would begin to investigate the fraud which much modern cosmology has become.

Gimbel points out that Einstein was a founder of a liberal party during the period of the German Revolution in 1918-1919 and opposed the movement for workers councils in that country.  (See review of “All Power to the Councils,” below) He was to the right of the Social-Democracy during that period, which as we might remember was an organization that actually sent the Frei Corps to kill the leaders of the Spartacus League as part of an effort to stop the workers movement.  Gimbel notes that Einstein’s theories were declared ‘triumphant’ in 1919, when Marxism and revolution were sweeping the world.  This also at a time when thoroughly materialist ideas, as represented by Lenin's work, were the main ideological enemy.

Of particular interest are these points made by Gimbel and others: 
  1. Fred Hoyle, who discovered what was called the ‘red shift,’ never endorsed his own theory as saying that the universe was expanding. 
  2. If everything is flying away from the earth, then the earth is the center of the universe.  (See Catholic Church for more info on this position.) 
  3. Einstein’s theory that space is absolutely empty was partly based on the so-called failure of the Michelson-Morley experiments in 1887.  However, recent analysis of the data, correcting for flawed instruments, show them to be correct.  Light travels in waves, through a plasma of sorts, according to these tests.
  4. Gravity acts more quickly than light, yet Einstein maintained that light was the fastest speed available.
  5. Large complex galaxies now discovered are older than the dated big bang ‘origin of the universe.’  (See Bible for more info on this position.) 
  6. Can a dimensionless singularity containing the whole universe exist?  Really?  (See Bible for more info on this theory.)
  7. The fact that the sky is not ablaze with light at night indicates that Einstein’s theory that light is a particle traveling through a ‘void’ is false.  Light gets weaker as it travels, which means there is resistance in the so-called void.  
  8. Einstein believed that time was relative, all periods exist at the same instant, and if you move, time changes.  Yet time is a main scientific marker for matter in motion.  How can one make scientific calculations without real time?  An experiment was done in which atomic clocks were carried on jets flying in different directions.  Time gained going westward, and slowed going eastward.  Special relativity demands all time must be slower, no matter which way it goes.
  9. Einstein believed that the only reality is the observer’s reality.  The latter, of course, is simply solipsism, and if true, would render science nonsense. 
  10. Hawking maintained that one could not investigate anything prior to the ‘big bang.’  It was supposedly not a fit topic for scientific interest.  This is the same guy who ‘debated’ the Catholic Church.  (See Catholic Church for more info on this position.)
  11. Bodies in the same stellar groups show different red-shifts.  It is possible that what is being seen as a ‘red shift’ is not a body’s distance but a body’s age-relation. 
  12. The Andromeda galaxy, the closest to the Milky Way, shows a blue-shift, as do some others.
  13. The main proof for Einstein’s theory that light curved due to gravity was through looking at the ‘Einstein Cross,’ in which a quasar was supposedly distorting the image of the galaxy in front of it into 4.  However, connections between 4 real quasars and the galaxy were found, which means they were part of the same system, and not a refraction.   The measurement of vast distances was at fault.
  14. Space is not a ‘thing,’ so it cannot be curved.  It is infinite.
  15. Zeno’s Paradox is a math trick.
  16. Einstein thought time disappeared at the speed of light.  Then what time is it for light itself?  We know it takes a bit more than 8 minutes for light from the Sun to reach Earth. 
Gimbel himself focuses on the gravity experiments of George-Louis Le Sage in the 1700s.  Le Sage theorized that ‘gravitons’ were the cause of gravity – actual matter pushing on a body – which would weaken at distance as they meet more resistance in space.  This gives gravity a material cause, as Newton had not explained the cause, only the effect of gravity.  Most scientists still consider gravity a mysterious ethereal ‘force.’ 

Gimbel ends his book with quite simply hilarious quotes from two of the most prominent relativists – Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku.  Hawking’s quotes, besides not having objective proof, show a remarkable ability to demean the scientific method:  

1.         “The lack of an absolute ‘standard of rest’ means that we cannot determine whether two events … occurred in the same position in space.’ (It is not possible to measure location.)
2.         “…the length of time between events, like the distance between two points … depends on the observer.”  (It is not possible to independently know something.  Objective reality does not exist.)
3.         “With no absolute standard of rest, you cannot assign … an absolute speed.”  (Absolutes!  You cannot measure the movement of matter – or much of anything!)
4.         “…all solutions to Einstein’s equations in which the universe has the amount of matter we observe (now) share one important matter - at some time in the past … the distance between neighboring galaxies was zero.”  (Which is really small!)
5.         “The entire universe was squashed into a single point with zero size, like a sphere of zero radius.”  (Ex nihilo…sprang the odd sphere and odd radius.)
6.         “At the time, the density of the universe and the curvature of ‘space-time’ would have been infinite.”  (Infinite density - chew on that.)
7.         “Events before the Big Bang can have no consequence, and so should not form part of a scientific model of the universe.”  (Again, the absolute limitations of science. Here be monsters!)
8.         “Light energy comes in the form of .. a massless particle called a photon.”  (It exists yet it doesn’t…)
9.         “It is possible to travel to the future.”  (See movie, “Back to the Future” for more references)
10.       “The first indication that the laws of physics might really allow people to travel backward in time came in 1949, when Kurt Godel discovered a new solution to Einstein’s equations.” (See same movie, above.)
11.       “It might be that you could warp ‘space-time’ so that there was a shortcut between A and B.  One way of doing this would be to create a wormhole.” (Remember, this is a serious bourgeois cosmologist.  See latest science fiction novel for further references.)
12.       “In string theories, the basic objects are not point particles, but things that have a length but no other dimension…” (Again, something seems to be missing…)
13.       “String theories … seem to be consistent only if ‘space-time’ has either ten or twenty-six dimensions…” (Well, which is it?  Or perhaps it needs 26 angels?)
14.       “Imaginary numbers can be thought of as a new kind of number at right angles to ordinary real numbers.”  (Lets see you do math with imaginary numbers at a slant.)
15.       “If one takes Einstein’s general theory of relativity seriously, one must allow the possibility that ‘spacetime’ ties itself in a knot and information gets lost in the folds.” (Or in your blanket.)
16.       “At the big bang and other singularities, all the laws would have broken down, so God would still have a complete freedom to choose what happened and how the universe began.”  (Well, the truth finally comes out.)

These selections should disabuse you of the idea of the genius of Hawking, except as infotainment.  He is a mathematical cosmologist, so his theories are based, not on experimentation but math formulas.  Infinity is a property that math finds difficult to comprehend, which accounts for some of his ideas.  Nor is math at all times based on the behavior of matter, which used to be the point of science.  The rest of this intellectual nonsense is accounted for by the embrace of the bourgeois class - its money, its prestige, its adulation, its conformity.

At any rate, Gimbel’s slightly weird pamphlet contains some neat bits and pieces of an assault on idealism in science.  Fighting this kind of idealism should be part of any rejection of capitalist ideology. 

And I got it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
January 1, 2014   
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