Friday, November 28, 2014

Secular Mysticism

"Fashionable Nonsense – Post-modern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science,” by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, 1998

This book originated as a hoax article published in the American academic journal ‘Social-Text” in 1996 from Duke University in the U.S.  It was a parody of the normal writers in that journal, yet the editors did not notice.  As Sokal/Bricmont point out, the adulation of these mostly French writers has become an intellectual ‘force’ in American and British academics as well.  Many reputable intellectuals are cited as endorsing the wonders of post-modernism in its various forms – Althusser, Barthes, Foucault, Debray, Havel - while others like Stanley Aronowitz are part of the post-modernist method.  The parody itself is included and even for a ‘dim’ reader such as myself it provided guffaws.  Of particular humor is the massive amount of quotes, sub-quotes, parenthetical points, false or non-connections and useless references that clutter the document, visually creating an image of ‘knowledge’ but actually portraying little except name-dropping. 

The authors are professional physicists who analyze flawed humanities’ writers’ attempts at intersecting with science and its methods.  They describe how the humanities' writers don't get the science or math right.  Sokol, in the epilogue, says he is also an ‘old school leftist,’ so there is more going on here than scientific rigor.  At bottom it becomes a philosophical debate.

The book is a take-down of some post-modern, post-structuralist, deconstructionist and semiotic ‘intellectual-speak’ – but it is not a must-read.  It is a book for specialists – and yet it is an intentionally hilarious book too.  It is a slog getting through dense gibberish to get to somewhat more sane mathematical and scientific explanations and footnotes of why these pompous writers are wrong.  Which means skipping over the crap you don’t understand to the points you do.  I figured in high school that getting basic geometry and algebra was all I would need for a lifetime.  That has proved the correct decision – except when you have to read material like this.  However the authors know this and do their best to be clear. 

Just as certain statements by alleged geniuses like Stephen Hawking read like science fiction, and have no factual basis as yet – so some of the key texts of these ‘philosophies’ actually don’t make sense if looked at carefully.  As they put it, many of the writers exhibit ‘a self-assurance that far outstrips their scientific competence.’  What the authors really attack is a sort of radical skepticism or cognitive relativism that questions the existence of objective reality.  Extreme post-modernism can philosophically be called ‘idealism’ – where facts disappear and only 'the observers' verbiage and ideas remain.  It is an academic form of mysticism.  This book is part of the struggle against a fake ‘leftish’ idealism in science and sociology, history and feminism.  In their epilogue, Sokol/Bricmont state that they want to help the Left by combating alleged progressive nonsense disguised as profundities.    

The first target is Lacan – Zizek’s favourite inspiration.  As they put it, Lacanian psycho-analysis “is too vague to be tested empirically.’  If you have wondered why Zizek goes from writing rationally about politics or culture to veering into some hellish underworld of post-Freudian double-speak and bogus associations – Lacan is the answer.  In Lacan’s sacred word-salad, erect penises pop up in the middle of mathematical equations, with no connection between them except proximity   Here is that choice Lacan quote: 

“Thus the erectile organ comes to symbolize the place of jouissance, not in itself, or even in the form of an image, but as a part lacking in the desired image:  that is why it is equivalent to the √-1 of the signification produced above, of the jouissance that it restores by the coefficient of its statement to the function of lack of signifier (-1).” 

The authors remark that this is more like Woody Allen then Freud.  ‘Psychology’ by way of fractured math.

Another target is Julia Kristeva, who attempts to mathematize linguistics and political philosophy, among other things.  A random quote – “The desire to form the set of all finite sets puts the infinite on stage, and reciprocally, Marx, who noticed the illusion of the State to be the set of all sets, saw in the social unit as represented by the bourgeois Republic a collection that nevertheless constitutes for itself, a set (just as the collection of the finite ordinals is a set if one poses it as such) from which something is lacking:  indeed, its existence or if one wants, its power is dependent on the existence of the infinite that no other set can contain.”

This is one reason why some interpreters of Marxism have not been a total success. 

Sokol/Tricmont take on unfamiliar (to me) people like ‘anything goes’ Feyeraband, Latour, the feminist Irigaray, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Virilio and even the editor of ‘Social Text.’  Based on some of these readings, it seems petit-bourgeois feminism has found a weapon against class analysis in post-modernism, as have other narrow approaches.  Irigaray thinks because most mathematics has been done by men (as have other sciences) the scientific method itself is ‘masculine’ and hence flawed.  Irigaray rejects the ‘belief in a truth independent of the subject’ or observer.  She advises women not to: “accept to or subscribe to the existence of a neutral, universal science, to which women should painfully gain access and with which they then torture themselves and taunt other women, transforming science into a new super-ego.” 

This is a rejection of empiricism and fact-finding.  I won’t go on more, but you get the idea.

In their epilogue, the authors account for the rise of post-modernism and subjectivism among certain ‘progressive’ academics to the weakening of Marxism after WWII, as well as the fall of other enlightenment attitudes.  The authors themselves were called ‘culturally conservative Marxists’ at an academic conference in California held by post-modernists.  However the authors then spend a page or so attacking some Marxists for practicing ‘scientism’ too – which is no doubt correct at times.  Yet in the process they accuse historical materialism itself of not being scientific, which is not quite the same thing.  They say this without evidence – not very empirical, but certainly fashionable.  'Sub-textually' they are red-bashing to win sympathy from their adversaries.  This is a liberal habit you might have noticed.  This in spite of the continual historic and economic facts that Marxists nearly always employ when talking about historical materialism - the farthest thing from idealism. 

If you are interested in the topic of post-modernism, this book fills a gap.  I read it so you don’t have to – or perhaps you do.

Reviews of Zizek books below:  Living in the End Times,” “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?” and “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.”  Mentions of post-modernism regarding art below – “9.5 Thesis” and “Art is Dead.” Mentions of idealism in science below – “Reason in Revolt,” “Big Bang Theory” and “Ten Assumptions of Science.”  Use blog search box, upper left. 

I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 28, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"If We Burn, You Burn With Us..."

"Hunger Games – MockingJay I,” directed by Francis Lawrence, 2014

This is the third in this series about a revolution in a dystopic U.S. against the brutal and exploitative “Capitol” of Panem.  The books they are taken from were aimed at a “YA” audience (‘young adult’ – really teenagers…) and the first-run theaters are mostly filled with young Millennials who might have read the books as teenagers or not. 

Mocking Jay I locates the action in District 13, a relatively well-armed underground bunker reminiscent of the warren inhabited by the Matrix rebels of that film series.  District 13 was virtually destroyed by Panem's violent Capitol earlier, and they have lived a secret underground life for years.  They are the hard core that knew there was no compromise with the Capitol. They now seek to reach out to the other Districts – which are in rebellion through strikes, riots and guerrilla warfare – to take down President Snow and his allies.  The rebellions started when Katniss Everdeen shot an arrow into the ‘dome’ of the Hunger Games and destroyed its force field.  This rebellious action, broadcast on TV, unleashed events across Panem. 

Most older people don’t even know about these films.  If none of this makes sense, you might want to watch the first two films. 

In this film, Katniss is a tough supposed teenager, whose tiresome, yet understandable issue is saving her friend and perhaps lover, Peeta, from his imprisonment in the Capitol.  At the same time she is being asked to be the ‘symbol’ of the revolution by the revolutionaries, the 'Mockingjay.'  This bird imitates what it hears – a sort of Appalachian parrot. She is reluctant to commit to the latter. Written this way, Katniss is supposed to represent the majority of people who only think about their family and friends, even in the midst of massive social upheaval and oppression.  At some point her obsession with Peeta in this film becomes almost laughable.  She is, of course, surrounded by determined revolutionaries dressed in Cuban-like fatigues, led by the ever-beautiful and smart Julianne Moore as President Coin of District 13, or Woody Harrelson in his 'be real' stocking cap and Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role.

What can we glean from this film from a leftist point of view?  Suzanne Collins wrote her books based on the Iraq War, reality shows and her distaste for inequality.  This particular revolution has immediately devolved into a militarized struggle.  Only in one scene do the lumber workers from District 5 attack the storm-trooper guards taking them into the forest to work.  The other scene in District 8 is of black and white rebels and a hospital full of injured civilians in a devastated city – shades of an American Baghdad or a Soviet Stalingrad  The scenes in the District 13 bunker while it is being bombed reflect a bit what it was like for Iraqis hunkered down under the bunker-buster bombs of the U.S. Air Force, or the English during the blitz.  A massive Capitol dam later gets blown by virtually unarmed civilians in District 5 rushing it with large boxes of dynamite. Almost suicidal attacks seem to be a theme.

As such, the film does not show a mass pre-violent struggle, in a way removing the people from the film.  Instead this part of the revolution is portrayed as a spontaneous bloody rebellion, with the leadership dispersed and disconnected from the Districts.  Coin wants to use Everdeen as the symbol to unite the Districts, and so the film centers around, oddly enough, creating effective propaganda to this end.  Katniss only gets to go into combat once, shooting down a Capitol jet with an exploding arrow aimed into the turbine. (!)   This focus on propaganda is key – not organizers or parties in the districts or workers seizing the means of production or the formation of clandestine District councils to direct the struggle.  Instead it reflects a ‘televised’ response to oppression. This revolution will be televised.

The main issue is the political nature of this celluloid rebellion at this point.  Who are they talking about today?  A future U.S., taking the issues of poverty, inequality, militarization, propaganda and surveillance today and drawing them out to a logical conclusion?  Or even a present dictatorship in one of the distant districts of imperial capital.  I think so.  However, the most deluded reviewer, Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com, thinks this film represents the “Roman Empire against the Khmer Rouge.”  He says in his review, echoing the drugged Peeta, that “revolutions … almost always end badly.”  For an American to say that is laughable.  O’Hehir thinks this film appeals equally to both the T-Party and the Occupy Left and youth.  Let’s look at these positions. 

District 13 is led by a woman who says the revolution is for ‘democracy’ and having the Districts ‘share the fruit of their labors.’ The Khmer Rouge did not fight for ‘democracy.’ The revolutionaries are not busy exiling or shooting or starving everyone in glasses or in cities.  Nor do they kill or starve other nationalities, as the KR did with Cambodians with Vietnamese roots.  Women played almost no role in the leadership of the KR, as they were a patriarchal organization.  The people in these rebellions are mostly working class, not peasants or farmers.  We cannot tell what District 13 did before they were bombed, but it seems not to be a rural area of small businessmen and farmers, aka the T-Party.

Clothing plays an important part in the symbolism of this film.  Ornate dress is pilloried as reflecting the lifestyle of the Capitol.  The organized rebels are dressed like Cuban revolutionaries or Israeli kibbutzim, not the KR.  The KR dressed in the traditional red & white krama scarf, loose black pants and rubber-tire sandals or bare feet.  These rebels are not peasants but instead technical urbanites.  There is no connection between what is in this movie and the KR except in the anti-communist mind of O’Hehir.  O’Hehir claims that Edmund Burke loved the American revolution and hated the French Revolution, and that Collins, the author, is a “Burkean.”  Both revolutions, however, involved violence.  O’Hehir himself is the Burkean here, but in this series, so far, Collins has proved she is not. 

Nor is the Capitol and President Snow like the “Roman Empire.’  Distancing this very clear modern, almost fascist dictatorship by historicizing it back to pre-Christian times is another conservative dodge.   The Capitol (again, no accident in that name) is wealthy, uses television and propaganda continuously, dresses in fancy clothes, eats continually, is high-tech and militarily dominates the Districts.  As President Snow says, the deal is the Districts provide the Capitol with goods while the Capitol responds by providing ‘peace and security.’  This is clearly a more modern empire, much closer to our own.  In fact, in present far-flung districts of the U.S. empire, rebels opposing dictatorial governments are now using the 'three-finger' salute from the film to express their opposition.  5 coup protesters in Thailand were just arrested for doing this.  Occupiers in Hong Kong used it this week as their protest camp was being cleared by police.

While making this film the director Lawrence had to choose if he was to stay with the juvenile focus on Katniss rescuing Peeta and her sister, or have Katniss grow up a bit and realize there is much more that is going on than the situation of her family or friends.  She does realize it when she sees that miners' District 12, her district, has been leveled and only 900+ people escaped.  The rest were firebombed.  Of course, who is going to dig the coal now?  The movie reflects no real understanding of how the Capitol’s economy functions and just scares the viewer.  You cannot liquidate your whole working class if you are a capitalist.  Just part of it.

Sequels, remakes, pre-quels, splitting one book into two films - as done here - are all aspects of the comodification of the arts.  Art ends at a certain natural cultural point - but if tickets are bought, then commercialization begins and 'stretches' the art into something else.  This is no secret, and is one of the ordinary complaints about this film and others. But it is not the end of the story about this film.

The director chose to stay with the text and the juvenile focus, not showing much growth by Everdeen.  In this, I think it also reflects a hesitation about the word ‘revolution’ that inhabits the U.S. polity.  And quite rightly.  After all, revolution is not a triviality.  It will occur only if the overwhelming majority of the people in the modern American ‘districts’ finally have had enough and unite against the capitalist class, their politicians and their paid military mercenaries and defend themselves.  At that point it will be the most democratic moment in U.S. history.    In the U.S., the real preparation and movement of a revolution will not be televised, much as Gil Scott Heron said.  It will mostly happen outside the frame of cable news..  However, across the seas in the 'districts' of American/European/Japanese capital, fighting dictators is not something in the future.  It is now.  And those fights only occasionally break into media view.  

But on a less orthodox level, the word ‘revolution’ is being used more and more by social democrats like Naomi Klein, Christian anarchists like Russell Brand, enraged intellectuals like Chris Hedges and many other progressives to denote ‘a big change’ – not necessarily one involving armed self-defense.  Both of these concepts co-exist together in the political and cultural atmosphere.  While juvenile, somewhat dull and limited, this film spreads that idea of revolution - in both forms - further among youth and the general population.

Prior reviews of the first two films in this series below - "The Hunger Games" and "Hunger Games - Catching Fire."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
November 23, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Let Them Eat Grass

"The Heart of Everything That Is – The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, 2013

This sweeping novelistic history reads like a film, and should be one.  The 300 year war against the Indigenous people of the U.S. is a story that is still being told.  The book is the mostly unknown story of Red Cloud, who defeated the U.S. in 1868 after northern plains warfare lasting years.  He signed a treaty that made the government close the Bozeman Trail through Wyoming and Montana and abandon 3 forts along it – a first.  He was able to unite at different times the 7 ‘councils’ of the Lakota Nation and the Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Shoshone and Arapaho in a joint force, something almost unheard of.  Crazy Horse appears in the story as one of Red Cloud’s lead fighters.

It starts with the forced migration of the poor Sioux Nation from the forests of Minnesota to the plains around the Black Hills – “the heart of everything that is.”  Red Cloud’s early life, his rise in the tribe of Oglala Lakota and his subsequent successful campaign against the white invasion of native land are described in detail.  And his denouement – dying on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at 88. 

Drury/Clavin based much of this story on the recent re-discovery of Red Cloud’s ‘memoir’ – stories he told to a white friend at Pine Ridge that were transcribed every night.  In it are descriptions of Red Cloud’s escapades battling other tribes, stealing horses, enduring the ‘sun dance’ and finally becoming a ‘big belly’ tribal war leader.  These stories lead up to the epic 1866 battle around Fort Phil Kearney in Wyoming – an early version of the defeat of Custer.  It was a face-off between General Carrington, ensconced in his newly built fort - and Red Cloud's confederation of tribes.  There the overly-aggressive Captain Fetterman led 87 soldiers to their doom, when he found himself surprised by a force of 2,000 warriors.  In that battle, Crazy Horse ultimately goaded the Federal troops into chasing him by ‘mooning’ them – at least according to Crazy Horse’s family stories. 

This book resonates for many reasons – not just the ‘colorful’ or riveting history you are reading.   After all, you are hoping Red Cloud wins.  In a way, the wars against the various native tribes on the north American continent were a template for the growing colonial and eventually imperial U.S. project – which has now put 1,000 forts all over the world.  This long guerrilla war presaged Vietnam – and Afghanistan.  It was predicated on ethnic cleansing and removal of peoples, which led to Indian on Indian fighting, much like the U.S. wars in the Middle East accelerated Sunni/Shia fighting.  The quote “let them eat grass’ came from a Minnesota trader when he was told the Indians were starving waiting for the late supply of ‘treaty’ food to arrive.  Our own western Marie Antionette.  He died at the hand of the Dakota, who stuffed grass in his mouth.  Native people were sub-humans – and, as carnivores know – making something sub-human means you can kill it more easily.  Genocide was the new plan, replacing an earlier vision of ostensible or propagandistic 'cooperation' between whites and natives.  Clueless generals abounded – nothing new about that – who thought fighting Red Cloud was like fighting in the Civil War.  The split between ‘fort’ Indians and ‘hostiles’ certainly describes Malcolm X’s description of the House Negro and the Field Negro, or the labor movement’s description of company brown noses and union men.  The destruction of the buffalo down to l00 animals destroyed the life source of these hunter/gatherer peoples – a rape of nature that is still familiar.  The white hunters, who got off trains, did not even eat the meat, but left it to rot on the prairie. 

Ultimately the war waged by the Federal government was all about protecting a 400 mile ‘short-cut’ to the Montana gold fields.  Later this became a fight for Black Hills gold, which led to the events on the Little Big Horn.  This route, northwest of the Oregon Trail, was called the Bozeman Trail.  Bozeman was a loudmouthed southerner who wanted to make money guiding wagon trains to Montana.  As the authors put it, the monetary system needed gold after the huge debts of the Civil War and later the financial panic of 1873.  ‘Manifest Destiny’ was being driven by the needs of early mercantile capitalism.

Drury/Clavin don’t prettify the native tribes. The Lakota were a patriarchal group.  The women and girls did most of the work but hunting and war.  While they worked around the teepees, the men and boys sat around and played games or talked.  The Sioux were pushed out of Minnesota by better armed Algonquin people – the Anishinabe/Chippewa - who had gotten guns from the white men.  The Lakota in turn moved west, and like the Texas Comanche, adopted the horse, and with horses, crushed other tribes.  Torture and vivisection of bodies was common in warfare, and almost no prisoners were taken.  They once ran into a small, hunted tribe in Nebraska that had been forced to move all the way from Ohio.  The Lakota never, however, got enough decent guns to be able to outgun the Federals, and used bows, hatchets and lances in these battles.  The Federals were armed with 6-shot Colts and 7-shot Spencer carbines.  Firepower was another reason why the Federals were able to ultimately win these wars.  And, as retailed in “Empire of the Summer Moon” about the Comanches, alcohol, the Christian religion and disease all played a role in destroying the strength of the tribes in the northern plains.  

Drury/Clavin also detail the story behind McMurtry's book, "Lonesome Dove," touch on the distance between Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, and explain finally why Red Cloud became a 'reservation Indian.'

Native peoples in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and across Latin America are still fighting against the continuing onslaught of capitalism.  First Nations are in the front line against the tar sands, the XL Pipeline, fracking, environmental degradation and here in Minnesota, the renewed destruction of wolves.  Of note, one of the largest Native demonstrations against racism was held in the Twin Cities several weeks ago when the Washington “Redskins” came to town to play football.  While Red Cloud is buried at Pine Ridge in South Dakota, the struggle – perhaps not with bows and arrows anymore – goes on. 

Other books with Native themes reviewed below:  Empire of the Summer Moon,” "This Changes Everything" and “Indian Country Noir.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
November 19 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cop Gate

"Bad Cops, Bad Cops – What Ya Gonna Do When They Come For You?"

As we await the predictable Grand Jury decision in the Michael Brown murder, let us reflect on the police.  Nearly every institution in this society has come to low repute among many – even, now the Red Cross, which has been exposed as top-heavy organization more interested in donor dollars than helping people, especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Of course, Grand Juries themselves are kangaroo courts loaded with secret ‘prominent’ citizens, where the accused has few or no rights - unless you are a cop. 

Then there is ‘Pointergate.”  The police here in Minneapolis recently collaborated with a right-wing reporter at Hubbard-owned KSTP-5 television station to ‘gang-bait’ the Democratic Mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges.  Hubbard owns about 13 TV stations, 30 radio stations and cable stations and is #764 on the Billionaire List according to Forbes.   Hodges and a black neighborhood activist pointed their fingers in a goofy pose – while, incidentally, standing next to the Head of the Minneapolis Police, Janee Harteau, who was just out of the picture.  The reporter, with input from the Minneapolis police – probably John Delmonico of the Police Union – alleged they were flashing ‘gang signs.’

Now mild-mannered Betsy Hodges wouldn’t know a gang sign if someone taught it to her.

This is an occasion where social media and the as-of-now ‘free’ internet totally destroyed the narrative the billionaire, his reporter and the cops were trying to create.  Nor is it the first time the internet has immediately called ‘bullshit’ on some statement or event -  it is happening more and more, whether with sexist creeps in Silicon Valley or quacks like Doctor Oz.  In effect, the capitalist media was not able to control the story.  Harteau carefully did not join in.  She is a lesbian and the first woman to be head of the police, and sees it as her job to do PR for whatever fuckups the police get into.  Hiring a gay woman to helm a police department does not do away with the role of the police in a capitalist state, but you got to admire their PR skills.  It is putting ‘lipstick on a pig,’ almost literally.

The last mayor of Minneapolis, a Democratic empty suit named Rybak, loved the police union.  Hodges is a bit to Rybak’s left and has an Afro-American husband who was at one time a black radical.  Hodges – and much commentary – agreed that this provocation by KSTP and the police was in retaliation for the City Council recently mandating that police wear television cameras during arrests.  This is logical because the taxpayers of Minneapolis have for years been paying millions in out-of-court settlements over police brutality.

Which gets us back to Ferguson.  The camera idea came from that situation.  As Russell Brand and every reporter has noticed, riot gear is flowing into the St. Louis and Ferguson police departments since Brown was killed.  The ‘Justice” Department has not made any findings, and is instead allowing these thugs to arm up.  The preachers are kneeling, the Democratic Party politicians are pleading for peace.  Nothing has changed except a movement has begun to form among black youth as the “Obama goggles’ have fallen off. 

Police are the highest-paid group of ‘civil’ employees in almost any jurisdiction – County, City and otherwise.  While everyone else gets cut, the police remain for the most part immune.  Police review boards are gutted - in Minneapolis the most-left wing person on the Board, David Bicking, was removed administratively.  John Delmonico’s Minneapolis police ‘union’ is feared, as it is the only ‘union’ that anyone respects – even Republicans.  It has been a long time since the 1910 Boston police strike over better working conditions for cops.  Unfortunately, this ‘union’ is not the same as an electrical workers union or a mechanics union.  Because cops will be called out to break strikes by the latter. Because the police are an arm of the capitalist state.  The naïve calls from Occupy to police that ‘you are the 99% too!’ might need a little bit of sharpening. You will find individuals or minority groups who might work with dissidents.  But only that.  Most police departments are dominated by a hard core of reactionaries. 

Worship of the police in the U.S. is broadcast every day through unreal police procedurals on TV like 'NCIS,' 'Law & Order - SVU,' 'Blue Bloods,' 'The Mentalist,' 'Cold Case,' 'Criminal Minds.Just as we should ‘support the troops’ we also should ‘support the cops.’  It is never noted in these shows that half of all murders are not solved and that most victims are not white or that ‘evidence’ is many times incorrect or faked. Misbehavior by police is absent – or glorified.  Internal Affairs is the enemy. Cops are geniuses.  The real alternative police procedurals show up every day on the internet in cell phone videos and audios of beatings, shootings or killings of relatively innocent people by cops, but that doe not find its way into TV’s fairy tales. 

Here in Minneapolis the hated Rich Stanek was re-elected Sheriff of Nottingham – ah, Hennepin County, the county in and around Minneapolis.  Stanek’s office evicted thousands of residents from their foreclosed homes.  He helped oust Occupy from the Plaza at the Hennepin County Government Center.  He cooperated with the DHS illegally arresting and detaining activists protesting the Republican Convention in 2004. He enforces the drug war to enrich his department and harass minorities, and lies about marijuana.  He collaborates with ICE to deport Latino workers. The Metro Gang Strike Force, in which Hennepin County Sheriffs cooperated, was riddled with scandal and ultimately shut down.  The Sheriff is key to the repressive structure in the City, which is why you have to have a CJS degree or police accreditation to run for this office, at least as I understand.  No Hunter Thompson’s allowed here. Civilians are not wanted.

Will the camera idea work?  Well, the report is mixed.  Statistics on problems are down for departments that use them.  However, sometimes the cameras are turned off at critical moments – oh accidentally!  Other times even while filming – remember the homeless man that was shot in the back in Arizona by heavily armed police – it doesn’t matter.

The real problem is that police departments are not really part of the population, especially the poor, the working-class, or black, Latino and Native populations.  While recruiting from the working class, they are then trained to dominate that class. It is a force over and above the population. As such no matter how much tinkering – community policing, lesbian or black police chiefs, National Night Out, cameras, review boards, DOJ investigations, diversity training  – you cannot change this essential nature of the police. 

At some point, the population will have to learn to police itself with armed neighborhood committees.  The present police certainly need to be removed from some neighborhoods.  The former is a revolutionary solution, and one that will come when the majority class can no longer tolerate the ‘blue-bloods.’

(Reviews on police issues – book review “Rise of the Warrior Cops,” TV reviews, “The Wire,” and “Meta-Meaning of Bad Cop Shows,” and commentary – “Ferguson Facts.”  Us blog search box, upper left.)

Red Frog
November 15, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

No Masters, No Servants

"Workers’ Councils,” by Anton Pannekoek (1946), Intro by Noam Chomsky

Pannekoek was what I would call a Dutch council communist who, incredibly, wrote this book during World War II, from 1941 to 1946.  It is a sweeping and perhaps familiar look at world history and the situation of the working class at the time.  He takes into account the long history of working class rebellions – the Paris Commune, the Belgian suffrage strike of 1893, the German and Russian revolutions, councils in China and Spain, the English shop stewards movement being mentioned.  Pannekoek was an astronomer as well, hence the emphasis in this book on industrial ‘technique’ – material knowledge and skills, statistics, bookkeeping and scientific understanding.  He thinks that workers’ councils are the primary form of working class organization, while working class parties are irrelevant or harmful.  Pannekoek considers the council form to be Marx’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’  This is what marks his analysis as different from the versions of ‘Leninism’ that have been handed down by various sectors of the communist movement.

The book’s main strength is its description of what it takes for the working classes to overturn a social order, and begin to run a new society through the council form. It is not so much workers’ numbers or brute physical force as it is their control of the means of production and their eventual intellectual strength.  As he says, “…the solidity of a system of exploitation depends on the lack of capacity of the exploited class to discern their (own) exploitation.”  He dwells in detail on the stages of resistance and self-organization, in ascending order – trade unionism, strikes, shop occupations, general strikes, political strikes, council formation/dual power and ultimately overthrow of the state.  In the process, he dismisses the Communist Parties, syndicalism, industrial unionism and anarchism.  In essence, Pannekoek believes that a class cannot win power unless it is able to actually visualize and then practice power – as a whole, as a majority.  His analysis uses a mixture of organization and spontaneity.  Pannekoek:  “The action is not the result of deliberate intention; it comes as a spontaneous deed, irresistingly…”  And he follows with: “Organization is the life principal of the working class, the condition of liberation.”

Pannekoek claims the experiences in Russia and China, with their weak working classes, were “Asiatic’ examples, which led to a degenerated or deformed ‘state socialism’ or ‘state capitalism.’  He equates these two ostensible social formations as the same, oddly enough.  This description, in spite of the archaic term ‘Asiatic,’ helps illuminate the weaknesses of the urban working class in these areas.  But there is also the stagist implication that the working classes in those countries had to wait for Europe.  He thinks that successful social revolutions in Europe or the U.S. (and now other rapidly proletarianizing areas) will bypass the ‘one Party’ vanguard model, as well as the social-democratic Party model of parliamentary/ evolutionary/ electoral socialism due to the development of these societies.  As to the latter, he seems to oppose any kind of electoral action at all.

This book shows how far the working class – at least in the U.S. – has to go before it can become conscious of itself, let alone active in attempting to organize its own mass institutions or take power.  No matter what kind of activist you are, this point is quite simple. This book reflects an earlier understanding of the role of the middle-classes, which have now grown in influence in Europe and the U.S. and other parts of the world. For instance, what do you do with the millions of white-collar workers in ‘advanced’ capitalist countries who work in useless occupations like health billing, law, advertising, security, finance, sales, etc.  Nor does it deal with the present 24/7 propaganda network of capital. 

Above all it reflects a somewhat larger naiveté as to what it will take to militarily defeat the capitalist state, which he says is the capitalist classes’ ace-in-the-hole.  Not just the capitalist propaganda network, their ownership of production and wealth, their control of armed thugs – it is the capitalist state that stands directly in the way of a social revolution.  This is where a Party or parties or bloc of parties can play a temporary role in bringing down that state, by almost military organization - especially in conditions of illegality.  Council’s alone should be able to be the deciding bodies, but as organizations they will not be able, alone, to take the military actions necessary to defeat the present state and its armed forces.   If the parties cooperate with the councils and try not to dominate them in a sectarian way – then a working relationship can exist.  After all, working class parties are part of the class, not outside of it, just as are unions.

Pannekoek opposes bureaucratism in all its forms – union, party or ‘socialist’ state.  In this he reflects the long experience of radical workers in the class fight.  However, he does not address the issues of possible bureaucratism in the counsels themselves – councils that are charged with managing the revolution, then a new society.  This starry-eyed view hides the fact that bureaucratism can occur in many different organizations unless consciously opposed.  Yet a bureaucracy is not the same as an opposing economic ‘class’ with its own means of production and period of history – which Pannekoek, anticipating Schactmanism and Maoism – seems to believe.  Marx never posited a ‘new class’ bureaucracy that would intercede between socialism and capitalism as an historic stage of material enrichment. 

Pannekoek analyzes the formation of the bourgeoisies in England, France, Germany & the U.S., offering astute observations on their subtle differences and subsequent impact on the working classes.  He calls nationalism the ‘essential creed of the bourgeoisie’ and praises real democracy as a natural organization of human communities.  Pannekoek attempts a full explanation of almost everything happening around the 2nd World War.  Fascism is ‘the response of the capitalist world to the challenge of socialism.’  He follows with analyses of National ‘socialism,’ Japanese imperialism, the rise of China, colonialism, all in the context of war, and makes predictions, some of which turning out to be true.  All this written in the ruins of World War II, the bloodiest conflict in human history, a capitalist war through and through.  A war that Pannekoek says ‘inaugurated a new epoch’ for the workers of the world.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 12, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Who Did You Wear Today?

"Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion,” by Tansy E Hoskins, 2014

Hoskins is a young English Marxist who has written a break-through book on clothing – or as it is called in academe – ‘fashion.’  Many male leftists in the U.S. think clothing is an after-thought and anyone not wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans and dirty sneakers or boots all the time is bourgeois or something.  Typical male workerist stuff, but there it is. 

Marxists and workers have used clothing and fashion in iconic ways. The Bolsheviks were known as the ‘men in leather jackets.’  There is Lenin’s cap, Mao’s jacket, Che’s beret, Trotsky’s 3-piece suit and glasses, the Black Panther Party’s leather jackets and berets, Castro’s military fatigues, Malcolm X’s suit and short hair-style, Ho’s wispy beard and the Vietnamese ‘black pyjamas,’ Chavez’ red shirts, the red bandannas worn by U.S. miners in the 1920s around their necks (which got them called ‘red necks’), Palestinian ‘keffiyeh’ scarves, black power dashiki’s and Afros, Nehru jackets worn by African socialists like Julius Nyerere, red bandannas worn over mouth and nose by street protesters in our time, union jackets, protest T-shirts, red and black armbands, protest buttons, camouflage worn by U.S. autoworkers, meat-packers and miners in the strikes in the 1980s, etc.  Che Guevara’s beret image is reported to be the most reproduced image in the world. 

Clothing is about the most intimate ‘product’ we use everyday - its use value is right up there with food and shelter.  However, somehow it is to be ignored – perhaps because of its female associations.  Ignoring clothing and other body adornments as cultural factors is ignoring one of the most immediate and unavoidable impressions people make.  Fashion is one of the biggest capitalist industries – the third richest human in 2013 was a Spaniard who owns Zara, which sells cheap clothing.  In 2010, fashion sales reached $2,560 trillion.  The industry employs millions of workers across the globe. Hoskins explores every aspect – oligopolistic ownership of designer brands, production and labour conditions, advertising and fetishism, clothing and women, racism in the industry, modeling, fashion blogging, styles like ‘fast’ and haute couture, high fashion 'branding,' dreadful environmental and animal impacts, some WW II history - and the constant of economics.  For instance, there are 6 main high-fashion oligopolies – the same number that control the media in the U.S. 

Take jeans.  Designer jeans.  Spend some time looking at jeans over $100 a pair.  What do you see?  Many of them look like the really-used rack at Savers, a local reuse store.  Carefully ripped and torn, chemically ‘stone’ washed or bleached all over or in various places, using thin denim material to be soft.  This use of bleach pollutes the water; sanding jeans to soften and whiten them produces silicosis in the workers who do it.  The jeans have already had their life spans shortened because the style is ‘worn.’  You are purchasing ostensible authenticity.  And incidentally, you have to come back to get new ones sooner.  This style broadcasts that these are not to be purchased as work clothes anymore but instead as disposable clothes.  The very tight skinny jeans style also leads to clothing that stops fitting at a quicker pace than looser jeans.  Designer jeans have planned obsolescence.  Welcome to the idiocies of capitalism.

Hoskins goes into detail on the body image of high fashion, and attendant industries like dieting and cosmetics, as destructive to women and models - even leading to the formation of a Models Union in 2009 in London.  She looks at the debased fur and animal skin trade – including the horrible conditions undergone by alligators for Hermes fashion bags that sell for $200K, or by the children who have to strip the alligator skins.  Massive cotton irrigation has drained watercourses like the Azov Sea in Uzbekistan to 15% of their former size.  In China, fabric production itself uses 200 tons of water for every ton of clothes.  The Dow Bhopal disaster was from an explosion of pesticides used for cotton production at that unmaintained facility – a crime yet to be paid for by Dow.  Even clothing recycling promotes the idea that clothing production is a ‘circle’ - when it is really a drain. In 2002 China alone produced 20 billion pieces of clothing – 4 for everyone on the planet.  She criticizes some who allege that ‘fast fashion’ or cheap clothes are ‘working class.’  Marx and Engels both commented that workers in London had access to bad food and poor clothes.  Marx commentated:  “They wear … a suit of tatters.”  Things have not changed that much.  Socialism can change that.

The fire in 2013 at the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh reminded U.S. labor folks of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York.  1,133 died and 2,500 were injured at Rana Plaza, all after being ordered into an unsafe building.  This was the largest garment fire in history. This happened in 2013, a hundred years after Triangle - which we thought we'd never see again  The conditions of 1911 have only been exported to other countries whose labor movements are not yet strong enough to stop them.  Hoskins reveals that even ‘luxury’ brands use this sweat-shop labor.

Hoskins deconstructs the myths around ‘haute couture.’  For instance she delineates the history of high fashion’s collaboration with fascism.  When Paris was occupied, Chanel, Vuitton and Dior continued to dress the Nazi military wives and the Petainist collaborators.  Chanel herself, unlike the cuddly film in which she was played by Audrey Tautou, was ‘anti-Semitic, homophobic, a social climber, opportunistic, ridiculously snobbish and an active collaborator’ according to Hal Vaughan, who wrote a book about her.  Of course, Tautou was incidentally the commercial representative of Chanel at the time of the movie, which conveniently ended before the war.  Hugo Boss designed and made the original ‘brown shirts’ for the Nazi Party, being a party member since 1931.  Cristobal Balenciaga dressed Franco’s wife in Spain, then moved the Paris where he also dressed the Nazi elite. In 1972 he came out of retirement to dress Franco’s niece. Not all designers are like that, but the majority know where their bread is buttered. 

Given the massive and obvious problems in the garment industries, corporations are trying to respond.  Hoskins analyzes the ‘charity consumerism’ sometimes used to sell clothing – ‘ethical fashion,’ ‘sustainable fashion,' and the like.  Many times this is part of CSR schemes by large corporations to ‘greenwash’ and ‘bluewash’ their products, in order to sell more goods.  She points out two kinds of consumer boycotts – actual political consumers and the cons that attempt to imitate them.  She critiques phoney philanthropists like U-2s Bono, who started a clothing factory in Africa, only to sell it off and have the production moved to another country.  Instead of dealing with the real problem - Africa’s fashion industry was destroyed by cheap imperial imports – Bono joins the crowd.  Or his “RED’ program, which neglects every labour, environmental or political consideration to donate a small amount to fight AIDS.  This only when you buy a top corporate product from Armani, GAP, Converse or American Express.  Or TOMS shoes, which says it will donate a pair of shoes if you buy a pair.  The pairs they donate are really very cheap plimsouls made in Ethiopia, not quality shoes.  This actually allows TOMS to make a larger profit overall and does little for the indigenous African industry. 

Hoskins, however, has not come to degrade all fashion as ‘capitalist’ fashion, but to indicate where it can go right.  Clothing, like all art, crafts and cultural forms, is integral to what it is to be a human being.  We wear clothing every day.  And we can, if we want, dress for the purpose of our minutes - not just in some routine way.  Clothing does not have to be a commodity.  The “Mao suit’ won’t be the only clothing under socialism, as that was in large part a product of massive fear and conformism.  In East Germany, Hungary and other post-capitalist states, nudity was actually a big movement, so clothing might be optional at times.  She describes clothing movements inside capitalism that try to oppose commercialism or capitalism – punk, hippiedom, grunge, rap, the hijab – only to point out that dispersed clothing cannot challenge capital because it is regularly co-opted.  High fashion regularly steals ideas from oppressed groups - Jean Paul Gautier was the most prominent.  Even Top Shop in the UK sold Palestinian scarves for mass sale. 

Class is the prime point in clothing.  A classless society will remove the class markers that mar fashion.  It will halt its wastefulness, environmental damage and exploitative working conditions.  She points to revolutionary Soviet designers like Liubov Popova & Varvara Stepanova, who created quality art clothing to be worn by peasant and working women.  And whose designs flew of the shelves. 

A socialist look at feminism, “Fortunes of Feminism” by Nancy Fraser is also available at Mayday and will be reviewed soon.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 6, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Red Wedding

Are the Democrats a Real Opposition to the Republican Party?

The topicality sucks, but there it is.  The 2014 Mid-term elections reflect a triumph of the hard right in U.S. politics.  Satan's minions are at the gates.  Nearly every anti-labor bonehead won.  War, immiseration and gridlock are our future.  Of course, that was the status before this election.  Newly elected ‘establishment’ Republican Mitch McConnell from Kentucky said he could work with Obama on imperialist trade deals, bombing ISIS and tax ‘reform.’  He’s not far off in his suppositions.  Obama is "looking forward to working with McConnell."  Really?

What happened?   This election proves once again that the Democratic Party is not a real opposition to Republicanism. It also reflects a failure of bourgeois ‘democracy’ in all its glory.  Certain key figures in left-liberal circles are throwing up their hands at the weak nature of the Democratic Party – and the whole system of electoral democracy.  The majority of eligible voters did not show up.  Youth, blacks and Latinos vote percentages were down – far down in the case of youth.  Some states had the lowest voter turnout in history.  Only 25% of LA County voted, for instance.  Gallup showed significant drop-offs in enthusiasm for voting, per se, even from other ‘midterm’ elections. 

If you parse the figures, as AP did, around 36.7 percent of the population voted nationwide.  That leaves about 18.35% of the population controlling the ‘election.”  The average for mid-terms is between 39-43% since 1974 - never a majority.  So this is the lowest turnout for a mid-term in recent history - and that denotes an extreme failure of bourgeois democracy.  People are voting with their feet.  CNN reported that 79% of voters had a negative view of Congress.  Old white Republicans vote the most, because they are the ones that believe in the ‘system’ the most.  The vast majority did not vote again – and this includes large numbers of the white working class.  Many of these elections were in Neo-Confederate states, but even in some non-Neo-Confederate states, the Democrats lost.

Greg Palast cites massive voter suppression in operation “Crosscheck” as one reason.   Palast describes a 27-state database that merely matches first and last names – not socials or addresses or middle initials – that states selectively use to block voters from voting.  This is the crudest, most simple-minded form of ‘identification,’ and, as anyone knows who has to identify people, this method is criminally inaccurate.  Wade Henderson of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights says that 14 states changed their laws to restrict voting after the ‘60s era Voting Rights Act was basically struck down last year.  The league-leader here is Texas, and we have only heard a few stories of Texas voters forbidden from voting, but it could be up to 600,000.
While the Texas population larger, and turnout in 2010 was 37.5 percent, in 2014 turnout was around 33.6 percent, according to the NY Times.   The Supreme Court allowed the Texas restrictions to function this election, predictably enough. 

Welcome to the new Jim Crow.  And you thought that was history?  Water hoses, dog bites, Klan crosses and shotguns are next. 

Democratic Party figures lost while ‘liberal’ policies won.  That is significant. A higher minimum wage won in 4 states - and they were all 'red' southern or mountain states. California voters approved reducing some 20 'felonies' to misdemeanors, which weakens '3 strikes and your out,' and mass incarceration.  This measures takes aim at the drug war.  Two person-hood amendments – giving legal status to fetuses (yes!) lost, even in North Dakota.  Marijuana legalization was approved in Oregon, Alaska and D.C. – though the white bigot landlords of D.C. will overrule the vote, I’m sure.  This is also a dent in the drug war.  Fracking was defeated in a Texas town north of Austin, Denton - in the middle of oil & gas country.  Denton is now under legal assault by the whole industry. Soda was taxed in Berkeley, even after millions was spent by the sugar industry to defeat it.  Some gun control checks on buyers were passed in Washington state. Maui County in Hawaii outlawed the growing of GMO crops, and are now being sued by DOW and Monsanto.  So why do Democratic Party politicians lose while even ‘some’ of their culture-war stuff wins?  The answer is obvious.  Few trust the Democratic Party except the older Party loyalists.

Youth, black and Latino vote totals were down and there are reasons for that.  If you ignore your base, or oppose your base, they really are not enthused.  Whose going to vote to be shit on again?  Even if you scare them with the Republican Bogeyman.  The refusal to work on legalization issues for immigrants before the election reflected a real Democratic Party dive, and cut the Latino vote.  Weak Democratic candidates even ran from Obamacare – from the right! This shows that the antidote to Republicanism is not being a Blue Dog, or dives, or surrender, or agreement, or partial agreement, but clear, total opposition.    What is really funny are the left-liberals constantly giving 'advice' to the Democrats or Obama about what to do.  Ignoring your base is almost the only way this party can function, given it is controlled by the liberal wing of the capitalist class.  Better ideas – like single-payer, anti-imperialism, pro-unionism and class struggle – are the real opposition to Republicanism in all its forms.  Only socialists can offer that.  None of that will come from this Democratic Party.

Most political surveys only track voting by sex, age or ethnicity, not class.  This reflects the Democrats, who are whistling by the graveyards by figuring that demographic changes will save them some day. Ethnicity, sex or age are their only political categories too.  Lets hope the old rural white people die!  Class is completely invisible in these estimates, though class cuts across all of them, and dominates all of them.  This is the reason why the Democrats lose elections – because they are not a party of the majority working classes, but of a middle and upper-class that pretends to be your friend.  Liars are soon exposed, even to the dimist of bulbs.

The ‘slipping away of democracy’ – a phrase being used by more and more by leftish commentators - is not a mere phrase or an exaggeration.  Voting for Democrats – or Republicans - is exposed as a pathetic and insufficient sham that cannot change anything – especially if there are only two corporate parties running. 

Red Frog
November 5, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The L-Words

Libertarian Atheism versus Liberal Religionism

If you’ve followed the recent U.S. internet debates between liberal religionists and some atheists recently, you might smell a rat.  The liberals are making a big deal out of it.  Let’s look at one argument, specifically around Female Genital Mutilation, (“FGM”) a topic that no one should have two opinions about.  FGM is a curse on women anywhere, and part of patriarchal culture, which is not always divorced from capitalist or mercantile culture.  It is part of an attempt to oppress women and use them for free or low-paid labor by controlling and damaging their independent sexual existence. 

FGM came up because it is reported that atheist comic Bill Maher said to Iranian-born religion professor Reza Aslan that FGM was an ‘Islamic’ problem.  Aslan countered and said it was an ‘African’ problem, and that Maher was an Islamophobe.  This term ‘Islamophobe’ gets kicked around a lot, as it’s meaning has become somewhat overly flexible.  In fact, it is starting to mean any criticism of Islam by anyone.  Phobia means 'irrational fear,' like washing your hands every 5 minutes.  It does not mean 'dislike' or 'oppose.' The liberal Christians loved Aslan, who is ecumenical of course.  However, not sure what African-Americans would think about Aslan’s line. 

Religion, of course, is politics by other means. Bill Maher is closer to a 'leftish' form of libertarianism than anything else.  Aslan is a liberal religionist who is probably crowing over the Pope’s statement that the Big Bang … and subsequent evolution … is really not contradictory to the initial creation of the universe by God.  (Take note, some scientists…ex nihilo!)

Female Genital Mutilation

I got to be curious about FGM.  Look it up for yourself in Wikipedia and other sources.  Low and behold, both Maher and Aslan are wrong – and right.  FGM is practiced among some ethnic tribal groups in Africa.  But also in some predominantly Arab countries (the Kurds in Iraq, tribes in Yemen, the UAE), and in some countries in Africa with large Muslim populations – Egyptian rates are 90% of all girls undergoing FGM, and from 70-90% in Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia – mostly Muslim states.  Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are also on the high end – 70% in Mauritania.  A small group of Ethiopian and Egyptian (Coptic) Christians support it.  The Maasai, the last remaining semi-nomadic people in Africa, practice it.  It is also practiced in South Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia with large Islamic populations and in other scattered countries around the world.  Some Somalis in the U.S. send their girls back to Somalia to be cut.  This also happens in other western countries like England where there is now a movement to prevent this. 

In spite of Aslan’s claim, religious opinion is split on FGM in many countries with Muslim majorities.  Some Islamic scholars denounce it as “un-Islamic” and not mentioned in the Quran (true) and others claim it is obligatory or ‘honourable.’  Many ordinary Muslim’s believe it is part of being a ‘good Muslim.’  It might be outlawed formally by the state, but the laws are not enforced, so it is still practiced. Just as there are splits between Christian religionists about various issues, so too among Islamists there are differences.  No surprises here. 

What is clear is that no atheist or socialist has ever condoned FGM. 

However some liberal relativists believe that whatever other cultures do is ‘right.’  This cultural relativism is supposed be a ‘blow’ against Westernism, but unfortunately in this context it has the effect of helping enslave women.  It also reveals the parochial and privileged condition of those tolerating it, as they would never allow their own girls to undergo it, nor would they if they had to organize for women’s rights in, let’s say, Yemen.

Don’t You Love Libertarians and Liberals?

Now why are both Maher and Aslan wrong on what seems to be such a factual argument?

Maher is wrong because, like the religious idealists he denounces, he practices a form of ‘idealism’ too – i.e. thinking that ideas like religion and not material reality ultimately determine our thoughts and practices.  If the U.S. and its tiny group of allies weren’t invading and bombing Muslim countries – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen – while backing the invasion of others – Palestine – Islam might not be such a backward rallying cry politically or culturally.  Supporting various Middle-Eastern dictatorships doesn’t help either.  The secular proletarian and left forces in the Middle East have been decimated, while political Islam has taken their place.  Much of this has had to do with the functioning of U.S. imperialism, which undermined the left for many years in the Middle East.  Look at the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets for proof of that.  Or past Israeli and U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood against the PLO, DFLP and PFLP in Palestine. Even the invasion of Iraq and the support for the decimation of Syria were aimed at partially secular regimes.

The fig leaf of concern of women's rights is ultimately only an excuse for economic control.  In Iran it is the Iranian working class, poor, students and farmers who will settle with that theocracy, not the jackboots of the U.S. military or Israeli bombs.  After all, the U.S. government provided Sadaam Hussein with the gas used on many Iranians during that bloody, endless invasion of Iran.

Recently Richard Dawkins admitted that the problems in the Middle-East were not really caused by Islam. Which was a concession for him, and he’s certainly starting to figure it out. Maher himself rarely mentions the situation in the Middle-East or U.S. interventions, which is very suspect.   It’s ultimately all about oil and Israel, the dollar and political and military control of the region.  Even ISIS is all about the oil and the Sunnis in Iraq are really all about protecting themselves from being dominated by the Shia rulers in Baghdad.  The Middle-Eastern rulers use religion to solidify their base in the Middle East, just as the Republican and Democratic right-wing uses religion to solidify its base in the U.S.  The American Christian Dominionists are really no different – they just let the U.S. government do their violence for them.  When they aren’t already part of the military, that is.

Aslan is wrong because certain kinds of Islam in Africa and in other parts of the world do play a role in propping up FGM.  It is not purely an ethnic or tribal or “African” issue.  Its roots have several sources.  Here is a reference from Wiki, though there are many more:
“The historical religious view of Islam, on FGM, varies with the school of Islamic jurisprudence:[21]
  • The Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be wajib (obligatory).[22]
  • The Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be makrumah (honorable) and strongly encouraged, to obligatory.[23]
  • The Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (optional) and preferred.[23]
  • The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence considers female circumcision to be sunnah (preferred).[23]
Fatwas in favor of FGM have been issued in many Islamic countries,[44][45][46] some fatwas forbid FGM,[47] and some ambivalent fatwas have also been issued that leave the choice to the parents.[48]

In 2012 the Salafist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was reported to be working on de-criminalizing FGM, and offering it as part of their community ‘service’ for a small fee.

As I pointed out, some Christian groups practice it too.  The fact that conservative factions in religions – be they Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism – always slight women’s rights shows that FGM is not some outlier.  It is not “Islamophobia’ to point this out.  Professor Aslan is covering for all varieties of Islam – as do religion professors normally.  And in the process, justifies the oppression of women.  Aslan, a darling of CNN, is not some kind of dedicated 'anti-imperialist' but just the most arrogant kind of religionist who hates atheism.  He considers it another 'fundamentalist belief.'  Of course, lack of belief is not a belief.  Nor is atheism a 'belief' in the same sense that religious ideas are belief.  One is based on facts, the other - not so much.

Why do some liberals defend religion as a knee-jerk reaction?  Is it because they are such great ‘materialists’?  Just asking the question answers it.  They defend religion as an ideological concept because it, like nationalism, racism, sexism and individualism, is part of the ‘thought matrix’ that keeps the population controlled.   We live in a material world while swimming in an ideological soup - and religion is part of the soup.

Islam and Anti-Female Theocracy – Uncomfortably Close

In particular Islam is the cover for most of the remaining theocracies in the world, and for regimes in which ‘kings’ still exist and have actual power - the majority supported by the U.S. government.  The Middle East is the center of most remaining real monarchies in the world, along with weaker forms in Morocco, Brunei and Malaysia.  Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Abu Dhabi, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Pakistan are basically religious theocracies by law, all based on ostensible Islamic principles.  The U.S. has attempted to restore the Tibetan Buddhist theocracy for years.  The Nepalese Buddhist theocracy was recently overthrown by a people’s movement led by Communists.  The Vatican is the last remaining Christian theocracy.  In Nigeria Islamic law is optional.  In oil-rich Brunei in southeast Asia, the “Sultan” is attempting to bring in an Islamic theocracy. 

Theocratic (Sharia) laws condemn women to second-class status in many of these countries.  Saudi Arabia and its official Wahhabism is the league-leader here, an absolute monarchy where even very wealthy women only recently got to vote in low-end venues, and are still banned from driving or going out alone.  Having a legal male guardian is required for many activities, as women have a ‘lack of capacity.’ This includes permission to travel, marry or divorce, work or get an education, get a bank account or a medical procedure.  Sex segregation is required, and that includes in workplaces. All this is enforced by the ‘religious police.’  The widespread practice of the hijab/ chador/ abayah/ burqa/ niqab/ veil/ headscarf is almost unique to Islam– similar to their use by nuns in the Catholic Church or fundamentalist female Mormons or rural female Amish.  The inescapable pattern for most Islamic countries regarding women is not at all sanguine - nor is it so among other fundamentalist religious groups.  It is many times hostile.

Here is one Quran quote re women’s rights:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
Qur'an[Quran 4:34]

Quranic literalists will be hitting their wives - simple as that.  Mohammed had a good number of wives, just like Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, so there could have been lots of wives to hit.  These are facts, not ‘Islamophobia.’  Nor is it ‘Islamophobic’ to point out that the ‘Sunni/Shia’ fighting reminds people of the ‘Catholic/Protestant’ wars, the last of which ended in Ireland 20 years ago.  That Irish war, like the present conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, was not really about religion anyway.  Even the religious crusade against Jews that animated the Second World War was a useful smokescreen for the German ruling class.  That is where Marxism comes in - understanding the material and economic roots of supposedly ideological, religious or cultural conflicts. 

Addendum:  Worst countries for women according to 24/7 Wall Street in 2013:  1. Yemen. 2. Pakistan. 3. Chad. 4. Syria. 5. Mali. 6. Iran. 7. Cote D'Ivoire. 8. Lebanon. 9. Jordan. 10. Morocco.  Notice the pattern.  All majority Islamic countries, although some also ripped by civil war.  Mali is 90% Islamic, Chad 56% and Cote I'Ivoire is 38.6% - still a plurality. 

Prior posts on these topics – commentary “The Big Bang Theory,” and book reviews 'Islamophobia" and “Spiritual Snake Oil.”

P.S. - Aslan recently gave a talk which supposedly 'destroyed Biblical literalism" at the Los Angeles World Affairs Counsel.  Perchance he will now be called a "Christian-o-phobe" ? 

PPS:  -  11/20/2014 - "The first doctor to be brought to trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been acquitted, crushing hopes that the landmark verdict would discourage Egyptian doctors from conducting the endemic practice.
Raslan Fadl, a doctor and Islamic preacher in the village of Agga, northern Egypt, was acquitted of mutilating Sohair al-Bata’a in June 2013. The 12-year-old died during the alleged procedure, but Fadl was also acquitted of her manslaughter.
No reason was given by the judge, with the verdict being simply scrawled in a court ledger, rather than being announced in the Agga courtroom."
Red Frog
November 1, 2014