Friday, February 27, 2015

Which Side Are You On?

Reading Paper Books versus Reading E-Books

Recently the Huff-Post came up with 9 studies that illustrate why reading paper books is better than reading that Dick & Jane thingy you call an iPad or Nook or Cranny.  This is partly about youth and partly about distraction.

Even the Dude Reads
  1. Younger people below 30 actually think there is more off-line than on-line to learn from – unlike those above that age.  Senility?
  2. Most students buy paper textbooks - 87% of them.
  3. Humanities students prefer buying a paper book to a FREE e-book.
  4. Teens prefer paper books.
  5. People who read stories on paper actually connect more with the stories and remember more of the chronology, per a Guardian study.
  6. A 2013 study showed the retention of information in paper books was better than e-books.  Part of the reason is the ‘flash gimmicks’ in e-reading.
  7. Parents prefer to read physical books with their children.
  8. People who read e-books before they go to bed actually take 10 minutes longer to fall asleep because of the light from the screen.
  9. Digital formats invite multi-tasking, which reduces concentration. 
This same phenomenon might also account for the surge in young people buying LPs instead of those low quality, invisible singles called MP-3s.  MP-3s are sort of like AM radio for the digital age. Even Neil Young agrees.

If you think about it, knowledge and experience come from various sources.  They are concentric circles expanding beyond yourself.  In the inner circle is your own existential experiences.   Then the oral experiences of those around you.  Beyond that is the environment of passive consumption we live in every day -  micro-bits of information from radio, internet, magazines, newspapers or TV.  Beyond that is actively interacting with longer-form artistic or informational modes - documentaries, movies, theater, dance, concerts and museums - all forms of artistic experience.  The transmitter of knowledge and experience that reaches the widest areas beyond the self?  Books, mostly because of their breadth and density.  All of these inter-relate - a book or play or song or film might get you to experience something that connects personally and deeply.  

Yes, it's a tricky ad  for the store. Mayday sells groups of books to various people too – college classes, study groups or free-standing book clubs.  Come and enjoy the widest selection of left-wing fiction, non-fiction, magazines and newspapers in the United States, at Mayday Books on the now notorious West Bank in Minneapolis.  The West Bank, where the hippies, hipsters, anarchists, Somalis, rock & rollers, lumber-sexuals, musicians, left-radicals, bar hoppers, weed smokers and drunks still hang out. 
 
If you actually love books – it tells by your medium.  That is the message.  End of transmission.

Red Frog
February 27, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Movies You Never Heard Of

"The Red Atlantis – Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism,” by J Hoberman, 1998

Just as Cuba is now an island rising from the hidden mists into the blinkered field of American vision, so Hoberman hoped to do the same thing in this book for Soviet and Central European culture under ‘existing Socialism.’   By turns a liberal anti-Stalinist, a sympathetic progressive and a post-modernist ironic connoisseur of a lost “Communist” culture, Hoberman covers film, literature and plays that originated during different periods in each country.  Americans, by culture extremely parochial, pay little attention to doings outside their country, and less to doings in the prohibited confines of ostensible socialism.  Best it all be forgotten. 
Budapest Sculpture Park (CGG)

Well no.  What happened in these countries is essential to how the future will play out, as capitalism will not last forever.  Hoberman fondly recalls this culture for us.

Hoberman was the long-time Village Voice’s film critic and here he delves into film the most.  He was fired from the Voice in 2012, probably for promoting too many small films.  In one chapter he lists 27 significant films – including anti-Communist ones done in the U.S. like “Red Dawn” – that are relevant.  He spent time in Hungary and there is a lot of material on Hungarian film produced during the workers’ state period – the initial severe Rakosi period, after the insurrection in 1956 and then after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Hungary had a large film industry and later sent many to the West and to Hollywood, including the director of ‘Casablanca’ Michael Curtiz / Mihay Kertesz, the producer Adolf Zukor and the cinematographer of ‘Easy Rider’ and “Five Easy Pieces,’ Lazlo Kovacs. ‘Ricks Café’ in Casablanca was based on the famous literary Budapest coffee shop, the ‘New York Café,’ which still exists in elegant glory at 9-11 Erzsebet Korut in Budapest.

Hungarian films like “Time Stands Still,’ (1983) depict a time when the rock and roll revolution in Hungary somehow merged with the spirit of the 1956 insurrection.  It reflects the period from 1956 to 1963, when liberal-bureaucratic Kadarism prevailed in Hungary over repression, to 1969 when there were over 4,000 rock and roll groups in Hungary under Party approval.  After Czechoslovakia in 1968 though the tides began to change.  Or “The Confrontation,” (1969) - idealistic Communists try to convince Roman Catholic nuns that their perspective is wrong.  Or “Angie Vera” - how a beautiful young woman becomes a Communist.  Or “When Joseph Returns,” - factory life in Hungary, similar to the book, “A Worker in a Worker’s State,” by Miklos Haraszti.  No Stalinist mysticism here.   
Bela Kun - Leader of 1919 Hungarian Soviet (CGG)
Hoberman’s history also tracks a whole series of Soviet films - Stalinist operettas, futurist fantasies and more realist fare - not focusing on Eisenstein.  He goes up to “The Garden of the Scorpians,’ (1991) which uses montage and re-use of prior visuals to tell a tale of alcoholism in the USSR on the verge of the 1956 intervention into Hungary.  He investigates the development of literature in the USSR, some critical of the bureaucracy, some not.  His essential point is that Stalinist/bureaucratic culture was a Potemkin village hiding what was actually going on.    

The value of the book, besides its cultural sweep, is in the historical nuggets his research unearths.  Hoberman hints that the Soviets invented the musical first.  Hollywood (at the ostensible request of Roosevelt) put forward a Popular Front line in the 1943 film, “Mission to Moscow,” which justified the purge trials, the assassination of Trotsky, the Hitler-Stalin pact and the invasion of Finland.  Hoberman talks about a small group of 50 Maoists in Hungary, who were arrested in 1968.  75% of Hungarian agricultural co-ops were free to select their own leaders, though the Hungarian Workers Party tried to control every election and sometimes overruled local bodies.  A film, “The Resolution,” reflected this situation. 

Hoberman weaves the cultural analysis with history.  He mentions that Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the leading bodies in 1927 after Trotsky criticized Stalin’s support for the bourgeois Koumintang in China.  Later that year the Koumintang killed thousands of proletarian Chinese Communists in Shanghai, as documented in Andre Malraux’s book, “Man’s Fate.” 

Hoberman points out that in capitalist societies, art is ignored, or turned into a salable product.  In workers’ states however, the bureaucracy took art and culture seriously, as they knew it reflected – and affected - the thinking of the people.  Marcuse tries to interpret this in a theoretical formula for capitalism and workers states – essentially ‘extending artistic liberty the better to promote political domination.”  This is certainly true in the U.S. today.  Phillip Roth clarifies this statement, after his many visits to “Peoples’” Czechoslovakia, ‘There nothing goes and everything matters; here, everything goes and nothing matters.’

Hoberman has a long section on Jewish culture in Russia and its interaction with Bolshevism, and later its persecution by Stalin in the name of ‘anti-Zionism’ or subversion after 1936.   At one time a Yiddish ‘homeland’ was established in Siberia bordering China – Birobidzhan. Yiddish was the official language of several provinces; Jewish history for a time was explored in culture, theater and film in the USSR.  Hoberman references Babel, Grossman and Victor Serge.  The great film, ‘The Commissar” was made into a film based on Grossman’s story, “In the Town of Berdichev.” This told the story of the liquidation of its Jewish population by the Nazis, an event that was also reflected in Grossman’s “Black Book.” (which was banned in the USSR).  Babel was later arrested as a ‘Trotskyite’ spy.   Serge, a great and clear writer, gets his own chapter here, as a truth-teller allied with Trotsky.  Even in 1965 there were show trials of Jewish dissidents.  Many were part of a Soviet counter-culture and hence unreliable. 

Hoberman has a chapter on Czechoslovakia, primarily focusing on Kundera, Kis, Konwicki, Klima and Konrad.  They first three were all former members of the Communist Party, but ultimately cast out.  Of course, all these “K’s’ reference the original “K” – Prague’s most famous resident writer, Franz Kafka.  Kafka was inspired to write about bureaucratic nightmares as an office worker in the ‘Workers Compensation Office’ of the Kingdom of Bohemia.  One of Kafka’s houses is still located on a tiny street next to ‘The Castle’ on the hill above Prague.  For a time debates over Kafka filled the literary life of Czechoslovakia – the bureaucrats calling him bourgeois and the dissidents remarking that his hallucinatory view of getting caught in an unknowable bureaucratic nightmare rang true – not just for the Hapsburg empire, but also for the alleged ‘socialist’ state.  Kafka’s “The Trial” even has an indirect criticism of the moralistic and Catholic practice of ‘criticism/self-criticism’ beloved by the Czech CP and Maoists everywhere.  One of Kafka’s books, “Amerika,” was destroyed after the revolution, because his champion, Jesenka, had been expelled from the CP as a Trotskyist.  Yet “The Trial” was later re-published in 1957.  Sadly, the Czech CP had the most members of any Central European Communist party – probably until 1968. 

Hoberman’s final chapter is on the Rosenbergs – who were executed for supposedly giving nuclear secrets to the USSR.  The book ends with a fictional presentation of the young Rosenbergs’ life in New York.  It seems like Hoberman fondly remembers his own time as a red diaper baby in New York City, when the YCL held dances, the comrades were many and the world and change were possibilities.  This might be the motivation for this book.

See prior reviews of “Beatles Rock the Kremlin,” various commentaries on present developments in capitalist Hungary, review of the film “WR:  Myth of the Organism,” a book on Soviet art, “Desert of Forbidden Art;” a review of “Life & Fate,” by Vassily Grossman, the modern successor to Tolstoy’s “War & Peace.” 

And I bought it at Mayday Books Used Section
Red Frog
February 23, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

We Are Recycled Star Dust

Big Bang Goes ‘Boom!’

Carl Sagan didn’t smoke weed for nothing.  As every stoned imbiber knows, thinking about ‘infinity’ just gets you higher.  Sagan pointed out that humans are made of ‘star dust’ – which is quite a poetic way of saying that all that matter isn’t going anywhere, it is just changing its form.  We might not be eternal, but the movement of matter is.  
 
To that point, a little-noticed story crossed the wires February 12, 2015.  Published on the left-liberal site “Salon.com,” it publicized the fact that there is a countervailing view among some scientists who realize the ‘big bang’ theory is full of holes.  And not black ones either.  Salon in other articles has considered the ‘big bang’ to be as truthful as evolution or climate change – making fun of those who do not hold to it.  But given the manifold scientific problems with the theory that are even obvious to laymen, the tide may be turning. 

As Salon puts it, “the universe has no origin point at all” based on a ‘new’ theory of cosmology.  They point to the truthfulness of simplicity in science and infer that the most simple theory is that “the universe has been around since, well, forever.”  The correlation to that is that it won’t be going anywhere – ever. It is.  Its not expanding into nothing.  It's not contracting into nothing.  It's just metamorphosizing.  And we are part of that.  Star dust.  

Salon continues: “Ahmed Farag Ali of Benha University and the Zewail City of Science and Technology in Egypt, together with Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, have presented their research in a paper called “Cosmology from quantum potential” published in Physics Letters B.”  Notice that both these people probably did not grow up being spoon-fed Christian origin stories. 

The three most obvious scientific problems with the ‘big bang’ is that something cannot come from nothing – the 1st law of thermodynamics.  The second is - what ‘caused’ the ‘big bang?’  Or what existed before it?  The theory cannot answer these questions, and it will not go there – confirmed by Stephen Hawking himself. The third is - can an ‘infinite dimensionless singularity’ exist?  That also defies the laws of physics. 

The Ali/Das model avoids these problems.  Nor does it involve shaky theories of ‘dark’ energy and giant black holes.  They claim it explains parts of quantum theory that do not jibe with the ‘big bang.’ (“BB”)  Ali thinks that it helps unify quantum mechanics and general relativity, something scientists have been trying to achieve for many years - but that is a very large claim.  These scientists interpret “Hubble’s law’ in a way different from prior analyses – a way which doesn’t rely on ‘space-time.’  On a side note, Hubble himself actually didn’t believe what he had observed – the ‘red’ shift - proved that the whole universe was expanding.  (It isn't.  And not from the Earth, the alleged ‘center’ of the universe.) 

As Salon puts it:  “…in a science where the current standard visions of the universe involve concepts like anti-matter, super-strings, 10 dimensions (or more), membrane universes and multi-verses, a theory like this one seems refreshingly like a return to the basics.”  Yeah.  It puts 'time travel' to bed too.

Some Marxists have been criticizing the ‘BB’ theory for years as more derivative of Abrahamic origin religions and idealist mathematics than consistent and observable science.  Which is why it figures that the Catholic Pope is so on-board with the BB.  There are actually about 5 different theories of the BB, which illustrates that there are so many problems with it they have to come up with a new one to patch up the old ones.  Sort of like a paper Maché boat floating on water.  Ali and Das are not the only scientists who have examined the weaknesses of the BB – a significant minority of cosmologists have been on the same track.  If this view is eventually born out among the larger scientific community, it will prove that observation and actual science can win out over idealism and propaganda.  It will also prove that a dialectical-materialist approach to nature is superior to lazy pragmatism or the various varieties of religico-idealism that sometime permeate the sciences.  Not to mention the most obvious distorter of science - corporate money. 

Prior examination of this issue are all below:  Mike Gimbel’s talk at Mayday Books (video), my commentary and his pamphlet on the issue, “Dialectics and the New Physics,” reviews of the books “Reason in Revolt,“ and the “Ten Assumptions of Science.”  Use blog search box, upper left.


Red Frog
February 19, 2015.  In Memory of Brien Link. 
The period of Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Lunar New Year and the day Malcolm X was assassinated.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Prairie Seattle?

Kick off for City-wide $15 an Hour Minimum / Living Wage Campaign in Minneapolis

Last night, a group of 200 workers and activists at the Minneapolis Labor Center heard Kshama Sawant and a group of local workers, community activists and Minneapolis City Council members speak on the need to raise the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 an hour.  Sawant is the history-making socialist who won a council seat in Seattle, Washington, which helped move that city to a $15 an hour minimum wage, the first city in the U.S. to do so.  SEATAC, the airport south of Seattle, had approved a $15 an hour minimum wage earlier.  These events are what helped trigger the movement at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport for $15, which has led to several demonstrations at the airport (more planned).  It also led to the firing of Kip Hedges by union-busting, Atlanta-based Delta Airlines.  Hedges is baggage handler and long-time labor activist at the airport. 
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune did not cover the event, based on a scan of the on-line paper today.  This is typical for a paper that serves the interests of Minnesota’s capitalist elite. However, there is a lead story on a scandal involving a 'stolen' routine by a dance team from Faribault, Minnesota. 

The rally was hosted by Ty Moore, who ran for City Council in the 9th Ward of Minneapolis as a member of Socialist Alternative, supporting $15 an hour and against evictions.  He pointed out that this movement was also going on in cities across the country like Los Angeles, Boston and Portland. 

1. The first speaker was a representative of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), an organization dedicated to fighting the large ethnic income gap in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  NOC is primarily based on economic points – opposing wage theft, getting sick time for workers and the $15 an hour minimum wage.  

2. The next speaker was a fast food worker and activist from the Latino organization – Centro de Trabajores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL).  As was pointed out several times, it has been fast-food workers who first sparked the protest and strike movement for $15 an hour.  He spoke of not being able to live on fast food wages, even with several jobs.  This is the situation millions are finding themselves in, something also noted by Kip Hedges in his talk related to workers at MSP Airport.  3. A North African woman from Seattle also spoke on the impossibility of surviving on the present minimum wage, as two-bedroom apartments were going for $1,200 a month in Seattle. 

4. Kip Hedges spoke about Delta Airlines finally telling him that the internal appeal of his termination was over and was rejected, based on his alleged ‘poor working habits’ or some such rot.  I paraphrase, but they wrote that they hoped he would be ‘successful in his future endeavors.’  He promised a federal case, backed up by witnesses at the airport over his so-called poor work performance.  As anyone knows, the capitalists will terminate ‘at will’ employees for any reason at all, especially cooked-up ‘performance’ issues that somehow never existed prior to that moment.  Airport workers in St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have all won a $15/hr minimum wage, according to Labor Notes. Another demonstration at the MSP airport is planned for the near future.

5. The city council member representing the Northeast Ward #3 gave a slick speech, but said he needed more information over the economic impact of $15 an hour.  6. The oddest moment of the evening came when Alondro Cano and Moore embraced/shook hands.  Cano defeated Moore for the 9th Ward spot this November.  Cano gave an enthusiastic speech endorsing $15 an hour in Minneapolis.  As a Democrat she defeated Moore with a combination of real estate industry money and robo-calls by DFL luminaries like Al Franken.  It has been noted that Cano’s real base is Latino businessmen.  But she said that she would fight for low-wage workers, who are mostly Latino, Somali and African-American. 

7.  Lastly Kshama Sawant spoke, a speech most people had come to hear.  Sawant indicated that the $15 an hour campaign was not just some isolated, stand-alone movement, but a transitional demand that would put the working class on the offensive and unite various organizations and sectors of the class to continue a fight against other aspects of capitalism.  She said this several times.  Essentially she drew a more clear picture of the ‘two America’s’ beloved of Democratic Party politicians when they are running for office. – something they forget the minute they are in power.  She painted it as the corporate capitalist 'bosses' on one side and the working class on the other.  She didn’t use the term ‘class war’ or ‘class conflict’ to describe the $15 an hour campaign, but she might as well have.  Sawant described the opposition to $15 an hour in Seattle in some detail.  Seattle, like Minneapolis, is a one-party town run by the Democratic Party.  Monster corporations like Starbucks suddenly were pretending to represent the independent corner coffee shop.   Establishment politicians lied about the $15 an hour movement, claiming that there would be a ‘tip credit’ and tipped workers would not get the basic wage.  This was absolutely untrue and tipped workers became some of the strongest supporters of $15.  In Seattle an exception was carved out for small businesses so they would have more time to adapt.  Sawant made it clear that small business should not exist at the expense of poverty-stricken workers and low pay.  Sawant pointed out that if more Democrats had supported the effort, the law could have been much stronger.

Sawant and others reminded the crowd that 90% of the economic gains since the Great Recession have all gone to the top 5% of the population.  Not to mention the losses since the late 1970s before that.  I would wager that the other 10% went to the next 5%.   A recent report from DEED shows that the living wage in Hennepin County where Minneapolis is located is $17.90, so even $15 an hour is not enough, or unreasonable.  The $15 Campaign is aware of this. Minneapolis/St. Paul have the highest concentration of fortune 500 companies in the cities of this size. 

Missing was Cam Gordon, Minneapolis City Council member whose Green Party has had $15 an hour on its platform for years.  Cam told me he was invited, but was not able to make it. So there are actually 2 people on the city council in favor of $15.  There were no official representatives of any union body, though the audience had many union members in it, including members of SEIU.  The reason why was not clear.  This might reflect the state of our present union movement more than anything else, or perhaps invitations were declined.
Working America, CTUL, NOC and $15 Now will have a meeting on Saturday, February 28th at 2:00 PM at 911 West Broadway to plan this campaign in detail.  Volunteers are urged to attend to build the campaign. 

Red Frog
February 16, 2015

PS - Today is President’s Day in the U.S.  Washington was a revolutionary and Lincoln was the leader of a 2nd American revolution.  Now the U.S. is a counter-revolutionary country, turning into its opposite.  Time to correct that. 

PPS:  - Liberal Democratic Party Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges publicly puked on her blouse on Friday by announcing that she did not support $15 an hour.  This statement will come back to haunt her.  It is interesting that when the actual Left rises, the Democrats' pro-capitalism is exposed. The thing they most fear is not Republicans, but an actual left that can affect them - and replace them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Short Attention Span Theater?

"Love and Information,” by Caryl Churchill.  Staged by Frank Theater Company, 2012 (2015)

You've never seen a play like this.  This 60-scene theater montage is a series of short stories, of theatrical haikus, of living tweets, some lasting less than a minute, some 5.  It’s as if a Facebook newsfeed came to life.  The form dominates over the content, though there are strands that run through the skits.  It is either a reflection of the state of our fractionated society, a parody of our fractionated society and an audience that can only digest tiny micro-bits at a time, or an example of post-modernism run amuck. The play hints that the way we conduct and absorb 'love and information' in the West now is not really working.
Churchill is a British playwright in her 70s, and some scenes reflect that British location, though it is meant to be more universal.  These are familiar poignant stories of aging and memory loss, damaged loners, hetero and homosexual love, the personal problems of technology and just plain randomness. 

A girl silently dances to unheard music on her iPod.  A woman explains to her boyfriend that sex is the transmission of genetic information.  Two elderly women attempt to improve their memories and one then remembers a scene from her childhood.  (Are we to remember all 60 scenes?)  Twice, a mathematician insists that mathematics reflects reality, while his wife says that all we have are our 5 senses.  Ultimately this philosophic argument is related to jealousy over the couple they are to visit.  Three girls shriek over some pop star and his missing info in a Tiger Beat-like magazine.  Two girls throw stones at a mentally disturbed boy.  A woman yells at her boss, telling her that she has to fire her face-to-face, not by e-mail.  An autistic or emotionally disturbed boy plays wonderful piano, and forgets what he has done.  Two married women decide to have an affair with each other.  A famous man hears a voice condemning him and worries if he will be found out with his gay lover.  Two men engage in a mysterious conversation at a coffee table.  A man falls in love with a digital woman and a woman tries to talk him out of it. (Prelude to movie "Her"?) A woman talks to her husband, who has Alzheimer's and does not recognize her any more.  She proposes sex, and he tells her she is an awful stranger.  Two girls argue at a Yoga class.  A couple warmly reminisce about their love affair, then grow cold towards each other.  A scientist describes to a janitor how she dissects chickens to discover their memory brain areas, then they embrace.  A woman having her hair done convinces the hair-dresser to tell her his big secret.  A rich woman has a very personal discussion with her daughter while trying on a new pair of shoes.  Her daughter is an emotional wreck in front of the shoe salesman.  A girl can’t sleep and decides to go on Facebook instead of having sex with her husband.  A crazy woman explains to her caregiver that she talked to God.  One maid tells another maid that her husband is unfaithful, and the maid knows and doesn't care.

And so on.  As you can see, not all of this hangs together thematically. 

Scene changes, as the lights go dark and the actors take their places on the almost empty stage, are through modern electronic pop music, the best being the NY street musician Moondog. Two times the large company of 14 lines up in rows, replicating the same moves that they are about to do in their skits. These expressive physical gestures form a link from the massed ensemble to the body movements in the individual micro-scenes.  Once the cast assembles for a call and response, offering answers to absurd factual questions put to them by a game-show host / professor.  I think these 3 scenes were added by Frank Theater. 

The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Tillotsin missed the point of the play – something about how we mis-communicate, but still ‘kiss and makeup.’  (!)  Others insist it is all about the weaknesses of technology as a real connector.  Others about the failure of love. These are there, but I think it reflects the dearth of any overriding artistic understanding of the world.  Instead of a criticism of the isolating effects of technology and the Twitter-like avalanche of almost random information on human relations, it actually replicates that isolation and avalanche on stage. 

And I saw it at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis
Red Frog
February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Love helps us survive. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sexually Socialist Surreal Satire

"WR: Mysteries of the Organism,” directed by Dusan Makavejev, 1971

This film was ground-breaking in its day, 1971, and still has the ability to shock and make one think.  It is no accident that the title sub-texually refers to orgasm.  A collision of a Wilhelm Reich documentary, a fictional ‘love’ story and a propaganda film for sexual liberation, it was one of the first art films from the workers states using Stalinist kitsch to undermine the bureaucratic mindset.  
WR stands for ‘world revolution’ – and it also stands for Wilhelm Reich, the author of the “Mass Psychology of Fascism.” This ground-breaking political work was based on a Freudian analysis of sexual repression and its role in the authoritarian personality, specifically the Nazis running wild in Germany at the time.  Reich had advocated for contraceptives, abortion, divorce and adolescent sexuality in early 1900s Catholic Austria.  Reich for a time was a member of the German Communist Party, but was sidelined for his advocacy of youthful sexuality.  He left Germany because of the Nazis.  However he ended his life as an anti-communist in the U.S.   For his advocacy of the Orgone Accumulator box (which ostensibly broke down sexual and personal rigidities) and his somewhat physical sexual therapies, 6 tons of his books were burned in New York’s public incinerator.  He was jailed as a medical fraud in 1956, and he himself died in that jail in 1958.  So he met the fate that so many anti-communists didn’t think happens to people in the ‘happy’ U.S. of A.  No matter how far you go from trying to get away from fascism, there you are. 

The first part of the film is a documentarian take on Reich’s life in the U.S., shot at his home in rural upstate Maine, with interviews with practitioners of Reichian therapy, and scenes of the therapy.   Via Eisensteinian montage, these scenes are interspersed with views of New York featuring Tuli Kuperferberg of the scatological rock band, the Fugs wandering around the city caressing a fake gun; two gay activists on the streets; ‘Screw Magazine's' editorial offices where the staff wear no clothes, and a member of the Plaster Casters taking a sample plaster model of a rock star’s dick.  It also has a scientific ode to masturbation, for which it was banned in several places. 

Interspersed with that is a fictional story set in Belgrade about a Serbian Communist woman, Milena, who comes off as the second coming (no pun intended) of Alexandra Kollontai.   She believes that socialism without sexual liberation is a fraud and parades around her large apartment building’s internal balconies declaiming the need for love, followed by most of its residents.  A great scene, by the way.  Instead of falling for the eager proletarian who pursues her, as her girlfriend would do, she falls in lust with a ‘perfect’ skating star visiting from the USSR, and tries to seduce him.  The perfect comrade Vladimir is too conflicted and instead of reasonably falling for her blandishments outside of a ruined factory, he eventually cuts her head off with his skate blade.

I.E. the authoritarian personality and his ‘muscular armor.’  Unfortunately, the skating champion’s name is “Vladimir Illych.”  Makavejev said later in an interview that sexual repression played a role in beefing up economic and political oppression in Yugoslavia and other workers states.  Taking the name of Lenin and being him are, of course, two different things.  This was actually a slam against those who attempted to borrow Lenin’s authority – like Stalin, Brezhnev and the rest - turning him into a marble, in-human saint.  The film was banned in Yugoslavia and Makevejev later went into exile. 

The film is one of the first that uses scenes from the monotonous and frequent depictions of the great leader Joseph Stalin in Soviet films, but this time turning them on their head.  One scene, from the Soviet film “The Vow,” in which Stalin remembers fondly talking to Lenin on a park bench, made Makavejev say, “This is pure demagogy and I loved this scene for its shallowness.”  'WR' has been called “the last utopian Communist film” and won an award at Cannes.  It is a film that is part of the “Sex-Pol” movement – something that no longer exists in our 'post-modern' age.

Review of essays by Alexandra Kollontai, below.  Use blog search box, upper left. 

Red Frog
February 10, 2015

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Disrupt This!

Factory Days / Office Lights

Another blood-sucking week is done.  As the 22-year old told me on Friday, he was exhausted.  I told him he had 40 more years to go.  At least.  Welcome to the meat-grinder, Millenials!

Rowing on the ‘wage-slave ship’ every day takes it out of you mentally and physically. The steady beat of the heart drum is not enough.  A co-worker’s husband who works in a warehouse has many aches and pains.  Can he last until retirement?  Probably not.  He wears the ‘working man’s vest’ which consists of a large Cordura waist-stomach belt.  He’s thinking of getting an easier job.  Just as the aging electricians try to squeeze into tiny spaces, or perch on high ladders, physically there comes a time when you can’t do it anymore.   Does the Local have ‘easy duty?’  Probably not.  Time to strap your body in protective sleeves.  The women sitting in cubes get carpel-tunnel and overweight - even the young ones who think they will be gorgeous forever. After all, look at the sweet junk food in so many offices.  Eyes literally get worn out staring at computer screens year after year.  Chalk up lunchtime, commuting time and most of your day is gone.  The boss thanks you.  Can you thank yourself?

That is if you are lucky enough to have a steady job, and not have to eke out a living in other ways.  Patching shitty ‘disruptive’ jobs together via internet phone?  Waiting tables, standing behind counters, fast-food servicers, cooks getting cut and heated in the back, no or low tips for them.  Care-work at home cleaning adult diapers that doesn’t pay or barely. 

The weekend, which as the bumper sticker goes, was ‘Brought to you by the Labor Movement’ is disappearing for many workers, as second jobs, service jobs and overtime suck up life blood.   Construction workers work three 24-hour shifts in biting cold, snow or rain, under the lash of the deadline.  The mail carrier has another block added to his route, and another day proposed, as the privatizing capitalists attempt to destroy the public postal service and those who work in it.  If you are a teacher, you are told you are the cause of high taxes, poverty and ignorance.  It’s not us, its not class society, it’s you! So try finishing in an 8-hour day. 

All you can do normally in a capitalist society is bargain for the highest price your labor will bring, and so reduce the bosses' take from your labor a tiny bit. In the U.S. unions help, your skill level helps, the city and state you live in help (woe to those who live in the South), your skin color, sex, class background and education help – or hinder.  And most of all, the political strength of the working class helps.  And that is in the toilet right now.  Yet even if you are lucky enough to sell yourself to the highest bidder, you will still be intentionally worn out.  You are still a wage-slave - perhaps in a golden cage.  Only the lowest-watt bulbs don’t eventually understand that.  Just take a look at the early morning bus and trains delivering you en mass to your work site!  As hundreds exit to rush to their workplaces, we are really more like cattle than humans.  Moo!

And in the same way, we are ‘lunch’ for the ruling class.

If you expect television or even film to reflect this very well, you'd be in for a disappointment.  Fake shows like "The Office," "Two Broke Girls" or shows featuring cartoonish blue-collar fools working for UPS never look at actual work or real class-conflict. The closest we get on TV is magic or 'paternal' cops pretending to do 'serious' stuff - all mostly made up too.

As opposed to this, I’d like to announce that a book called “Factory Days” will be published in the next few months, authored by C.G. Gibbs, a local writer.  It’s a fictional murder story of the 1980s blue-collar working class in Chicago and Minnesota that involves left politics.  It will be published in eBook format, as well as paper, and will be stocked at Mayday Books.  Look for it.

Other commentaries on work – “Marxism is Abolitionism,” below.  Use blog search box, upper left. 

Red Frog
February 7, 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Real South American Cartel

"Drug War Capitalism,” by Dawn Paley, 2014

This book is a detailed and logical extension of Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ and other discussions of ‘disaster’ capitalism.  Paley, a reporter, does not follow the hegemonic bourgeois narrative that the worldwide ‘drug’ war consists of noble governments combating evil drug ‘kingpins.’  She looks under the deceptive propaganda to see what is actually happening on the ground in four Latin American countries. 

In the U.S. the ‘drug war’ makes mostly non-white young people its target, resulting in 50% of the incarcerations in the U.S. penal system.  The drug war enriches and militarizes U.S. police departments.  The drug war allows the state and corporations increased intervention in the lives of everyone, but especially the different layers of the working class. It creates an anti-popular army force residing in each city.  It doesn’t bother the upper classes at all.  The international drug war decreed by  Reagan has been carried on by every subsequent president, so it is bi-partisan and bi-lateral.

The drug war in Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala and Honduras plays the same role – with one immense difference.  It allows foreign oil, mining and agricultural capital to penetrate formally hidden regions in these countries, which have been declared ‘drug zones,’ and turn those regions into cheap new sources of oil, minerals and agricultural commodities.  It also allows U.S. military contractors to sell massive amounts of gear to these countries as part of the project – the same kind of activity that John Perkins describes as an integral part of Structural Adjustment Programs instituted by the IMF.  This becomes another tool of imperial domination.  That is the thesis of Paley’s book.  She describes “Plan Columbia” and the “Merida Initiative” as appendages to NAFTA and now the proposed TPT.  They are essentially counter-insurgency programs and capital-penetration projects that lead to massive violence - and do not stop the ‘drug flow.’  How does this happen? 

Paley studied these four countries, interviewing dozens of people in each to grasp what was actually going on among indigenous people, rural farmers, workers and city dwellers.  It is a horror story.  Essentially anything the U.S. touches in the name of ‘fighting drugs’ turns local situations into war grounds.  That includes the militarized zone along the southern U.S. border.  Death rates sky-rocket with the introduction of militarized policing after a ‘war’ on drugs is declared.  This was seen in Mexico, where border towns like Nuevo Laredo and Juarez were turned into murdervilles.   In Mexico the murder, kidnapping and violence rates shot up in the wake of the Merida Initiative, something never mentioned by the bourgeois press.  Juarez became the poster child for militarization, seeing 13,000 soldiers invade the city as the murder rate went up to 2 a day.  The people being killed are not all from opposing gangs - they can be kidnapping victims, extortion victims, caught in a cross-fire, reporters, political and environmental opponents to the criminal gangs, the government or the maquiladora corporations.  This continued into the Obama administration.   

Ultimately it is companies like BP, Chiquita and Canadian mining conglomerates who have benefited.  Every ‘drug war’ is declared a ‘success’ but it is only a success in the amount of capital penetration it enables.  The drug flow continues by  different channels, that is all.  In Columbia the process is to terrorize local poor communities for harboring ‘terrorists’ or drug gangs and chase the population out of the area through murder, bombings and spraying chemicals.  Then corporations move in and start mining, oil drilling or putting up palm oil plantations for agro-fuel.  Since most indigenous and peasant people do not have individual deeds, they are basically displaced and forced to move to the cities.  In Mexico the ‘ejidos’ – socially-owned farming land – are taken away from the communities and privatized through similar methods.

None of this reduces the flow of drugs – at best it just moves the problem elsewhere.  The drug gangs do not disappear, they just metastasize into smaller units.  Arresting a 'king-pin' just leads to many littler pins.  The real problem is drug prohibition itself and the imperial political and economic profit rationales behind it. 

In these poverty-stricken countries, the police, the army, the government and the ruling elites are all beneficiaries of the drug trade through corruption anyway.  As Paley describes it, it is basically a fight by different wings of the ruling elite to get the most drug profits.  So when soldiers show up, they are really on the side of one drug gang or another, or else are one themselves.  In Columbia the percentage of profits from drugs for listed ‘terror’ organizations like the FARC is miniscule compared to that gained by the rightist paramilitaries and wings of the official military.  Books have been written about the intertwined role of the state and the Narcos in Mexico, yet none of it seems to make a dent in the dominant propaganda narrative. Paley intends to do so.

The role of 'parquat’ and other defoliants dumped on agricultural land from helicopters destroys many other crops, not just marijuana, coca or poppies, and has health impacts for local people.  This also destroys local livelihood.  These spraying campaigns are no different than the dumping of “Agent Orange” on people in Vietnam.  The methods haven’t changed since the ‘60s – just the rationale offered to gullible Americans.    Fighting ‘communism’ is now replaced by fighting ‘drugs’ or ‘terror.’  But the same result is hoped for - profits.

Another part of the anti-drug programs are legal changes.  For instance, the Mexican legal system is being changed into something resembling the U.S. one – yet without juries – just judges, and now with a 90-day detention law.  Because of this law, blanket incarcerations and torture have increased, while police, government and cartel crimes go almost unsolved, as police have virtual immunity from arrest. (Sound familiar?)  Prison populations are sky-rocketing.  Yet American corporations now find familiar laws and a friendly pro-private property legal structure.  On the economic side, the national oil company, Pemex, which supplies 40% of Mexico’s revenue, is now being privatized, as is the nationalized electrical system – all decreed in December 2013 by the PAN government.  The PRI government will not change anything.  Having soldiers occupying large swaths of Mexico is to their benefit too – among them stopping any insurgency against this kind of literal ‘sell-out.’  

Paley mentions that the illegal profits from activities like drugs, trafficking in people or arms, extortion or prostitution propped up many banks during the 2008 crash.  HSBC is the most prominent drug money laundering outfit - it was fined and still goes about its business of changing bad money into good.  Trillions of dollars in drug money laundering and the U.S. government looked the other way.  Other American banks with branches in Mexico were also implicated.  Illegal money props up the financial system like a hidden gas geyser.  It is no secret that Afghanistan, which supplies most of the heroin used in the world, is having its best year ever!  Afghanistan, our valiant ally.    

Criminal gangs like the Zetas and the Knights Templars in several Mexican states now mine illegal iron ore, and ship it to China.  They also kill environmental and political opponents of Canadian gold and silver mining companies - basically clearing the ground for the mining concerns.  All of this displaces thousands of local residents and farmers. When citizens call on the Mexican government to help, the government takes the sides of the criminal gangs and multinational corporations.  In response, local communities have had to form armed self-defense units or independent police forces controlled by the ejidos and communities.  These erect barricades on roads to keep the government soldiers and the criminals out. Mexican federal troops try to disarm local self-defense units instead of the real criminals.  Which is why when you see the U.S. President having a 'tet a tet' with the President of Mexico, he is basically collaborating with the criminal gangs endorsed by the Mexican state and furthering the interest of U.S. imperial capital.  And the U.S. knows it.

Paley goes on to describe similar situations in Guatemala and Honduras.  The fascist military prominent in the Guatemalan civil war are back, now named the "Kaibiles", this time ostensibly fighting 'drugs.'  A past leader of the bloody military which carried on the war of extermination against the indigenous Maya, Oscar Molina, was elected President.  Now military bases are being built around mining and agricultural land owned by big foreign corporations to keep opposition terrorized.  The government even accuses whole communities of being 'narco-communities' so that they can kill or remove them - and run their own drugs, in league with the Zetas. In 2012 the Obama administration stationed 200 Marines in Guatemala to prop up the Guatemalan military and its war on drugs - a first in many years.

In Honduras the 2009 military coup that Obama ignored has allowed the ‘drug war’ to be used against the ousted popular forces by the trans-national business elite.  Some of the same coup figures were involved in death squads when Honduras was used as a U.S. base during the wars in the 1980s against the Sandinistas, FMLN and the Guatemalan popular forces.  In spite of Hillary Clinton's lies as Secretary of State about a reduction in violence in Honduras, the rate of violence in Honduras actually went up with the increase in U.S. military 'anti-drug' aid from the CARSI program.  Now Honduras has a prominent 'maquila' sector as part of the increase in corporate penetration in that country, all part of the same program.  

If you look at the ‘drug war’ in the U.S. and remember to transmit that understanding to the rest of the world, you know that prohibition has its ‘uses.’  And it is not in making us sober. Knowing the truth makes us sober.

A new book on cocaine capitalism and the hidden unity of 'illegal' and legal commodities under capitalism is in the book, "Zero, Zero, Zero" by Robert Saviano.  We do not have it yet at Mayday. Reviews of “Shock Doctrine” and “Secret History of the American Empire,’ below.  Use blog search box, upper left. 

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
February 3, 2015