Friday, March 29, 2019

The Tip of the Spear of Manifest Destiny


“Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes,” edited by Alvin Josephy, 2006

The military ‘Corps of Discovery’ led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804-1806 is one of those legendary U.S. frontier tales that most impresses.  The courage shown by the expedition, the scientific results, the meetings with Native American tribes, the low number of casualties, the sheer audacity of crossing and mapping the continent without knowing quite how to do it – it always amazes.  The expedition was immortalized in a book by Stephen Ambrose, a standard patriotic U.S. historian, “Undaunted Courage.”  However, the view of Native Americans to this strange band of white men lost and hungry in their lands is a bit different.
Blackfeet women watch the Missouri

Nine prominent Native Americans, mostly academics or former Native government officials, respond to the expedition in their own ways.  They are from the tribes the expedition met along the way – Standing Rock Sioux, Salish-Kootenai, Shoshone-Bannock, Crow, Umatilla, Mandan-Hidatsa, Nez Perce, Puyallup/Couer D’Alene, Clatsop Nehalem and Kiowa.  

I will give you the highlights and a few low-lights:
1. Vine Deloria points out that the French had a completely different method of interacting with native peoples than the British and Americans.  They intermarried to do trading, trapping, hunting or homesteading, while the British Americans sought to conquer.  The French had lived in these lands for years before Jefferson’s expedition arrived.  This is why Charbonneau and other Frenchmen were able to help Lewis & Clark.
2. Without Sacajawea the expedition would have been lost.  She was the only one Lewis & Clark knew who remembered how to cross the various mountain ranges, including the Continental Divide and who could also talk to the Shoshone, a key tribe along the way.
3.  In their diaries Lewis and Clark continually refer to native Americans as "the Great White Father’s red children.”  They were not.  According to Deloria, their journals showed little respect for native people.  Although they did remark on the kindness of the some of the tribes they encountered.
4.  The tribes had seen numerous white men, so the Expedition was 'no big whoop.’  They treated the travelers with courtesy.  30 trading vessels had already landed in Oregon; North Dakota had seen plenty of French and British trappers and traders.  The real eye-opener for native Americans was seeing York, the sole dark brown man in the Corps of ‘Discovery.’  York was Clark's slave, so something more than dark skin entered the northern plains and the northwest on that expedition.
5.  The horses sold to Lewis & Clark by the Nez Perce were the worst of the bunch.  The natives were good bargainers.
6. 50 years after Lewis & Clark, many of the western tribes lost their land at the 1851 Tansy Point Treaty, the Walla Walla Treaty of 1855 and the 1872 Hellgate Treaty. The expedition was the ‘tip of the spear of Manifest Destiny,’ not a disinterested scientific effort. After 75 years, all of the tribes had lost their land.
7.  It was noted that the sunburned men smelled.  They did not bathe in sweat lodges or in the rivers and lakes like native people.
8. Lewis & Clark’s expedition crossed a region with a long history, complex trading routes, political alliances, rich sources of food, many talents, multi-linqual, consisting of many human beings. There were more people living in the Mandan-Hidatsa villages than in St. Louis.  The valley of the Columbia was heavily populated by various bands and tribes.  Nothing was empty or ‘undiscovered.’
9.  Smallpox wiped out thousands of native Americans in this area – including some whole clans or tribes. 50,000 by one estimate.
10.  The book includes personal, family and tribal oral stories of the visits of Lewis & Clark, Sacajawea, Charbonneau and York that were handed down.  It also has excerpts from the Expedition diaries. Gerard Baker describes Sacajawea’s origins as a Hidatsa once captured by the Shoshone; and also how she died.  This is based on an outstanding oral history by one of her relatives.
The view from Lemhi Pass and the Continental Divide

11.  Bill Yellowtail insists that native Americans must start businesses and become entrepreneurs.  He bases this on the trading facility and skills of native peoples illustrated over the course of the Expedition.  However, these skills were not based on individuals alone working as ‘businessmen,’ but whole tribes working together.  It is not like Lewis & Clark stopped at a shop along the trail called “Get It Here!’ run by an ambitious young Crow entrepreneur, who also sold items to others in his tribe.  Trading skills and 'individual entrepreneurship' are two different things.  Not that this idea won’t be an improvement in a capitalist United States.  But the logic based on the expedition is false.
12.  The point of the Corps of 'Discovery,' according to Jefferson, was to gain knowledge that would help with commerce.
13. Reports of a a tribe's poverty in the journals sometimes rang false.  The Agaidika Shoshone owned 400 ‘fine’ horses and good clothing, yet were called 'extremely poor.'
14.  Native religion was ignored for Christianity, in spite of the separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights. In the same sense, native direct democracy was superior to 'representative' democracy as mandated by the U.S. government.
15.  The legal ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ first used by the Spanish, decreed that European Christians were legally dominant in any dealings with indigenous peoples.  The U.S. followed this logic.

All in all an illuminating book.  As a benefit, it takes you on a geographical and native journey across the northern U.S. Up the Missouri across 4 states, wintering in Mandan, North Dakota.  Then around the 'Great' falls of the Missouri, up the Jefferson River where horses were purchased, then over Lemhi Pass where the Expedition crossed the Divide. They proceeded along the Bitterroot Mountains north, turned west over the treacherous Lolo Pass, then down the Clearwater and the Snake, until they hit the Columbia River and ultimately the Pacific at Fort Clatsup.  All along this route are reservations, former tribal lands, forests, mountain ranges, meadows, basins, villages and rivers that live in history and in the present.

Ref:  The author drove near part of this route last fall.  Go!  

Other reviews on this subject, in the archive below.  Use blog search box, upper left:  “Indian Country Noir,” “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States,” “The Heart of Everything That Is,” “”Empire of the Summer Moon,” “Postcards From the End of America,” “Loaded,” “Are White People White?”

And I bought it at Normal Books, Athens, Georgia
Red Frog
March 29, 2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

Falling Short

When the Killing’s Done,” by T.C. Boyle, 2011

This book is about animal rights, invasive species and the conflict between the two.  It is fundamentally a battle between a driven National Park’s Service spokesperson/biologist and a rich and reckless PETA-type extremist.  It is set in the Pacific Ocean strip between Santa Barbara and Oxnard, California, including Montecito and Ventura – places where the Channel Islands National Park can be seen on a clear day.  Their desolate beauty is the focus of the book.  The islands intertwine with the characters’ lives, along with a pretty sad history of their own. As Boyle shows, the ocean and the weather care little for the puny lives of humans.  Shipwrecks.  Dead animals.  Failed businesses.  Fatal accidents.  Confrontations and thoughtlessness. 
Thump!  Just dark cultural humor?

Boyle is sort of a Tom Wolfe with a deeper take.  He always writes about the somewhat ridiculous lives and foibles of upscale liberals or counter-culture types.  Which is a political decision in itself, as right-wingers seem invisible to Boyle.  Here two types of liberals are pitted against one another.  His accurate and detailed descriptions include every current middle-class lifestyle reference he can, including their meal and clothing choices.  For ‘laughs,’ the lead characters are vegetarian and pescatarian.  The almost impossible task set before the Park Service is restoring the Channel Islands to their original state before humans – that is before rats and wild boar were let onto the islands.  These invasive animals are to be killed in the interest of the many bird species that breed there, and this sets up a conflict with a local animal rights group.

Struggles to revive species or against invasive plants and animals are going on all over the country, forcing trade-offs and battles.  But they are only a small part of the overall picture.  My ‘beef’ with Boyle is that his cultural micro-view trivializes the bigger issue of species extinction, turning it into a deadly comedy, as if this micro-brew of PETA types flailing away at the Park Service was the story.  Cruel factory farming of animals, cow feedlots, pesticides, over-hunting and over-fishing, zoos, circuses and aquariums, fast food, mono-cultures, fur, animal agriculture itself – all are part of a massive extractive profit system working nature and animals over, like huge masticating jaws.  Animals and fish are commodities to be ‘harvested.’  Just as human labor is a commodity to be ‘used.’  At this point, animal agriculture threatens the planetary environment through global warming and every living thing on earth.  This is not hyperbole.
Visit CINP

This is a chronicle of the power of nature and unintended consequences, along with human idiocy.  Boyle always writes a cracking story, no matter his topic.  As to what side to take in this battle, the reader is pulled from one to another.  But the fanaticism of the rage-oholic animal rights activist comes in for the most fire by Boyle and anyone paying attention. Yet can the earth go back to a time before humans, as intended for the Channel Islands by the Park Service?  Perhaps in small, localized ways.  But ‘invasive species’ – whether plant, tree, animal, insect or fish – will multiply as capital chugs along, the climate changes, humans continue to multiply and the modern ‘Pangaea’ continues to function.  It is only with an overall response based on eco-socialism and transitional ideas like the incomplete ‘New Green Deal’ that the whole process can be slowed or stopped.

It certainly won’t happen through the National Park Service as it currently exists, or blinkered outfits like PETA.   

Ref:  The author has been to the Channel Islands twice, which some call 'the Galapagos of the U.S.'  Go!

Reviews below related to this subject:  “Budding Prospects” (Boyle); “Back to Blood” (Wolfe); “The Sixth Extinction” (Kolbert); “Green is the New Red,” (Potter); “The Emotional Lives of Animals,” (Berkoff); “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Reeves); “The Vegetarian” (Kang); "Fear of an Animal Planet" (Hribal).

And I bought it at Normal Books, Athens Georgia
The Cultural Marxist
March 25, 2019


Friday, March 22, 2019

From Protest to Power ...


The Socialist Challenge Today – Syriza, Sanders, Corbyn,” by Leo Panitich and Sam Gindin, 2018

This thin book addresses the most important problem in the Marxist labor movement in the capitalist center – how to operate in the long ‘war of position’ in these over-developed capitalist societies.  Especially when you succeed!  The authors point out that the old models of the Social-Democratic parties and the Eurocommunist/Communist parties have both failed at overturning capital.  According to Panitich/Gindin, the failure of Leninism, councilism or reformism has led the Western left – and perhaps by extension the left in other countries like Brazil – into a dead end. 
'Speaking Truth to Power' is not enough

This book looks at the experiences of Syriza in Greece and Corbyn in the U.K., with a nod to Sanders in the U.S.  The author’s main organizational recommendation is to create a ‘party’ that does not lose touch with mass progressive formations at the bottom of society.   They describe Syriza’s impossible choice – between autarky and leaving the EU, or submission to the Troika’s demands.  In this situation, Syriza lost touch with the 400 community solidarity networks in Greece that were a base for their rise.  While in power, Syriza has not prepared the Greek working class to slowly ‘takeover’ the state.  The authors highlight the issue of food distribution, in which community groups could have worked with government agencies to bypass commercial food networks.  However, they do not mention the ideas of Varoufakis on European left unity, nor Zizek’s suggestion of a position between Syriza’s leadership and the Left Platform.

No mention is made of possible Chinese or Russian aid to Greece.

The authors recommend ‘revolutionary reforms’ that progressively strengthen the hand of the proletariat while weakening capital.  Certainly the 2016 demands of Sanders – free college, Medicare for All, a government jobs program – are transitional demands that begin to de-privatize U.S. society.  Corbyn goes further and recommends the re-nationalization of U.K. railroads and public utilities.  However both ignore the financial sector, especially banking.  In the process, the authors pretend not to know about the Transitional Program of the 4th International, which made a point of formalizing ‘revolutionary reforms’ in 1938.

Corbyn’s rise was gestating for a number of years.  The break came when the unions in the Labour Party no longer had weighted votes.  This led to a flood of young, working-class people joining the party.  The LP now has 550,000 members, the largest of its kind according to the authors.  They think unions can be led to go beyond being defensive organizations of the class acting as forces of labor conservatism.  In contrast, they do not expect mass organizations like workers’ assemblies / councils or workplace committees to ever exist.  Their template for the future is parliamentary democracy and a ‘neutral’ state as the only forms of social power.

My problem with the book is that their position of ‘taking over’ the capitalist state pretends it is only an administrative organization.  It also has a repressive function, which is left unaddressed.  Not to mention the ‘non-neutral’ laws and judges of the administrative state, which would all have to be changed.  The authors call themselves ‘democratic socialists’ instead of the dreaded ‘social-democrat,’ but this does not seem to change their perspective of how to attain socialism.  They are part of a leftish tendency in the Labour Party around the journal Socialist Register and Ralph Milbrand.  

The value of the book is that, barring a terminal capitalist crisis, the proletariat has to LEARN how to run parts and then all of a state, and this takes time and experience.  Like having more power in the workplace, the class is still unprepared, as are its organizations.

Reviews on this subject, below: “The Courage of Hopelessness,” “Debt & Capital,” “A Reconstitution of the Left?” “The People’s Summit,” “Up From Liberalism!” “Sanders – A Left View,” “The Unwelcome Guest,” “Short Takes on the Week that Was.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
March 22, 2019

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Kinda Like Van Halen

“The Cradle Will Rock,” by Frank Theatre, 3/16/2019

Frank Theatre first put on this play in an abandoned Sears building in 2003.  The play is almost more famous for its initial staging then the play itself.  It was the last play performed in the 1930s by the Federal Theatre Project.  Right-wingers in the government shut down the project.  Because of that the actor’s union forbade it’s actors from acting in it and the theater it was to be performed in was locked.  So audience, actors, director and producer (Orson Welles and John Housman) went down the street to another theater.  The actors did their parts FROM the audience while Marc Blitzstein, the author, played a rented piano on the stage.
Get Hammered!


The play is a workers’ opera, similar to the style of Bertold Brecht, mostly sung.  It tells the story of “Steeltown USA” where workers are organizing a union. Opposing them is the “Liberty Committee,” a group of professionals recruited by the unofficial head of Steeltown, Mr. Mister, who is the millionaire owner of the steel business.  His wife, Mrs. Mister, runs the cultural life in Steeltown.

The scene is mostly set in a ‘night court’ after a cop arrests a prostitute when she refuses his advances.  In there with her is a drunken former drug store owner, who lost his business due to Mr. Mister’s financial shenanigans.  And astonishingly, the whole “Liberty Committee,” who are accidentally arrested by a clueless cop who thinks they were supporting the union when they stood protesting them outside.  They wait to be bailed out by Mr. Mister.  The prostitute is non-political but poverty-stricken, so her story intersects with the story of the labor strife.

The Liberty Committee is made up of a fine assortment of the middle class people essential to the rule of any local capitalist.  A preacher, who does what he is told, accepting contributions from Mrs. Mister to be first against war, then for it, depending on the needs of the steel industry. A newspaper editor, who prints what Mr. Mister wants, especially after Mr. Mister buys the paper.  The inept, spoiled children of Mr. Mister also play a role, with Junior Mister being hired as a journalist in Hawaii to get his stupid ass out of Steeltown.  Also included are two ‘artists’ – a painter and a violinist - who are dependent on the largesse of Mrs. Mister, their patron.  They believe in ‘arts for arts sake’ – which should bring chuckles to any left-wing cultural producer.  Also included is a doctor who covers up accidents at the steel mill.  And two professors, who believe that colleges should prepare the young for military service.  The two that are missing is the local lawyer, who would no doubt outlaw any union activities.   And the local politician, who would back the police. All oppose the union and ‘the reds.’
Mr. and Mrs. Mister, Little Miss, Reverend Salvation and Editor Daily

On the other side is Larry Foreman, who in this play is not identified as a leader of the union, but only as a middle-class fellow from outside town who supports the unionists and organizes for unions. (An odd name for a union leader or supporter to boot!)  The death of a union member by a car bomb is not mentioned in this version as far as I could tell.  The doctor covers-up the death of a worker on the job, blaming it on alcohol, even though he knows the truth and is confronted by the man’s wife.  We never see the mass of workers who are meeting to form unions – only references to them.   

Larry is the last person thrown into the jail and night court after being beaten.  He sings that ‘the Cradle will Rock!’ – meaning that the unionization efforts will shake Steeltown’s society and dethrone Mr. Mister.  He refuses to be bought off when Mr. Mister finally makes an appearance at night court to bail out the Liberty Committee.  The play ends with the workers voting in unions at their mass meeting, so optimistically for proletariat.

Frank Theatre is the only theater in town to perform this play, which is a bit of a throw-back.  But it also points the way to a class-conscious understanding through theater.  The dissection of the various professionals who support capital is especially rare, as the audience is many times full of these kinds of people.  They probably assume ‘that is all in the past.’  It is not.

This play was a central element in the Tim Robbins 1999 film, “The Cradle Will Rock,” which combined the play and its background with the story of the Federal Theater Project itself, along with the saga of Diego Rivera’s painting in Rockefeller Plaza, which was destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller for being pro-socialist.  The film has a top-notch cast and gave this play a second-lease on life.  This cast also plays it to the limit, bringing the characters to life.

Frank stages their plays in many locations, some of them industrial space.  This time it is at the Gremlin Theater in St. Paul, Mn.  The play will continue until April 7th, 2019.  Go!

Other plays reviewed below, some by Frank:  Oil! & the Jungle,” “Love and Information,” “Ideation,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Appomattox,” “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” “Marie and Rosetta,” “Puntilla and His Hired Man, Matti,” “The Visit,” “The Lower Depths,” “A Bright Room Called Day,” “The Good Person of Setzuan,” and a selection of Sean O’Casey plays.

The Kulture Kommissar

March 19, 2019

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cage Match


“Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism – Marx and Normative Social Theory in the Twenty-First Century,” by Tony Smith, 2017

This is an academic attempt to convince ‘liberal egalitarians’ - or in politics what are called ‘left-liberals’ - to join with Marxists in opposing various forms of proletarian and human oppression that they do not recognize or assume can be fixed in a market economy. 

A Mouthful of a Boxing Match

Smith contends that the issues of forced wage work and undemocratic workplaces, along with capital’s exploitation of labor, misuse of technology and control of time are ignored by egalitarian theory.  Add to that the instability and dangers of the capitalist mode of production - over-accumulation, over-production, recessions and depressions, environmental damage, classes and inequality, imperialism and war and unequal world development.  Smith contends egalitarian liberals have no adequate response to these issues.  He hopes this convinces liberal egalitarians to join with Marxists in the world socialist project.  To do this he writes a familiar and detailed description of Marxism, but also an extensive and fair elucidation of liberal egalitarian views.


The typical liberal egalitarian (who I will call ‘left liberals’ from now on due to the deceptive meaning of egalitarian) believes that regulation and capitalist state controls can mitigate capital to an acceptable and ‘egalitarian’ extent.  This adds to their position advocating ‘democratic rights for all.’  When you think about it, this is a quite familiar position.  People like Stiglitz, Krugman, Reich and Warren come to mind, along with a few leftward politicians in the Democratic Party. Left-liberal philosophy is partly based on some of the writings of J.M. Keynes (‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money’), John Rawls (‘A Theory of Justice’) and Jürgen Habermas (Between Facts and Norms: Contributions Towards a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy.’)

Left-liberals believe that the point of capital is not to increase profits or their money horde, but for the ‘greater good of society,’ or some such sociological shibboleth.  They tiptoe around the issues of work and class. It is the role of government and regulation, they hope, to tame the beast.  Neo-liberal history since the over-accumulation crisis of the 1970s has undermined that practical application.  Smith describes the theoretical conflict between their primary concern for the individual, while claiming to care about the community. He points out that their ‘normative’ Pollyanna understanding of the state and capital fails.

Ignore that man on the right...

Smith does not identify left liberals as part of a middle-class or upper-middle class criticism of capital, but that is what it is.  Smith says he does not hold with Marx’s analysis of the ‘falling rate of profit’, seemingly unaware of the statistical work of economists like Michael Roberts, who show it to be part of the predictable cycles of capital.  But at other times he embraces it. He also does not believe in Marx’s positions on immiseration of the proletariat or the progressive weakening role of the petit-bourgeois.  Yet even with that he thinks left-liberals’ prescriptions for really controlling capital are impossible in theory and ultimately illusory in practice, as capital is extremely flexible - like herding cats.

Implicit in this is a criticism of some forms of social-democracy, though Smith does not frame it so.  Actually-existing social democracy is an issue Marxists need to address and this book only begins to do that.

Smith goes into great detail on what the left-liberal responses are to various Marxist points, such as calling Marx a simple-minded ‘economist’ who ignored the political realm.  In his rebuttals, Smith maintains that if left-liberals ever gave workers enough democracy and equality, the whole profit system would be threatened.  The proletariat would break though the rhetorical barrier between the depoliticized economy and the political state, and what would be revealed is a political economy, a holistic system.  Smith extends his analysis to a global perspective, where ‘surplus countries' and their institutions prey on ‘deficit countries, 'thus failing any left-liberal standard of equality. Smith also takes on left-liberal theories of ‘commons-based peer production’ occurring on the internet; 'property owning democracy' or the glories of a new round of ‘creative destruction’ that will lead to a new level of capital.  Smith argues in detail that no new golden age is approaching.  He makes the point that technologic innovation no longer guarantees long periods of high profitability.  And warns against over-accumulation, which might lead to a round of destruction - through war or depression.

This book provides much theoretical ammunition against the different theorists of left-liberalism, while adding to our present understanding of Marxism, though its sophisticated density is easier in small bites.

Other reviews on this subject, below:  “The Long Depression” (Roberts); “Listen Liberal!” (Frank); “Death of the Liberal Class”(Hedges); “Violence”(Zizek); “The Great Financial Crisis”(Foster-Magdoff); “Up From Liberalism!”(Jacobin).  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

March 16, 2019

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

WTF Series, #4 - the Commodification of Love


‘The Bachelor,’ Season 23, Colton and ‘Jumping the Fence’

This show is one of the top long-running ‘reality’ shows in the U.S.  It is watched by millions, especially women. It’s not ‘reality,’ as over a number of weeks the bachelor has to propose to a woman in a partially scripted and controlled setting, usually a bourgeois luxury environment in the tropics. They are really all ‘cast members’ in paradise who make sure never to criticize the show in public. (And whose contracts forbid it...)  Last week the season’s ‘Bachelor,’ Colton Underwood, ‘jumped a fence’ in Algarve, Portugal – really a gate - and left the show early.  Big stuff, as no bachelor or bachelorette has ever done this before. Perhaps this jump is the beginning of the end for The Bachelor as a ‘reality’ show. After all, this is the obvious selling of love. 

Like Never Leaving the Prom
In this season several women also left the show without being ‘shown the gate,’ which bummed out Colton to no end.  On The Bachelor, being booted means not receiving a rose from the bachelor in a cringe-worthy ceremony, after which the woman has to leave immediately.  So it seems bailing out of the show early is now the thing to do.  The situation itself is intolerable if you have any inkling of emotional reality.  Many men and women just sign up for the TV exposure, their careers or the luxurious trips.  And you have to wonder what class of people can leave their jobs for several months to be on a TV show? A majority of the bachelors do not actually marry the woman they choose on the show, so the whole thing is a moving traffic accident.  One even got a divorce in a bit more than a month.

The women are mostly long-haired airheads, seemingly cloned.  In this season, two contestants from Southern beauty pageants were included. Most of the women are from the U.S. South or California, so you can intuit the anti-feminist and conservative cultural cachè behind the show.  ‘Cat fights’ and feuds abound between the women, as they fight or rat on each other to compete.  The producers always choose some narcissistic, disruptive or unstable women to stir the pot.  There are a few low-key sincere types.  African-American women are on the show, but they usually get sidelined, as this is a mighty-white event. This season’s show featured a nasty feud between one African-American woman and the most obnoxious of the bachelorettes, Demi.

The filmed conversations between the bachelor and his suitors concern their ‘feelings’ and never any practical or factual issues.  Which seems odd if you are going to ‘marry’ someone.  Colton and other bachelors are evidently coached on how to talk.  Many of the bachelorettes say dull uber-conventional things when they are not fighting, cognizant of the camera upon them. In one case, Demi, the loudmouth blonde, tearfully told Colton that her mother had just been released from jail.  Instead of showing surprise and asking ‘what did she go to jail for?!’ he just acted concerned.  (Really?  Mom’s in jail?)

Colton is a former bench-sitting football player – in shape, dumb, sensitive and semi-handsome to some.  His selling point was that he was at 26 a ‘virgin.’  So the tension was if he’d lose his virginity on one of the final fantasy suite ‘overnights’ with the bachelorettes.

At the crucial point in this isolated la-la land, only 3 women were left for him to choose.  He tried to convince the blonde and immature Cassie that he loved her even if the show ended.  This didn’t sway her because her Dad had surprised her in Portugal and told her that Jesus believed marriage to be a lifelong marriage contract – ‘death do you part.’ So it shouldn’t be decided on in 12 weeks.  Duh and Death!
Run Colton, Run!

Cassie’s southern California family seem to be fundie Christians, which should make any suitor wary. Because of Dad’s intervention, Cassie left Colton and the show in the standard limousine.  (Should Colton marry into a family that believes Jesus thinks marriage is for life?  Don’t do it, Colton!)   

This refusal led Colton to shove the camera, then leave the hotel compound and actually jump ‘the fence’ into the Portuguese night, disappearing in the dark.  It was fucking great.  That ‘fence’ represented the whole Bachelor setup, a closed compound of fabricated monetary click-bait.

In the dark of a Portuguese road, Chris Harrison, the vapid Bachelor wrangler, couldn’t convince Colton to return.  Colton was ‘done with this shit.’ He was tired of getting rejected and that made sense.  For a time he trashed the season and good for him.  But his rebellion did not last.

Harrison comes across as the announcer in the “Hunger Games.”  Behind the scenes, he probably cited Colton’s iron-clad contract with the show to force him back for some more emoting.  So Colton tells the other two women to go home, which had never been done before.  He then knocks on Cassie’s door after she ‘left’ and she agrees to go to Spanish Majorca to meet his upper-middle class family.  Quite an over-the-top and forced suggestion, actually.  Colton allows them to film this event outside the schedule, which shows he never really broke from the ‘program.’ That legal contract is tight!  Eventually Colton gets to say goodbye to his virginity with Cassie – televised to the last moment before the door closes.  His virginity became the standing sad joke of the season.   And they fell happily in love… maybe. 

The producers of "The Bachelor" have a storyline that they try to force the contestants to follow, prompting conversations and situations for them.  It is possible this new situation was invented, but watchers sense that it was real. A good number of contestants attempt to run, according to insiders. So the story writers worked with Colton's rebellion.

Colton’s break in convention will breathe life into this program’s stale format and will allow advertisers and deluded exhibitionists to continue to sign up.  But it might also prompt more leavings that could eventually undermine the profitable premise that these fake relationships are for sale.

Other reviews on this subject, below:  None!  See the culture commentary series “WTF.”  Type in blog search box, upper left.

The Kulture Kommissar
March 13, 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019

You're In Bucharest Now, Baby!

“Comrade Detective” (Tovarășul Detectiv), Television Series, 2017(first 3 episodes)

While the U.S. producers of this film thought it would be good fun to satirize a Romanian cop buddy picture by putting so-called ‘absurd’ Communist words in the mouths of the two protagonists, the tactic actually backfires.  This 6 part series tells the tale of two tough Communist Party detectives on the trail of a violent smuggling ring in Bucharest.  Drug dealers are trying to get rich, along with the smugglers.  The smugglers are in league with the U.S. embassy.  Smuggled Jordache jeans are thrown from trucks to screaming Romanian women.  Bibles in English are part of the smuggling trade, helped by a group of deranged fundie Christians.  A Monopoly© game is smuggled into Romania in the lining of a car.  It is an intentionally convoluted and idiotic plot.
Whose Making Fun of Whom?

A man in a Reagan mask kills the partner of Gregor Anghel, one of the detectives, and his rage runs through the rest of the series. Handsome, manly, a drinker and prone to easily losing his temper, Gregor’s actually a copy of many ‘hard-boiled’ American TV and movie cops.  The absurdity reflects back.  He has a penchant for sleeping with good-looking and seductive American embassy officials in order to shake down information – much like James Bond, a Brit spy.  In a discussion with his police partner, Iosif Baciu, they both agree that torture works.  However, varieties of illegal brutality are used by U.S. cops to this day in TV and movies…as long as they can keep it a secret from the police internal review pansies, that is.  Not to mention our own government under Bush authorized torture against ‘terrorists’ across the world.  And then there was Vietnam and the Phoenix program.  So they are not alone, though we are supposed to believe that only Commies torture.

But the real fun is in the Communist ideas used by Gregor and Iosif and even some border guards, the latter who refuse to be bribed and are killed by the smugglers.  The conservative or the clueless viewer will miss the irony embedded in this series’ attempt at exposing Communist ‘propaganda.’  Others will realize that propaganda cuts two ways and sometimes just one.

Iosif is appalled that the game Monopoly© urges players to drive every other player into poverty.  We are supposed to laugh, but he’s actually not wrong.  Gregor calls the drug dealers ‘capitalist’ turds and we are supposed to laugh at that too.  Drug dealing is a business just like any other, in pursuit of profit.  It’s purely capitalist, it’s just not legal yet.  So how true!  Isosif makes fairly lengthy observations on the unscientific idiocy of religion, things like believing bread is really the ‘flesh of Christ.’  We are supposed to laugh again, but every atheist and agnostic in the audience will agree with Iosif.  Or the Reagan mask as the face of the killer?  Anyone who lived through the ‘80s Reagan recessions, the union-busting, the war making, the ‘war on drugs’ the 'evil empire' rhetoric, the 'welfare queen' attitude and all the rest will quite plainly find NO problem with the killer wearing a Reagan mask.   THAT is good satire.

At various times both Gregor and Iosif denounce the capitalist obsession with endlessly working for money.  Isoif says it is family that should be the most important (he has two kids and a wife.)  Very few in the audience will not agree with Iosif.  There is even the classic 'buddy' scene, similar to so many U.S. cop movies where Gregor the bachelor heart-warmingly eats with Iosif's family.  Much is made of their mispronunciation of “Jordache©” jeans, showing what clueless bumpkins they are.  Gregor shoots at the smugglers throwing the ‘fitting’ jeans to the crazed Romanian women, which is a funny scene in itself. No one wears Jordache© jeans any more, by the way.  Essentially the U.S. is portrayed as a seductress, with its sexuality and its luxurious commodities luring upstanding Romanians to their doom.  Which does have the ring of truth…

Iosif has come from the Romanian countryside so Gregor calls him a ‘goat-fucker’ to much hilarity. Yet Iosif is the brains of the two and he gives Gregor a volume of Marx, as Gregor’s idea of Communism is ‘with his fists.’  Given most of the viewers of the series have probably never read any Marx, they might scoff.  I’d say giving a book to a co-worker is not the travesty that the producers want to make us believe.  But they want to make you feel that ‘this’ book is a farce.  Next time in a U.S. school, check what political views are acceptable.  Endless hosannas to the Federalist Papers or the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights should make you realize that Romania is not alone.  And giving a book to a co-worker at work?  Downright pointy-headed!

Gregor, Iosif and their police boss, hospital doctors and others make many comments about how great Romania or Bucharest or the medical system is – as if this kind of “Romania First” mentality is that much different from the constant U.S. diet of nationalism.  Again, it rebounds back into the supposed intent of the program.  Was that their real intent – to create a fake Romanian detective story to make fun of Hollywood or U.S. TV detective shows or U.S. propaganda?   Are they secret subversives?  Like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Hurt Locker,” it is not the intent, but the result that counts.  While trying to make fun of the demonization of the U.S., the series actually highlights the anti-communist demonization practiced by nearly every film or TV show to come out of the U.S.  From my count, this series, at least up to Episode 3, makes more truthful fun of capitalism than the reverse.

Other reviews on this topic:  “Zero Dark 30,”“The Meta-Meaning of Ridiculous Cop Shows,” “Red Harvest,” "Bad Cops, Bad Cops," "The Wire," "Rise of the Warrior Cop," "BlackkKlansman."

On Amazon© and tvonline.cc.

The Kulture Kommissar

March 10, 2019

Monday, March 4, 2019

Bourgeois Realism


“Tree of Smoke,” by Denis Johnson, 2007

Every fiction book has politics embedded within it.  Especially ones about the Vietnam War.  This one foregrounds the chaotic mess that was the U.S. experience and gives you a good taste of what being in Vietnam was and is like.  But in the background of this miasma is a strong smell, like a distant waste-dump – that of a pro-war attitude, full of patriotic good intentions and virulent anti-communism.
You are being smoked!

This book shadows “The Ugly American” and the “The Quiet American,” both earlier and better books by Burdick/Lederer and Graham Greene.  At 700 pages, it is an overly long, bloated, sometimes preciously poetic work that centers on the fractured intellectualism of a CIA psychological operations team in Vietnam.  In its somewhat naturalistic method, it reads like “Matterhorn by Karl Malantes, but without that book’s more perceptive politics or impact.

Our diffident hero, Skip Sanders, spends nearly 200 pages in the Philippines ‘setting the mood’ before even showing up in a villa in Cao Phuc (Cow Fuck), Vietnam.  Skip keeps a .25 caliber pistol around in case anything real happens, while working undercover as a Del Monte or a Canadian Bible consultant. He wears a white T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, a mustache and a crew cut while hoping to get his crack at the dirty Commies.   His uncle Col. Francis Sanders, who is based on a supposedly real CIA psychological-operations legend, is going to arrange it for him. 
  
The only torture shown is by a crazed African-American tunnel rat, who savages a Viet Cong suspect by digging his eyeballs out.  The only Viet Cong shown is a turncoat, Trung Than, who during Tet ‘68 sets up his comrades to be killed in Saigon by ratting them out to the CIA.  Trung’s reason for giving up on his 20 year struggle against colonialism and imperialism is unclear, except he doesn’t like what Johnson calls the ‘kolkhoz’ in North Vietnam.  As I understand, the name for a collective farm in Vietnamese is “ruộng chung not the Russian ‘kolkhoz,’ so Johnson's use of the term is indicative.

There is a parallel story about James, a working-class kid in the U.S. Army fighting in Vietnam, and his broken-down family - his lumpen brothers, his sad religious mother, all still in Phoenix.  James re-ups twice, hoping to eventually become a bloody killer in the LURP (Long Range Recon Patrol) and extract revenge on the ‘gooks.’ Johnson's treatment of this family reflects his obsession with crime, violence and alcoholism as the essence of working class life.  The CIA story and the soldiers' stories do not connect - a class barrier even within the plot.  In fact, this book is basically 3 disconnected stories. The book ends with 75 pages involving 2 different codas that seem arbitrarily tacked on.  Editor!!

The CIA folks eat food and drink booze all the time, as if Vietnam was just one big buffet.  They constantly indulge at various cafes, bars, hotels and hooches, while Skip is served delicious French-inspired food at his CIA-connected villa.  While waiting for his ‘mission,’ Skip translates Artaud and muses deep, poetic thoughts.  This basically gives him intellectual cover for making the reader think something profound is happening.  Nothing profound is. 

The thin plot centers on the CIA psy-ops group turning Trung into a double-agent.  Trung is to be sent back by the CIA to North Vietnam to scare “Uncle Ho” into thinking a group of rogue U.S. military types are going to drop a nuclear bomb on them.  This psy-ops operation is ‘the tree of smoke.’ This is to create panic and perhaps an attempt at forcing Vietnam to surrender or give up.  General Curtis LeMay was actually advocating a nuclear attack on North Vietnam … a reality not brought up here.  This book treats the idea as a clever deep 'fantasy.'   

Earlier in an internal CIA bulletin, Col. Francis suggests that CIA ‘intel’ is being distorted by higher ups for political reasons.  This creates friction with the local CIA station, and this leads to a lethal struggle between the two CIA groups.
GIs and what they think about the war ...in a nicer moment

In this book, no anti-war GI’s exist.  No Black-power brothers exist.  No acts by GIs against the war or the brass or the military occur.  Every reference to anti-war protest in the U.S. is from a right-wing point of view.  In the 1968 chapter on Tet, there is no mention of the Communist capture of Hue.  Instead the book treats Tet as a complete NLF failure.  There is never an idea of the opinions of the majority of Vietnamese peasants.  Until you notice every peasant ville around the U.S. LZ base suddenly empties before Tet ‘68.

The story centers on the CIA, yet there is only one irrelevant mention of the CIA’s infamous Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam.  There is no history here, just a leftover Frenchman’s villa and a dog. There is no hint that the U.S. invasion of Vietnam was a war crime.  Or a hint that the years-long U.S. interventions in the Philippines were similar events.  Johnson’s war is mostly a bloody, fucked-up, exotic but perhaps ‘poetic’ mess - from the American military’s point of view. In a way, this book is a sophisticated whitewash.  I contend that real ‘war intel’ was distorted by the writer for political reasons.  That is the actual ‘tree of smoke.’

Note:   The Author Denis Johnson was the son of a State Department-CIA liaison. He also was a grad of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, an upper middle-class writers’ training ground.  He published in the Paris Review, which 'used' to have CIA ties.  He lived in the Philippines for awhile, which is probably why that section got stuffed into this book.

Other reviews on Vietnam, fiction and non-fiction, below:  Matterhorn,” “Kill Anything That Moves,” “People’s History of the Vietnam War,” “Ken Burns,” “Soldiers in Revolt,” “In the Crossfire – Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary,” “The Sympathizer.”  Type titles using blog search box, upper left.

Other fiction on Vietnam, not reviewed below: Bao Ninh’s “The Sorrow of War;” all of Tim O’Brien’s books; and others: “Dispatches,” “Dues,” “The Farther Shore,” “In Pharaoh’s Army,” “The Bamboo Bed,” “Fire in the Hole,” “Black Virgin Mountain.”   And non-fiction:  Working-Class War.”

And I got it at the Library!
Red Frog
March 4, 2019 

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Fate of Fake Friends


Cross the Proletariat at Your Peril

If you look across the world at the various elected right-wing populists in power, you can see their lies about representing the ‘working class’ or ‘little people’ eventually fall through.  While middle-class liberals never want to believe that the working class is the majority class, it is the majority nearly everywhere in the world.  Let’s see what happens to pro-capitalist right-wingers who cross that class while mouthing their undying love:
Trump is a Class Enemy - No Surprise
 1.    Donald Trump.  Thinking he is riding high and still using the term ‘working class,’ he nevertheless put his foot in it - again.   Locking out or forcing to work, unpaid, 840,000 workers brought out an underground up-swelling of noncompliance by government workers.  In addition to that, there were more strikes in the U.S. in 2018 than the last 32 years – teachers, fast food, warehouse and health care workers.  Thank you, nationalist Christian Caucasian Donald Trump.
2.    Narendra Modi.  Taking small denominations of rupees away from millions of Indian workers only set the stage for two of the largest labor strikes in world history – 180 million in September 2016 and 150-200 million in January 2019.  All over low wages, the lack of social security and an end to vicious labor laws.  Thank you nationalist Hindu Narendra Modi.
3.    Victor Orban.  Orban’s ‘Hungarianess’ finally caught up with him.  By decreeing that workers must work overtime for 400 hours, with payment delayed for up to 3 years, Orban’s slave-labor law fused middle-class Budapest and the working class of this former workers’ state, including the unions.  The movement against this law spread throughout the country.  Thank you Professional Catholic Hungarian Victor Orban.
4.    Teresa May.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer imperial power.  By not calling for another vote on Brexit, May has created a disaster for the proletariat of little England.  Her Tory allies are worried about the loss of Northern Ireland and even Scotland.  But small businessmen, truck drivers and ordinary people are facing a ‘hard Brexit’ with a looming recession, worst labor and food rules and closing factories and businesses.  An ‘international capitalist combine’ like the EU is better than a narrow nationalist entity, as it prepares the ground for a united Socialist Europe.  Opposing this ‘creeping internationalism’ is one rationale of the Tory Party in backing Brexit.  Thank you “Little Englander” nationalist Teresa May.
Filipino May Day - Marchers Burn Effigy of Duterte

5.    Rodrigo Duterte.  The Philippine President, elected by a solidified Filipino upper class, has sic’ed his death squads on ‘drug dealers.’ These death squads are really designed to intimidate normal Filipinos, including unionizing attempts by workers in the Export Processing Zones.  115,000 workers in unions and other organizations came out nationally for May 1, 2018.  Duterte just denounced the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as 'insane' while maintaining an alliance with China.  His bloody rule makes things dicey, as more civilians were killed in the Philippines in 2018 than in Iraq, the Congo or Somalia. Here we are still waiting.
6.    Jair Bolsonaro.  Well, we are waiting here as well.  He has unleashed his war dogs on the largely African-American favelas and handed indigenous peoples' lands to corporations. Increases to the national minimum wage were reduced. He’s already in hot water from a number of scandals and divisions, including personal ties between himself, his family and criminal militias and assassinations in Rio.  It has only been a bit more than a month.  The proletariat in Brazil will rise again.
7.  Tayyip Erdogan.  Turkey is in recession, the lira has fallen in value by 20% against the dollar, inflation and prices are rising by double-digits and Turkish state debt is sky high.  Turkey's application to the EU is also probably dead.  Erdogan spent massive sums on large building projects, including a grotesque palace for himself.  On March 31, Erdogan's right-wing Islamist party lost control of the Turkish capital, Ankara and several other cities, including the largest, Istanbul. Thank you, Islamist Turk and dictatorial president Erdogan.

With condolences to Late Night host Jimmy Fallon and his ‘thank you’ cards.

Red Frog
March 01, 2019