Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Not Cutting the Mustard

 American Nightmare” Short Streaming Series, 2024

I rarely watch ‘true crime’ documentaries, as they are sensationalist and bloodthirsty voyeur experiences. This one has wider political resonance though, and it’s not bloody, so stick with me. It’s about the kidnapping of a woman in Vallejo, California in 2015. It shows the laziness, stupidity, sexism and inertia of the Vallejo police, the FBI and the media, the latter who, with promptings from the police, characterized it as a real life version of the movie “Gone Girl.”

Meet the victim suspects.

In that reactionary film a jealous woman stages her own kidnapping and death to get back at her husband. This was the tack ultimately taken by the all these real ‘institutions.’ They first blame the boyfriend as the kidnapper and killer, then blame the woman when she returns alive, saying she staged her own kidnapping. All this without evidence. So the victims become revictimized by police, FBI and media, with the vile Nancy Grace topping the list. By the way the two accused people are naïve and harmless middle class ‘white’ folks who worked as physical therapists.

The boyfriend’s convoluted and odd story of the nighttime kidnapping and home invasion convinces the cop he’s lying. It would make more sense to fake a conventional account actually, and not make up all these specific, weird details. They bully him for hours.  The lead detective's name is, I kid you not, Mike Mustard.  The FBI agent has a conflict of interest involving the boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, who he is having an affair with. The police turn off the boyfriend’s cell phone for a day. This misses two phone calls from the kidnapper asking for money and would have geo-located the cabin the woman was being held in and perhaps prevented a second rape. Prior to this they ignored multiple reports of a peeping Tom in their town. After the woman shows up, the police interview her. They don’t understand rape and think all women scream and yell and fight like hell, as she alleges she was raped twice by her kidnapper. They seem to have absolutely no training on what rape really entails for a woman afraid for her life. So this woman, in a sense, ‘deserves’ it because she didn’t engage in a bloody fight - or she just made the story up. After her return, all the journalists, up to a national level, go along with the police when they announce that the couple has wasted the County’s time and money and could be prosecuted for a fake kidnapping. The head of the police is behind this tack, where he is quoted saying ‘burn the bitch.’

Only an observant female detective in another town, after the local arrest of a very odd man in a sexual assault, notices a blonde hair on a piece of evidence, blacked-out googles.  The hair is not connected to her victim. She starts looking into a string of sexual assaults, home invasions and peeping Toms in middle California and finally comes upon the “Gone Girl” case in Vallejo, where the abducted woman was blonde. She connects this to her weird perp and his other victims. That single strand of hair upends the whole lie promoted by the police, the FBI and the media because it connects directly to the odd aspects of the kidnapping. It's kind of a smart cop / stupid cop story in real life - which is also the theme of so many fictional detective stories.  Det. Mustard got an award that year from Vallejo P.D. for superior detective work, so facts don't matter.

This documentary is a perfect example of how police can blame the victim, especially women; do the laziest thing they can to close a case and ignore real evidence. It also highlights how the media are not so much reporters looking for facts as stenographers for officials. Journalism is now practiced by naïve, sensationalist and lazy practitioners evidently, produced by J Schools not doing their job to teach actual, fact-based reporting. 

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: Gone Girl,” “Really? Rape? Still?” “Missoula – Rape and Justice in a College Town” (Krakauer); “What is Behind Rape, Assault and Harassment,” “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.,” “FGM,” “Celebrate Indian Women,” "The Murdaugh Murders" or the words ‘feminism,’ ‘police’ or 'detective.'

The Cultural Marxist / July 10, 2024

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Prometheus is Sad

 “The Double Shift – Spinoza and Marx on the Politics of Work” by Jason Read, 2024

This book is about the effect of work in the political, cultural and personal worlds.  Read’s contention is that work bridges the somewhat clunky and static Marxist concept of base and superstructure which implies the relationship is more like an Egyptian pyramid than a dynamic interaction.  His contention is that work under capitalism is the basis of economics but also infuses politics, ideology, culture and emotions.  Read’s method of understanding how this functions is to add an analysis of movies, perhaps because he’s spent too much time reading Zizek.  But there it is. He bases his insight on a quote from Marx in Capital, Vol. 3, that partly says: “The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labor is pumped out of the direct producers determines the relationship of domination and servitude, as this grows directly out of production itself…in short, the specific form of the state.”

All in all the book breaks new theoretical ground, which is rare in a leftist book.  One of his skills is to descend from extra-theoretical terminology to more comprehensible language, commonalities and facts. This is something Marx himself did. The book is not strictly logical, as its theoretical fixations wobble, are extended or ignored and sometimes categories and terminology shift around.

Not sure the movies prove his points but they also ground the narrative and provide some touches of reality. He looks at Office Space, Fight Club, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Compliance, The Assistant and Sorry to Bother You.  Most of these except the last depict real but flawed reactions to work, devolving into crime, lumpenism, resignation, deep ecology, job changes or obedience in the face of evil. After all, ‘crime is work!’ Read is a philosophy professor at Southern Maine and sees labor mostly through the lens of theory.  He sees these films as reflections of popular attitudes towards work.

As both Marx and Spinoza attest, the practical activities of work are the basis of human existence and consciousness.  Work has two sides – alienation, exhaustion, damage and humiliation - but also is a source of pride, of overcoming difficulties, of individual strength and skills. The ruling class uses these latter facts to normalize and naturalize capitalism, enforce individualism and prevent collective action.  He christens this process ‘negative solidarity,’ an attitude hostile to those who don’t seem to work.  Work produces not just commodities or services but also consciousness.  It is not just a method of survival or a way to buy things but also a measure of individual worth no matter what class you are in.  “Work” becomes the measure of all things. 

Those who do not ‘work’ normally – those on welfare, on Social Security, those who receive benefits from the state; immigrants who get grants; or workers who get ‘unfair’ benefits from a labor union - are looked down upon by individualist bootstrap politics based on ‘work.’  This is a huge source of reactionary resentment.  So christening what a woman does in the home as ‘housework,’ a prostitute does as ‘sex work’ a service worker does as ‘emotional labor’ or calling exercise a ‘workout’ makes the labor legitimate in the public dialog.  This right-wing attitude embraces suffering and the deficits of any job as a form of individual heroism ... and wants it applied to others. So ‘bah’ to government regulations around workers in high heat conditions! Why capitalists, who earn millions more for their work day, or inherited their wealth, are not subject to the distain of these reactionaries is evidently because they are ‘self-made men’ who deserve their fortunes.  Their market is seen as a necessity and a natural force not to be trifled with.  It's 'normal.'  This ‘negative solidarity’ is what class conflict comes to when the real class struggle itself is weak. It's perhaps the class struggle of fools. The film Sorry To Bother You overcomes this problem, breaking with individualism for collective action … but it’s a movie. 

A Successful Tele-Marketer in Sorry to Bother You

Read sees this in 3 relationships or ‘double shifts’ between the base and superstructure – 1, economics and politics; 2, ideology and emotions; and 3, praxis (action) and poiesis (production).  He shows how Spinoza’s theories on labor dovetail and complement some of Marx’s.  His introduction of Spinoza into the dialog seems marginal and unnecessary, though Spinoza was also an anti-religious materialist.  Spinoza emphasized the idea of the emotions connected to work, specifically imagination, superstition, affect and desires.  He asked why humans embrace their wage slavery and this book has a clue to that.   

The first contradiction Read looks at is that between concrete and abstract labor, which includes mental and manual labor.  Abstract labor (the potential for labor across all skills, i.e. the labor power commodity of humans under capital) promotes the idea that all workers are equal as long as they work.  Concrete labor (specific skills) promotes the idea that there is a hierarchy of ‘natural’ talents which might also justify a social hierarchy, a ‘meritocracy.’ 

The second contradiction looks at the relationship between ideas and physical reality, especially emotions.  Marx maintained that all work has a mental component, so the artificial division between mental and manual labor is just that.  He maintained that all work is social and cooperative, though this is not always apparent. The ‘affective component of labor’ is highlighted by corporations now, as the nonsense about ‘flair’ in the film Office Space showed. This also relates to the performative nature of job interviews. Without emotional intelligence, workers in some fields are doomed. Now the human resources’ drones speak of ‘human capital’ as a thing, a group of talents, interests, physical appearance and skills to be commodified by them.   

The third contradiction Read brings up is that between action (politics) and production, which both play upon each other. He notes that there is no such thing as a total automatic, apolitical ‘administration of things.  All production is social, hence political, there is no production process of ‘pure reason’ even under AI.  Read seems to think that it is a failure of the imagination to not see the arbitrary nature of the present economy and society.  But that might just be the function of work ‘realism.’ 

This is just an outline of the major points it makes.  I’ll leave you with a few random ideas from the book: 

*Marx’s ‘religion of everyday life’ involves work, capital and money.

* Like Graeber Read has a confused idea of what a ‘bullshit’ job is. 

*Capitalists know they need to incorporate ‘popular’ ideas to justify their own rule, whether they believe them or not.  Religion is the first candidate, patriotism a second, anti-intellectualism a third, charity a fourth and so on. 

* The illusion of free will is necessary for the goal of obedience. 

* Archaic ideas are the realm of fascism.

* The role of bourgeois politicians is to take the blame for the capitalists when things go wrong, as they always do.

All in all a useful book looking at what most people do for most of their lives, giving it the central place in consciousness it deserves.  Work!

Prior blog reviews that deal with this issue, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “The Assistant,” “Bullshit Jobs” (Graeber); “Better Call Saul,” “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” “Patriarchy of the Wage” (Federici); “In Letters of Fire and Blood” (Caffentzis); “Work, Work, Work” (Yates);

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog / July 6, 2024

Monday, July 1, 2024

9 Kinds of Intelligence

 The Value of Practical Skills and …

 Whether you learn these in the home, at school, on the job, or experimenting on your own or with others, practical skills are a life-long asset.  All definitely have a biological basis – health, body shape, class and color caste background, gender and national origin to start.  As Marx put it, the apparent contradiction between so-called 'mental' skills and physical skills, while both are related, should be overcome.  And they are in the labor process.

Learning how to do basic wood working, electrical and plumbing, assembly and mechanics will save you money over a lifetime and perhaps provide a living.  Learning how to cook, sew, organize, understand medicines and the body, exercise and clean are also essential.  Repairing broken items is a necessary skill, which means trouble-shooting, trial and error and some knowledge of how things work in various areas.  Understanding a broad array of tools is also key. This now extends to software, computers, many electronic devices and other practical items. Marx understood this as 'concrete labor.'

Problem solving stretches across all human activity and might even be the most important skill for any job, approaching what he called 'abstract labor' - the essence of labor power.  This concept of work stretches into problems between people and even within a person. This relates to the concept of the 9 kinds of intelligence, not the simplified and erroneous 'one' kind promoted by IQ tests, MENSA and narrow academics.   As we know, sometimes people with J.D’s, M.A’s or Ph.D’s are stupid in some ways, while relatively uneducated people have touches of genius. 

Here is a list of 9 kinds of intelligence.  The idea is to improve in all of these areas if you can.  This list was developed by Howard Gardener, a Harvard psychologist:

 1. Visual-spatial intelligence – Understanding maps, blueprints, schematics, sizes and shapes, physical reality, etc.

2. Linguistic-verbal intelligence - Verbal, written and language skills.

3. Mathematical intelligence – Logic, abstraction, reason.

4. Kinesthetic intelligence – Physical understanding of the world – athletes, dancers, physical workers.  Sometimes called physical intelligence.

5. Musical intelligence – the ability to create, play, recognize, grow in sophistication or enjoy music.

6. Intrapersonal intelligence – The ability to work with others and read people, even making them laugh.  Sometimes known as emotional intelligence.  

7. Interpersonal intelligence – The ability to understand yourself, your body, manage feelings, have achievable goals and know how you come across to others.

8. Naturalistic intelligence – The recognition and understanding of plants, animals, growth and the natural world – like the weather, seasons, signs, growing crops, etc.

9. Existential intelligence – The ability to understand the forces behind 'reality' - to have an accurate 'big picture' of what is going on. 

(Based on definitions from Practical Psychology, 10/6/2023)

They are not all centered in the brain...

Most people have some of these skills, which are all forms of labor.  It is the definition of a “Renaissance Person” to be really good at many. One that might be missing here is a 10., Artistic intelligence – which might combine some of these other skills but apply more broadly.  Some artists excel across the board in music, painting, poetry, etc.  And I might ask, where does 'planning' fit in?  Some people can't think ahead for 5 minutes, or their plans change constantly. They live chaotically.  A math skill? 

As you can see this theory explains why a scientist might not know how to drive a car and has multiple accidents.  Or explains a musician or sports star who is inarticulate, as there are plenty of those.  Or a carpenter who has anger-management problems.  Or a philosopher who looks at a forest and can't specifically recognize anything.  Or a dancer who is an obnoxious prima donna.  Or the accountant with a meth addiction.  Or a nurse that gets easily lost. Or the farmer that lives day-to-day.  We all have some level of all of these skills but no one has them all.  Sadly, some people have very few.

Here we get to the question of how people are 'educated' by the family, the school system, the streets, the society, the class structure, the economy.  A person who is always late might have bad transport, a drug or alcohol problem, live in their own inner world or be under stress - so social forces impact intelligence.  Not news.  Basic and prior to education is biological health, which remains problematic in much of the world.  That is a whole 'nother issue. 

The main force for proletarians and farmers under capitalism is how to survive, i.e. how to earn some kind of living if you are not a trust-fund baby or living on inherited wealth.  Subsistence farmers have to have very high levels of natural intelligence, as do most farmers across the board.  But it is also true that a job does not designate your intelligence, as we know many people who do not fit their jobs.  Like a bookstore owner that doesn't read.  Or a factory worker who is clumsy and wrecks what they work on.  Or the tech coder who can't balance a checkbook.  Or the lawyer that steals from his clients. Or the 'green' capitalist that ruins the environment.  Though for the latter that can come with the territory and might just show a certain 'math' intelligence. 

Right-wingers think that the only intelligence skills to be taught are job skills needed by corporations or small businessmen. See Ron DeSantis on this. For some small businesses, key is knowing how to keep track of time – for some people a lost math and space skill.  Knowing how to do simple math, basic reading and have physical strength is enough to get that person hired in many of these jobs.  This is why many small businessmen sneer at more developed forms of education.  The Republican Party, while being funded by a sector of billionaires, has a base among these small business people and farmers, who are their prime voting cattle. 

For corporations, the skills range upward, especially due to the increasing complexity of labor in a white-collar environment.  A rude or crude co-worker will usually not last long unless they have achieved boss status.  Someone who cannot solve problems will not last long.  Someone with an aversion to software will not last long.   If you can't take sitting in a cube, drinking corporate coffee and taking orders, you won't last long.  The favored 'intelligence' for survival as a worker is that of adaptability and fitting into the goals of the owner in both kinds of jobs.  Aargh... wage slavery's emotional intelligence content.

This latter white-collar strata is favored by the Democratic Party as voters because the corporations in their corner understand the need to go beyond physical strength, Bible thumping and the basic 3Rs. Even now so-called physical jobs require tech understanding  – mechanics, plumbers, machinists, rail workers, postal workers, truck drivers, soldiers, etc.  “Education” is the Democrat's mantra, especially under Obama, as if unemployment could be solved by re-education.  

“Working for yourself” as a sub-contractor, 'gig' or temp worker, small business person or 'independent' contractor is then proffered as the alternative to the banalities of being an employee.  But in a society and an economy no one is really independent and all these people eventually find that out.  There are degrees of independence, with the big capitalists having the most freedom, though they are also trapped in the parameters of profit. 

Post-modern architecture that ages like a Bad Tattoo

Marxists, unlike post-modernists and other short-term thinkers, have an accurate big picture of the world economy – how workers holistically reproduce and survive based on labor.  So they perhaps excel at #9.  Practical skills are pragmatic, but they also can lend themselves to #9.  Multiple forms of intelligence also play a role in aiding #9. 

Post-modernism posits that the world is made up of disconnected bits and pieces – a poppy, loose mosaic without a frame and no 'big picture.'  Straight bourgeois ideology ignores the economy and proclaims empiricism, 'realism' and pragmatism.  These are ideologies that allow one to fit into the present economic 'frame' without wondering about the gold-fish bowl you are swimming in.  Religious ideologies are mostly based on faith and upbringing and do not need real-world confirmation, so they are usually excellent methods for a false ‘big picture’ understanding of the world.  Liberal religionists still hold to a moral code of some sort, yet separate from any economic understanding except forms of charity, including government charity.  

Most people patch together a series of influences, a personalist variety of bits and pieces, a satisfying emotional patchwork to make sense of the worldAs a result of this kind of dispersal many 'schools of thought' have gone or are going by the wayside – positivism, idealism, Existentialism, liberalism, market fundamentalism, deep ecology, surrealism and even many religious traditions. Capitalist 'realism' seems to have won.  Libertarianism seems to be having a moment, as does paganism and identitarianism.  And then there is fascism, which is a patchwork of emotions, upbringing, class position, violence and irrationality – the ultimate post-modern method of destruction.

Whatever the level of these 9 kinds of intelligence, it seems to be an excellent way of approaching the issue of working intelligence, able to explain what we see every day.  Calling someone ‘stupid’ is only the beginning… 

Prior blog reviews on this issue, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms:  “News From Nowhere” (Morris); “From the Factory to the Metropolis” (Negri); “Deep Survival,” “Anti-fascism, Sports, Sobriety” (Kuhn); “Sometimes A Great Notion” (Kesey); “The Making of the English Working Class” (Thompson); “Divergent-Insurgent,” “A Terrible Thing to Waste” or “artificial intelligence.”

 The Cultural Marxist / July 1, 2024

Friday, June 28, 2024

Water and Water

 “Camino Ghosts” by John Grisham, 2024

This story is reminiscent of those by Carl Hiaasen about the destructive shenanigans of real estate capitalists in natural Florida, but not quite as comedic. It is haunted by one of the U.S.'s original sins, slavery. It features the usual array of middle-class heroes – a bookseller, a crusading environmental lawyer and a careerist writer. It highlights the wisdom of an old dark-skinned lady, Lovely. It has touches of black magic and violence dressed up as unexplainable natural phenomena.

Welcome to 'Dark Isle” an uninhabited barrier island on the Atlantic at the northern border of Florida. A 3x1 mile strip of heavy jungle and thin white sand beaches, now populated by poisonous snakes, panthers and deadly bacteria. It used to be home to a colony of freedmen escaped from bondage, in an area first dominated by the anti-slavery Spanish, then the pro-slavery U.S. Now it's 2020 and all are dead except that stubborn 80-year old lady, who left the island at 15 and now lives on nearby Camino Island.

Real estate investors are salivating over this uninhabited island's future, visualizing a casino, a yacht harbor, a golf course, condominiums and hotels after the vegetation is bulldozed – ruining it like every other barrier island in the state.  Yet oddly, occasional trespassers to what the developers want to call 'Panther Cay' don't survive or just disappear. It doesn't seem to always be for factual reasons but they are certainly dead. Is this the result of 'dark magic' – voodoo, juju, gris gris, Santeria revenge? Is that what it takes to fight Florida's 'growth' industry? It's a thin reed to hang onto, a measure of how bad it has gotten that writers have to inject magical curses into their stories to power their narrative.

Grisham writes leftish, happy-ending books, usually with a lawyer as a central character, usually with lawsuits over money corruption, racism or environmental destruction. Like Hiaasen he makes fun of the stable of swarmy Florida creeps, lawyers and greedy suits in the suites. This book has too much about the 'book business' as if Grisham is also riffing off his own experience writing dozens of books. The legal issues, especially Lovely's claim to own the island due to her being it's last living resident, a legal doctrine known as 'adverse possession,' take center stage. As proof she claims there is a cemetery of her relatives somewhere on the island. Will she and they win? Read it and find out.

Tremé by David Simon, S.1, 2010 (A reprise)

Another Southern story, set in New Orleans just after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. The series features a strong ensemble cast with sometimes intersecting stories which I can't recommend enough. There is a hard scrabbling trombone player, a tough Mardi Gras Indian, a lawyer looking for a jailed and missing African-American man, an angry Tulane English professor, a funny hipster DJ, a hard-working chef, two street musicians, a New York modern jazz musician and a bar owner trying to reconstruct her business and find her younger brother. NO jazz takes center stage, as second-line parades, jazz funerals, Mardi Gras, various music clubs and even the New York jazz scene are featured. Famous musicians make cameos or play in this season – Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Allan Touissant, the Tremé Brass Band, Steve Earle, Dr. John, McCoy Tyner and others. Some of the actors are also musicians, like the two 'street' musicians Sonny and Annie. N'Orlins clubs like the Spotted Cat, Vaughans, Snug Harbor, Bullets, Donnas, Tipitinas and the Howlin' Wolf show up, along with the Blue Note in NYC.

Mardi Gras Indians

I've always felt Tremé was Simon's mea culpa for The Wire, which tried to touch many issues of corruption in Baltimore, but still centered the 'black' drug trade. Here instead of black drug dealers we get working-class people or small businessmen, some very marginal, trying to live a decent life in the wake of the incredible damage of Katrina. No mercy is shown to real lumpenism here. The show is political, attacking Democratic mayor Ray Nagin and the corrupt City Council, Republican president George Dubbya Bush, the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the NO police, the insurance industry – the whole power structure that failed before, during and after Katrina. It was really the first large example of U.S. climate change and migration, along with being a model of racist removal. Simon at one time called himself a 'half-Marxist' – agreeing with Marx's diagnosis of capitalism, but rejected his solutions. It is reflected in this series, which features both individual, family and group struggles, but that only go so far. Adolph Reed Jr. thinks it simplified the issues, and yeah, it's not a deep dive into the hold of the New Orleans ruling class on the city.

Tremé is the historic neighborhood east of Canal Street and across Rampart from the French Quarter / Vieux Carré. It contains the former homes of many jazz musicians, Congo Square / Louis Armstrong Park and historic cemeteries, with Basin Street winding through. It reflects the proletarian French, indigenous, African and Caribbean heritage of this port city, a city that gave birth to jazz and parts of blues and rock and roll. A raised city Interstate 10 looms above part of the quarter, seen frequently in the episodes. The season romanticizes New Orleans, but that turns out better than demonizing it. If you are a music lover, have enjoyed visiting New Orleans or are aware of the dire politics and issues surrounding Katrina, this season is for you.

Prior blog reviews on these subjects, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “slavery,” “Native Tongue,” “Sick Puppy” (both by Hiaasen); “Florida,” “The Magic Kingdom” (R. Banks); “Nickel Boys,” “The Wire” (Simon); “Jazz,” “Really the Blues” (Mezzrow); “In Search of the Blues,” “Treme,” “Rising Tide,” “How to Kill a City.” “Extreme Cities,” “Shock Doctrine” (Klein).

Kultur Kommissar / June 28, 2024

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Moon Struck

 Techno-Capitalism – the Rise of the New Robber Barons and the Fight for the Common Good” by Loretta Napoleoni, 2024

This book covers recent developments in technology and finance that have already been covered by others, with a new addition – outer space, especially the issue of low Earth orbits (LEO). Napoleoni's target here are the 5 capitalist horsemen dominating technology – Amazon, Apple, Facebook/Meta, Google/Alphabet and Microsoft. She calls them the Techtitans who operate in the Present Future. These firms are part of a tech oligopoly, buying up every asset they can similar to what Google did with mapping software to create Google Maps and Google Earth. 

They were preceded by a group of Silicon Valley anarchist visionaries, the Cypherpunks, Julian Assange being one. They specialized in cryptography for privacy's sake, which subsequently became the key to internet commerce. Who'd have guessed? Napoleoni's been on CNN and the BBC, along with working for the World Bank. She's no anti-capitalist but that increasingly familiar breed – left-liberals panicking at the multi-faceted deterioration of world society – her 'pandemic of anxiety.'

Napoleoni gives a detailed description of how Bitcoin and crypto currencies are structured and how blockchains and ridiculous non-fungible tokens (NFT) work. She sometimes seems to think Bitcoin is not fiat money and claims criminals have abandoned crypto because of it's digital chain of ownership - a chain that can become incredibly convoluted. She looks at the Robinhood financial 'rebellion' against Wall Street hedge funds over Game Stop and how high-speed trading has put algorithms in charge of that self-same Wall Street. She takes a tour of the 2008 financial meltdown from a modern monetary theory (MMT) perspective, illuminating the essential trust and fiat nature of trillions in U.S. government cash that rescued the banks and economy. She lambastes the concept of infinite economic growth and the falsity of the GDP as an economic gauge. She exposes the mythology of carbon credits and carbon sequestration, along with the false image of 'low carbon' EV transport. According to her the batteries in electric cars like Teslas are more carbon intensive to make than gasoline vehicles. How the later lack of an exhaust pipe spewing carbon compensates for this initial upbump is unknown. She shows how some startups like AirBnB and Uber make use of lags and gaps in legal structures to institute exploitative software management of private renters and homeowners or thousands of misnamed 'sharing' drivers.

Napoleoni's somewhat grandiose writing style, hobby-horse terminology and 'futurist' pose is a bit of an impediment, along with an ambivalent tone and vague solutions. Her recommendations are public / private recycling ventures for a 'circular economy' to save the environment. This includes the essential recycling of large and small batteries to recover valuable minerals, batteries which are the carbon glutton of ubiquitous electric and electronic power sources. She supports the use of blockchain technology to automate many administrative tasks, something that could be useful even to socialists. She claims that crypto uses less carbon than the regular monetary system, though their sizes are not comparable. She sees crypto as an ultimate replacement for 'state issued' money, though many governments are adding it to their monetary arsenal.  And if their website exchange goes down, as it has done in the past, what happens then? She thinks human data is the most desired raw material on earth – quite a starry position. Who needs food?! She leans towards universal basic income, but has no other solution to job losses due to AI or blockchain technology. The bourgeois cliche that 'new jobs will be created' by AI is true – but there won't be near as many. Anyone working with tech knows it usually increases productivity at the expense of headcount. Even Napoleoni realizes the goal is to replace labor.

Napoleoni ventures into politics and thinks the nation-state is outdated, being overwhelmed by the internet and technology, which certainly is perceptive. In this context, she does not connect 'the State' or 'the nation' with any class or economic system, similar to most anarchists and liberals. She believes Wall Street needs 'proper regulation' – as if that has worked. She praises the sociobiology of E.O. Wilson, who said human biology is the root of production systems. This ignores class, specifically the question of 'whose' biology we are talking about. She mentions 'anti-trust' actions, but concludes they are impossible. She calls for “a new political and economic paradigm” which means almost nothing. There's not really much 'fight' here when all is said and done, which is typical of these kind of middle-class writers.

SPACE is the Place!

Space is the Place, as the great jazzman Sun Ra says. Like leftie tech podcaster Adam Something, though in more words, Napoleoni shows how long space travel is biologically and technically impossible, along with things like terraforming Mars. But she does yearn for feasible low Earth orbit (LEO) projects. Some of these are already in place by the 'Space Barons' like Musk's Space X and various governments for military, satellite and science purposes. The amount of space debris is proof! She dwells on China's ambitious plans under Xi to create a Chinese space station staffed with a new Xuntian space telescope, establish a lunar settlement, set up a space solar array to beam power back to earth and initiate more voyages to Mars and the rest of the Milky Way galaxy. She herself has no suggestions as to what LEO projects would improve 'the common good' while ignoring their costs and carbon emissions. She claims that “the industrialization of LEO is within our reach” which sounds absolutely terrible. Definitely mining for minerals on the moon is a target of many of these corporations and governments in this virtually uncontrolled area. Do we have to raise the slogan of socializing the moon now, like the 'right to the moon'? Attention David Harvey!

The issue of tone is odd because Napoleoni sounds upbeat about nearly every one of these technologies, then rains on her own parade – “on the other hand” - and points out that the Techtitans are only in it for profit and consumption, not for the good of society. For instance she's excited about a gimmicky 'metaverse' that has already tanked. She can never bring herself to realize that what she is talking about all the time, in her elliptical way, is how capitalism functions. She likes to moralistically substitute 'greed' for profiteering, commodity production and exploitation. “Techno-capitalism” isn't separate from any other kind, it's just the latest fast-changing leap. It's Big ROI, baby!

Prior blog reviews on this topic, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “Cypherpunks” (Assange); “Modern Monetary Theory” (Kelton); “Bit Tyrants,” “Big Short” (Lewis); “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “The Loop,” “New Dark Age,” “The Global Police State,” “R.U.R. and the Insect Play” (Capek); “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” (Bastani); “Cyber-Proletariat.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog / June 25, 2024

Celebrate the release of Julian Assange from prison!

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Who Are These Guys?

 “Against the Web – A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right” by Michael Brooks, 2020

This guy is a podcaster and YouTuber, formerly associated with the Young Turks and probably a member of DSA as he quotes the unofficial DSA journal Jacobin frequently. He describes himself as a Marxist or a “humanist socialist” – presumably unlike the inhuman ones. I've never watched his TMBS & Majority Report podcasts. This book is a pointed and somewhat humorous polemic against several gurus of the 'new' Libertarian or ultra-conservative Right that I don't give a shit about but maybe you do - Dave Rubin, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro and Brett Weinstein. These five make Joe Rogan look like a grounded intellectual.

We're supposed to care because some of them influence young, white U.S. males living in this precarious, unstable, reactionary society. Peterson markets himself as a self-help guru for these lost souls while embracing 'free' market fundamentalism – the thing causing the chaos. It's a guaranteed business, like making people sick and selling them a cure. Brooks seeks to use actual history and science to refute their conservative naturalizing and myth-making. He takes you through a roll-call of these 5, pointing out in detail their extreme follies as members of the misnamed “Intellectual Dark Web.” Here's a sample:

Rubin – He actually calls him 'dumb as a rock.' A fact-free vile babbler.

Harris - “Sadly” supported dropping a nuclear bomb on some unnamed Muslim country in the context of the Bush wars and sadly supported Israel doing 'terrible' things in Gaza. 'Realist' intellectuals are always sad, but have to speak the hard truths. Harris made an ass of himself debating Chomsky.

Peterson – Shallow pop pusher of Western tradition myths and anti-Marxism. In a debate with Slavoj Zizek Peterson's only Marxist reference was the Manifesto he'd read at 18. Zizek wiped the floor with him. He confuses post-modernism with Marxism for one thing and thinks Foucault was a Marxist. He also enjoys 'enforcing monogamy.' An evidently popular blowhard.

Shapiro – Rabid cliched neo-con now pretending to be an elevated intellectual. Is fighting for 'Judeo-Christian' civilization, a 20th century invention. Supports ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, endorses 'enemy' civilian casualties, doesn't want non-'white' babies, completely opposes abortion and likes Israeli settlements.

Weinstein – I can't keep one Weinstein or Brooks straight from another, but this one spun a 'free speech' academic scandal into heroism, speaking engagements and cash.

Brooks goes into the frauds of IQ tests and skull measurements to determine a highly variegated thing like 'intelligence,' something the social-Darwinist 'race-science' Right still endorses to justify hierarchies like color castes and class. He makes fun of Universal Basic Income plans that hearken back to the measly grain rations distributed to the formerly rural plebeians in imperial Rome. He notes limitations to the concept of 'cultural appropriation,' given the interrelations of culture around the world. He ends with pleas for international and inter-'racial' solidarity and cites the ANC / SACP's original Freedom Charter as a guide to social action. The ANC gave that up to end political apartheid, allowing 'economic apartheid' run by rich whites to continue in South Africa.

Brooks excoriates what he calls the 'ultra-woke' as the answer to the Right. Moralistic and personalist uber-identitarians that are content to shame, name-call, police or guilt-trip working-class people instead of working to unite them help no one except their own sense of moral superiority and middle-class politics. They provide a convenient target for the Right, as their micro-stupidities repel many, even those on the actual Left. Their anti-class attitudes dove-tail neatly with Democratic Party 'kente-cloth' elites, NPR and lots of non-profits and NGOs. Brooks adopts Marc Fisher's description of this group as living in a Vampires' Castle. An odd turn of phrase, but hey, maybe they do bloodsuck on real struggles.

Why Brooks uses the word 'cosmopolitan' in his sub-title is unclear – I guess its his attempt at sophisticated internationalism? Fascists hate cosmopolitans – those pointy-headed wine and cheese eaters – so perhaps there's a FU in there somewhere. “Cosmopolitan” was a code word for Jews and Marxists in fascist ideology, since 'blood and soil,' not urbanism, were their preferred parameters. Perhaps their slogan originated because of how much blood they could spill on that soil? At any rate, a long podcast or three turned into an enjoyable, breezy book centered on some of the pompous stars of the pseudo-intellectual Right.

Prior blog reviews on this topic, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive using these terms: “Mondragon,” (Wolff); “Zizek,” “Jacobin,” “Adolph Reed,” “Chomsky,” “CLR James,” “identity politics,” “ANC,” 'atheism.'

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog / June 22,2024

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Fabulous Fabians

 “This Little Band of Prophets:  The British Fabians” by Anne Fremantle, 1959

Unlike the swarmy and gutless liberal 'intellectuals' of the U.S., the British Fabians actually opposed capitalism, but in their own way.  This is a reflection of the British Labour movement itself, which was always to the left of the conservative U.S. one.  This movement created its own political party, nationalized the railroads, mines and other entities, established socialized medicine and unionized a broad swath of the working-class.  None of this happened in the U.S. even in the heroic days of the 1930s – a period some U.S. leftists can't stop wetting their pants about. The U.S. Labor movement has failed so far because it has not embraced socialism in any form. What happened in the U.K. is much cheerier, at least in the past.

The most well-known Fabians, who were actually not prophets, were:  Sidney & Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Harald Laski, Clement Atlee and others not so well known.  Atlee led a Labour government that was voted in overwhelmingly against the celebrated colonialist reactionary Winston Churchill in 1945, with 41 Fabians elected to office.  The organization started in the late 1880s as a club of young, clever, socialist-minded intellectuals, first led by Shaw.  It was a left version of the arch culturalist Algonquin Club of the U.S..  Absorbing the revolutionary defeats of 1848 and 1871, along with the defeat of the English Chartists, they turned to a gradualist, middle-class style of 'socialism.' They were inspired by Owen, J.S. Mill, utilitarianism and Christian socialism.  As Fremantle puts it, they became the intellectual founders of the welfare-state U.K.  Marx called them “the capitalists' last ditch” - putting a human-face to the profiteering pig.

The Fabians made their original stand against Marxism, revolutionary socialism and British groups like the Socialist League, which Fremantle gleefully repeats.  As she put it, this allowed them entry into the halls of power, work with bourgeois liberals and much influence in the Labour Party.  This is similar to the U.S. where left-liberals enjoy prestige by not directly threatening the system.  The Fabians were nice to the anarchists, but found they could not work with them.  Nor would they agree to an early fusion of the 3 main socialist groups in the U.K., as two were Marxist or to their left.  This was their pattern from then on, as they refused to form a party but considered themselves an 'educational' institution. Their angle was practical and active ‘evolutionary’ socialist guidance within a capitalist context.  Their method - now called entryism - was to 'permeate' various organizations and Parties to get their policies enacted. They based their theory on 'rent' - like Yanis Varoufakis' 'techno-feudalism' or Michael Hudson's 'rent economy' - thinking that rents paid to property owners was the main site of capitalism, not the class struggle and the exploitation of labor through ownership of the means of production.

How has this pig prospered?  Fremantle in 1959 is giddy at the great 1945 success without knowing what was to come in British history – Margaret Thatcher, privatization of rail, mining and more; the smashing of the NUM miner's union, the middle-class and corporate deterioration of the Labour Party, the weakening of the NHS, the vast increase in inequality courtesy of the City and the ethno-nationalist poverty of Brexit.  It seems in the long game the Fabians – oddly named after a Roman general famous for delaying – are now history after a delay.  The course in the U.K. has proved that capital, which is more like the unkillable bad guy in every movie, cannot be fully humanized but instead always counter-attacks.  This should resonate with all kinds of reformers – pacifists, social-democrats, Stalinists, soft Maoists, Euro-Communists, left-liberals, cooperators, mixed economy fans, left Democrats, evolutionary socialists, Popular Frontists, clueless wonders and modern Fabians.  You cannot merely repeat the history of social-democratic successes in Europe, which are now being whittled away, as capitalism is changing.  Capital must be replaced and given the dire future, it has to be.  

William Morris, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Pytor Kropotkin, J. Ramsey McDonald and many others show up in the text. Beatrice Webb’s ‘maiden’ name was “Potter” – giving those little animals she wrote about a decidedly subversive stamp.  Fremantle names the three institutional forces that gave continued life to the Fabians over many, many years – The New Statesman, the Labour Party and the London School of Economics.  They were some of the first to call for a labor party after working with the Liberals. Some leading Fabians had positions in government offices, like the Colonial Office.  They wanted 'socialist civil servants' to populate the government using the latest scientific information.  Their position on international issues is variable.  They originally demanded home rule for Ireland but split on issues like the South African war and others.  Some leaders' 'internationalism' stopped at the British border. The book includes an incredibly detailed list of all Fabian articles, pamphlets, speeches, essays and research papers, along with an index of very short bios of everyone mentioned in the book, running to 22 pages.

This is a clever, quite British history, enjoyable to read, chatty and full of too many facts some of which might be useful or amusing to those who have not lost their sense of humor. It’s actually an intellectual history of types of British leftism and personalities.  Every member of the Fabians gets a description, even if relatively unknown, even if brief.  Fremantle fashions herself a Fabian, so this is her people.  The Fabians prided themselves on their quips, and this book is full of some catty comments and piercing observations.  Come read the story of the parlour pinks who helped conquer state power for a time, until the worm turned.

P.S. - John Oliver takes on post-Thatcher Tories in Little England and what they've done to Fabian Britain:

Prior blog reviews on this topic, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “News From Nowhere” (Morris); “The Making of the English Working Class” (Thompson, 5 reviews); “The Irish Literary Trail,” “The Peaky Blinders,” "Class Against Class," "Sherwood."  

And I bought it at May Day’s used/cutout section!

Red Frog / June 19, 2024

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Ending It All


The older you get, the bigger your family, the wider your circle of friends, the more organizations you belong to, the more funerals you go to in the U.S.  Yeah, it’s not pretty.  Yet the ‘style’ of the U.S. funeral varies widely.  In Christian ones, especially mob or cop movies, everyone is dressed in severe black with sunglasses.  There is a casket, some Catholic Priest drones on, dirt is thrown on the casket in the hole – and there are always some FBI agents, unwanted girlfriends, prior wives and assassins lurking around.  Most funerals in films are very formal and conservative like this, reflective of their class origins.  Unless it’s the Big Lebowski blowing ashes in your eyes...and you decide to go bowling.  "And what was that shit about Vietnam, Walter?"

Mob boss?

Yet some people don’t even have a funeral of any kind.  The immediate family might gather around the ashes urn in the cemetery and say a few words.  They are probably not religious.  Sometimes one member of a family will bury an urn without even talking to other family members about what they are doing - as if they 'owned' the funeral. 

Others have the full Church reception, coffee and sweets, long ceremony, open casket and only the preacher speaking.  That is an Evangelical Lutheran ceremony, which is a church service with prepared texts and the singing of designated hymns to ‘unite’ the congregation in meandering vocalizations.  The preachers almost never know the dead intimately so they have to read a description prepared by the family.  Sometimes there is not even that. This denomination has softened up a bit to go for cremation as the years go on. 

No talk of the departed by family or friends at a small-town Presbyterian ceremony in the early 1970s either.  It was the style of the time, giving religion and the minister everything. We carried the heavy casket and body out to the waiting hearse and nearly dropped it going up the stairs.  The body was installed in a ‘freezer’ at the cemetery until spring because the ground was frozen.  No cemetery scene there.

The Congregationalists on the other hand allow family and friends to talk after the minister has said their piece.  Like most funerals, there are pictures or home movies to help the living remember the dead.  There is food to eat, songs to be sung, organs to play and sometimes favorite secular songs are included.  I went to one ‘bifurcated’ ceremony officiated over by a right-wing conservative pastor burbling over with praise for God and Jesus, but held in a non-religious ‘chapel’ at the main cemetery in Minneapolis.  The senior, liberal member of the departed presided in competition with the pastor, and gave the lead talk, as was also allowed by the Congregationalists. This one was live-streamed for those who could not make it.  Many don’t or can't go to funerals because they are far away, as families are scattered across the U.S. or world.

It is almost universal now in the U.S. that services, internments and the like do not always have to occur immediately, as there is no health risk or raw body anymore. 

Like weddings, funerals are changing.  Instead of church services, atheists and agnostics have events in bars, in people’s homes, even in a book store.  I’ve been to remembrances in packed living rooms where everyone who wants to speaks and there is no religious symbolism anywhere. Same with bars, where the drinks are hoping to lubricate Finnegan Awake again while anyone says their piece and the dead get to hear their favorite music played.  Here at May Day it's had 3 packed events for former elderly comrades who have died with no religious symbolism, just talking, stories, jokes and laughs. Because funerals – or remembrances - are really for the living.  Tears are few and that is also observed, especially when some linger into their 100s or were in very poor health.  The family might also have a church service after a ‘remembrance,’ or not, depending on their political and cultural leanings.

Another notable ceremony was organized by the friends of the departed who was a lesbian leftist activist.  These women had it again at the non-religious, ‘chapel-like’ building in Minneapolis’ biggest cemetery.  There many speakers, her favorite secular rock and pop music and a good time was had by all. I think only a few members of the family attended, because as I recall most objected to her 'lifestyle.'

Cremation has now overtaken formaldehyde. Caskets have become absurd.  Some are doing ‘natural burials’ wrapped in a rug or textiles.  Ashes end up in lakes, in rivers, in the ground, in favorite places, sometimes just on a shelf for a long time.  Words might be spoken by the family while the ashes are scattered.  In the Big Lebowski the ashes didn’t even end up in the Pacific, Donny's favorite body of water. Joss sticks are burnt in memory by others.  There are small alters on the Day of the Dead.  Sometimes the grave stone is misspelled and there is nothing buried there at all.  It’s just a marker.   And sometimes there is no marker at all, the body lost underground, buried in a packed Swiss cemetery under other caskets, 6 deep.

Funereal, yes.

P.S. - "Funeral" Scene in the Big Lebowski:

Prior reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “Captain Fantastic,” “Unlikeable Protagonists and Ulysses,” “November” *(Galan) or the word ‘funeral.

The Kultur Kommissar

June 16, 2024