Archive for June, 2010

The World Cup

June 25, 2010

There’s an argument going around among the Left about how we should approach the World Cup. The accepted wisdom says that we should only root for teams that come from former colonies, and under no circumstances should we root for the United States. I can’t really buy this argument. After all, we’re talking about soccer teams, not armies. To view the World Cup in this way is to invest it with more significance than it should have. What’s more, the young people playing these games have nothing to do with what their governments may have done in the past. (I can’t help but point out here that after Algeria lost to the U.S., one of their players slapped a female reporter in the face. Just because someone is from a former colony doesn’t necessarily means he’s saintly.)

Of course, there will be obnoxious displays of patriotism. However, American fans are by no means the worst offenders in this regard. And we won’t have to worry about the tea baggers hopping on the soccer bandwagon. Like their leader, Glen Beck, they probably think that soccer is a foreign plot to corrupt their precious bodily fluids. Which, if you think about it, is actually a good reason to root for the U.S. team.

Update: It’s clear that the U.S. have a way to go before becoming a soccer powerhouse. Ghana simply had a better team. American fans can at least find comfort in the thought that the U.S. didn’t embarrass themselves the way France and Italy did.

At the bar where I watched the game, there was a small group that rooted for Ghana. So much for the claim that American fans are too nationalistic. By the way, I’ve been told that the British tabloids are pumping up England’s game against Germany as a replay of World War II. Oh, brother.

Update 2: A British blog claims that the game was a defeat for U.S. imperialism. I don’t think so. Obama & Co. aren’t going to lose any sleep over a soccer game. However, Dave Zirin has a good article about why it has emotional meaning for Africans.

Looking for Eric

June 25, 2010

I had trepidations about going to see Looking for Eric, the latest film from Ken Loach. The trailer makes it look like one of those “feel good” movies. Usually, “feel good” movies make me want to slash my wrists. However, since I”ve always liked Loach’s work, I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be better than the trailer made it look. (It’s not often you can say that about a film.) It also turned out to be a “feel good” movie after all, but this was one that actually did make me feel good.

The film tells the story of Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), who works as a postman. Eric feels dissatisfied with his life and alienated from his children and from his ex-wife. He contemplates committing suicide. One day, while he’s stoned, his hero, the footballer, Eric Catona (playing himself), appears before him. Catona begins giving him advice on how to deal with his problems. His advice is especially needed when Eric’s son, Ryan, becomes involved with a gangster. The latter makes Ryan hide a gun that he uses for crimes. When Eric tries to make the gangster take the gun back, the latter sets his dog on him. The police raid Eric’s apartment looking for the gun, but they fail to find it. Catona advises Eric to tell his co-workers about his problem, saying “you must trust your teammates.”

Looking for Eric celebrates the idea that people can help one another with their problems. This is a notion that has become intellectually unfashionable in this age of neoliberalism. My only problem with the film is that it’s never really made clear why the gangster makes Ryan keep his gun, especially since the gangster looks rich enough to own an arsenal. I suppose, however, that it’s churlish to nitpick with a film that gave me so much pleasure.

Ka’iulani

June 19, 2010

I went to see the British film Princess Kaiulani, which tells the story of Ka’iulani, a member of the Hawaiian royal family, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. Ka’iulani was a remarkable woman whose life story could make for an interesting film. Unfortunately, writer and director Marc Forby apparently had no idea what to do with it. Most of the film is concerned with the time that Ka’iulani spent living in England. Her life there is depicted as a combination of Dickensian morality tale and Harlequin Romance. She is sent to a private school, where she is tormented by an evil headmistress who could have stepped out of a Disney cartoon. She falls in love with an Englishman who is obsessed with bicycles. In the film’s climactic scene, she has to make a choice between marrying Bicycle Boy or dedicating her life to her people. It doesn’t get any cornier than that.

This film has a made-for-TV look and feel to it. To let us know that a scene takes place in New York, the Statue of Liberty is ostentatiously shown in the background. The film becomes downright surreal when we’re shown the White House in the middle of a forest. (I swear, I’m not making this up.)

There are so many things this film could have dealt with that would have been interesting. For example, Ka’iulani was an accomplished painter. Here is an example of her work:

There is no mention of her artwork in the film. She knew Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote a poem about her. Again, there is no mention of this in the film. Though the film does acknowledge that the annexation of Hawaii was a great crime, it doesn’t show what this meant for ordinary Hawaiians. Instead of giving us a thought-provoking and entertaining film, Forby opted to serve up a bunch of Hollywood clich├ęs

The Invisible Hand of the Marketplace

June 13, 2010

I’ve been intending for some time to write a post about the gulf oil spill, but I’ve been having trouble getting my head around the sheer enormity of what is happening. This is clearly an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented scale, which could have devastating consequences for decades to come. What we are facing is a national emergency. Yet, Obama’s response has been curiously passive. He has pretty much left it up to BP to try to solve the problem (with some help from the Coast Guard). He seems more interested in threatening Iran and persecuting whistleblowers. Obama has only made two trips to the gulf coast. On the second one, he posed for photographers on a beach where he picked up tar balls. The beach was cleaned before his arrival.

I have a suspicion that Obama would rather not think about what is happening in the gulf. This event, more any other, exposes the complete vacuity of neoliberal ideology, which is his religion. The number of oil spills more than quadrupled during this decade. Should this be surprising? For years now, the government has been controlled by people who are ideologically opposed to government regulation. They would rather have the regulators in the Minerals Management Service downloading pornography onto their computers than have them interfere with the magical invisible hand of the marketplace. (I’m tempted here to make a joke about what the MMS employees were doing with their own hands, but I’m just too angry). The MMS helped to make the gulf oil spill possible, just as the inertness of the SEC (where, coincidentally, people were also downloading pornography onto their computers) helped to make the 2008 meltdown of the financial markets possible.

It’s obvious that even by the low standards of capitalism, neoliberalism has been a failure. Yet Obama & Co. desperately cling to its tenets.

By the way, I found this on wikipedia:

    Since 20 April 2010, when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers, 27 new offshore drilling projects have been approved by MMS. All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP. Two were submitted by the UK firm, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment.

The inmates are in charge of the asylum.

Update: it turns out that the Marshall Islands had responsibility for the safety inspections at the Deepwater Horizon. See here.

Israel Declares War on the World

June 2, 2010

Well, the Israelis might as well at this point. I don’t think it was an accident that they attacked the Free Gaza Flotilla while it was still in international waters. The Israelis wanted to spit on international law, and by extension, on the whole international community. As if that didn’t drive the point home, soon afterwards an Israeli soldier shot a tear gas canister into the face of an American woman at a demonstration on the West Bank, causing her to lose her left eye. Do you think the U.S. government will protest this? Probably not, since they didn’t protest the murder of Rachel Corrie. I expect that Congress will pass another resolution supporting Israel’s war crimes. Meanwhile, the Turkish government is protesting the killing of Turkish civilians. So which government do you think is more democratic, ours or Turkey’s? A government that doesn’t care about the lives of its own citizens is not democratic.

It apparently doesn’t matter to the Israelis that Turkey is a long-time ally of theirs. I guess they figure that as long as they have the support of the U.S. government and the U.S. media, they can treat everyone else with impunity. However, with the U.S. military bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the U.S. economy struggling, American influence in the world has begun to wane. The Israelis are playing what will ultimately prove to be a losing game.