Archive for August, 2012

Mad Russians and the American Left

August 31, 2012

Soon to be a contributor to CounterPunch and Dissident Voice.

Back in the 1930’s, there was a radio comedian named Bert Gordon, who was billed as the Mad Russian. His tagline was “How do you dooo!”, which you can hear in some Warner Brothers cartoons from that period. Gordon was enormously popular in his time, but, alas, he is largely forgotten today. Yet, the spirit of the Mad Russian lives on at some left-wing websites. At CounterPunch, Israel Shamir has become their resident authority on Russia, the Dreyfus Affair, and conspiracy theories.

Not to be outdone, CP’s rival, Dissident Voice, have their own mad Russian, Andre Fomine. His latest article is entitled Pussy Riot, the CIA, and Cultural Terrorism. In this article, we learn the shocking truth about Pussy Riot:

    No doubt it was not a single spontaneous act by a group of dissolute individuals but an episode of a much wider global campaign to shake and eventually ruin traditional societies and institutions. It is being carried out by the same powerful circles which inspired — e.g. offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

Oh, my. From Pussy Riot to Danish cartoons. Who could possibly be behind this fiendish global conspiracy? Need you ask?

    It is an open secret that avant-gardism became popular in the West in 1950-1960s thanks to unprecedented support from the CIA and was used by the United States as a powerful ideological weapon.

The CIA. Why, of course! Aren’t they behind everything?

Fomine ends his article with a dire warning: “The puppeteers of Modern Art and Cultural Terrorism keep carrying out their mission.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Modern Art! Run! Flee! Hide!

In another article, entitled The Last Victory of Muammar Gaddafi, Fomine exposes the sordid truth behind the “Arab Spring”:

    First, there was nothing spontaneous in the wave of 2011 North Africa and Middle East revolutions. The popular unrests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, etc were carefully prepared, organized, financed and supported through international media. Quite surprisingly, Al-Jazeera played a critically important role in fueling the conflicts within Arabic societies spreading disinformation and blocking truthful and sober voices.

The media did it! And, as we all know, media = CIA. Fomine, however, ends his article on a cheerful note:

    Thus we are entering very interesting, perhaps decisive times. Muammar Gaddafi has won his last battle despite eluding vigor and insolent pressure from everywhere. Will there be any new Gaddafis born by Muslim mothers to resist the new world order? We hope and pray for that.

More Gaddafis! That’s exactly what we need! The comments on the thread for this article were adulatory. (“Excellent article. I am glad that the author had the courage to write it.” I’m not sure that “courage” is the right word.) When one commenter was churlish enough to point out that Fomine offers no evidence to support his claim about the Arab revolutions, he was promptly smacked down by another commenter who wrote:

    How do you expect the writer can supply you with what you call proof?!
    Do you expect him to hack computers or bulglarise certain offices and displays the documents here for you to see??!! Is that make sense?!
    There is something called commonsense combined with knowledge of history, precedents and good analytical ability!

Yeah, who needs evidence?

As you can imagine, I wanted to learn more about this truly original thinker, Andre Fomine. I found out that he edits a web journal called Oriental Review. There, you can find excerpts from a book by Nikolay Starikov entitled Who Made Hitler Attack Stalin. The latest installment is titled Leon Trotsky, Father of German Nazism. Lest you think that this title is meant as a joke, here is how the article begins:

    Who organized the February and October revolutions in Russia and the November revolution in Germany? The Russian and German revolutions were organized by British intelligence, with the possible support of the United States and France.

That’s right, British intelligence must have engineered the Russian Revolution, since it was a strategic defeat for the British empire. This is common sense. Displaying his extraordinary narrative skill, Starikov tells us:

    Dropped into Russia by British intelligence, thanks to a secret agreement with German secret services aboard the “closed wagon,” the Bolsheviks refused to leave the political scene.

That’s right, the Bolsheviks (all of them) were parachuted into Russia inside a sealed train car. (It must have been awfully uncomfortable, but they were willing to endure anything for the revolution.) Later, we learn:

    The main funding supplied to the Russian Revolution from American bankers was transferred through accounts in neutral Sweden and briefcases of inconspicuous figures stealthily entering the country.

Because there’s nothing bankers love more than a government that’s dedicated to abolishing capitalism.

Just by clinking on certain links on the Dissident Voice website, you can find this treasure trove of occult knowledge.

How do you dooo!

Driving a Stake Through Ron Paul’s Heart

August 29, 2012

“Gee, you mean those articles are racist? Gosh, I guess I should read my own newsletter.”

There is one thing I will say for Mitt Romney: any man who disrespects Ron Paul can’t be all bad. Paul is the right-wing libertarian who is mistakenly believed to be “anti-imperialist” by some of the more gullible sections of the left. Romney’s supporters prevented some Maine delegates for Paul from being seated at the Republican National Convention. If you ask me, the fewer Paul supporters there are, the better off we all are. Earlier today, Paul supporters chanted “USA! USA!” while a Puerto Rican woman was trying to speak. Republicans are so classy.

Seventeen delegates from Nevada illegally voted for Paul. I honestly can’t see how anyone from Nevada can be a libertarian. The state’s whole economy is based on government infrastructure. I guess these Nevada libertarians want to shut down Hoover Dam and turn Las Vegas into a ghost town. (Hmm, Las Vegas as a ghost town would be a pretty good roadside attraction. My inner capitalist is intrigued.) Or maybe they want the casinos to each have their own coal-fired power plant.

A number of people have observed that the states that receive the most government largesse are the one where you hear the most violent anti-government rhetoric. I don’t what the psychological reason for this is, but I wish to hell people would cut it out.

Israel Shamir and CounterPunch

August 25, 2012

Why does CounterPunch, which is ostensibly a left-wing website, continue to post articles by the neo-fascist nutjob, Israel Shamir? You only have to read Shamir’s website to see that the guy is crazy. Yet he is apparently not too crazy to be published by CounterPunch.

CounterPunch has just posted an article by Shamir entitled The Secret History of Pussy Riot. In it, he repeatedly refers to the members of the band by the misogynist term, “viragos”. This fact alone should have been sufficient reason to reject the article. Alas, it’s actually even worse than that. Shamir argues that the Putin government was right to send these women to prison for merely expressing their opinions. He writes:

    Two years’ sentence is quite in line with prevailing European practice. For much milder anti-Jewish hate talk, European countries customarily sentence offenders to two-to-five years of prison for the first offence. The Russians applied hate crime laws to offenders against Christian faith, and this is probably a Russian novelty. The Russians proved that they care for Christ as much as the French care for Auschwitz, and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ may be applied only to protect Jews and gays. The Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.

Why does CounterPunch insult its readers by posting this garbage? The kindest thing one can assume here is that they didn’t bother to read this article.

Shamir has ties to the Lukaschenko dictatorship in Belarus. When David Irving was sentenced to prison for Holocaust deanial, Shamir wrote:

    Thus we should say: David Irving was sentenced for denial of Jewish superiority. His doom seals the reign of (albeit limited) freedom that began with the fall of Bastille. European history went full circle: from rejecting the rule of Church and embracing free thought, to the new Jewish mind-control on a world scale. Not only is Western Christian civilisation dead, but even its successor, secular European civilisation, has met its demise only a few days after its proud and last celebration by the Danish scribes. It was short-lived: about two hundred years from beginning to the end, the Europeans may once have had the illusion that they can live without an ideological supremacy. Now this illusion is over; and the Jews came in the stead of the old and tired See of St Peter to rule over the minds and souls of Europeans.

This is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. The Breivik shootings in Norway have shown that fascism is still a force to be reckoned with. Yet the editors of CounterPunch apparently think it is all a joke.

The Campaign

August 21, 2012

In a post earlier this year, I deplored the dearth of good movie comedies in recent years. It seems I spoke too soon, for I’ve seen four good comedies this year: Damsels in Distress, Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie, and now The Campaign. Although broad in its humor, this film is nevertheless a shrewd satire of the corruption and moral hypocrisy that pervade our political system.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a priapic Democratic congressman from North Carolina, is running unopposed for re-election, until he comes into the cross-hairs of the billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow), whose factories in China employ child labor. They want to open up similar factories in Brady’s congressional district. To this end, they persuade Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the well-intentioned, but not terribly bright, scion of a wealthy family, to run against Brady as a Republican. When Brady humiliates Huggins in their first debate, the Motches decide to bring in Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), an unprincipled political operator, to run Huggins’s campaign. Under Wattley’s tutelage, Huggins becomes an increasingly ruthless campaigner. Soon he and Brady are in a tight race.

The Campaign accurately parodies the shallow rhetoric of election campaigns in this country, including pandering to religious prejudice, spouting about “family values”, and making cheap appeals to patriotism. This movie’s cynicism, however, goes overboard sometimes. When, for example, Brady releases a video of himself having sex with Huggins’s wife, Mitzi (Sarah Baker), it causes Brady to pull ahead of Huggins in the polls. Would this happen in real life? Obviously not.

This film has a happy ending that seems tacked on and unconvincing. It seems that that the screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, and the director, Jay Roach, wanted to reassure us that “the system works”, despite having just demonstrated that the system does not work. Still, this movie will provide a welcome relief to those who are weary of this interminable and depressing presidential election.


August 14, 2012

Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 film, Alphaville, is a mixture of film noir, science fiction, and surrealist fantasy. At some time in the future, Lemmie Caution (Eddie Constantine) is sent as a secret agent to a city called Alphaville. Although Alphaville is located on another planet, Caution is able to drive there in his Ford Mustang (identified as a “Galaxie” in the film). Caution’s mission is to find a man named Leonard Nosferatu (Howard Vernon) and bring him back to Caution’s home planet. This task turns out to be harder than Caution anticipated, for it turns out that Nosferatu, who has changed his name to Prof. Von Braun, has taken over Alphaville, which he runs using a super computer called Alph 60. Von Braun has outlawed emotions such as love, as well as art and poetry. The government is continually eliminating words from the language, so it has to continually issue new dictionaries without the proscribed words. Von Braun believes that he is making the people of Alphaville into a “superior race”, who will be able to conquer the universe. Caution meets, and falls in love with, Von Braun’s daughter, Natacha (Anna Karina). She ends up risking her life to help him.

Alphaville is Godard’s protest against what he sees as the coldness and cultural vacuity of modern life. It is also an attack on totalitarianism. (These three things are apparently interrelated in Godards’s view.) The talk of a “superior race” is clearly meant to remind us of Hitler. The outlawing of words is meant to remind us of Stalin. (It’s also similar to Orwell’s notion of “newspeak”.) Von Braun is obviously named after Wernher Von Braun, the engineer who designed rockets first for the Nazis and then for the United States. He was seen by many people as the epitome of the amoral technocrat. For Godard, such a person acts an enabler for the political and social forces that are destroying our world.

My one criticism of this film is a lack of continuity in the character of Caution. In some scenes, he behaves like a cold-blooded killer, as well as a bit of a misogynist. Yet in other scenes, he talks about the power of love and of poetry. This inconsistency may due to the fact that the film was largely improvised.

Alphaville is prescient in some ways. Randianism, which calls for a world of self-interest without human connections, is becoming the unofficial philosophy of the U.S. ruling class. Welcome to Alphaville.

Paul Ryan

August 12, 2012

It used to be that the Republicans would run as the “no new taxes” party. Now we have a Republican ticket that is effectively promising to raise taxes on most Americans, while giving huge tax cuts to the richest Americans. At the risk of sounding portentous, I can’t help but wonder if we are entering a new phase of capitalism, one in which politicians no longer even pretend to care about the general welfare. Ronald Reagan pretended to be a friend of the working class, even as he attacked workers’ living standards. Romney and Ryan are effectively giving the finger to the working class. They are here to benefit the rich, and they want everyone to know it. The question is: how many Americans will buy this? True, there are a lot of people who have read Atlas Shrugged, but there are a lot more who haven’t. Not everybody has been indoctrinated into the Randroid zombie army. Not yet, anyway.

There must be a deep affinity between Romney and Ryan, for one can see no other reason why Romney would choose him. According to this article in the New York Times, Ryan doesn’t give Romney any electoral advantage. Being a Catholic, he won’t help the Mormon Romney with evangelicals, although he won’t hurt him either. The Catholic fanatic, Rick Santorum, had his strongest support during the primaries among Protestant fundamentalists. (Interestingly, Santorum tended to do poorly in states with large Catholic populations.)

Ryan’s proposed budget calls for cuts in Social Security and effectively scrapping Medicare. As I have pointed out before, attacking Social Security and Medicare is a losing argument for the Republicans, since their largest voting base consists of old people. Ryan has even echoed Rick Perry’s claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Perhaps Romney and Ryan are gambling that their supporters are too senile to know what they are talking about.

In this admiring article about Ryan from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (“Wisconsin’s Free Market Think Tank”), we learn: “With his father’s passing, young Paul collected Social Security benefits until age 18, which he put away for college.” Assuming that Ryan is a principled man, he would certainly want to return his ill-gotten gains from our national Ponzi scheme, wouldn’t he?

Beasts of the Southern Wild

August 7, 2012

Beasts of the Southern World tells the story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry) in a bayou community called Bathtub on the Gulf Coast. Wink, who has a terminal blood disease, is a stern father who wants Hushpuppy to be able to live on her own after he dies. A hurricane comes, and their home is engulfed by water. They and other residents of Bathtub then live in a house built on high stilts. They eventually succeed in blowing up a levee that is keeping the flood waters from draining away. Emergency personnel then show up and take them to a shelter. They eventually escape and return to Bathtub. Wink’s illness gets worse, and he appears to be dying. Hushpuppy and some friends then swim towards a light over the ocean, which Hushpuppy believes is where her mother is at.

The performances of Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry are what carry this film. They are so strong and so interesting to watch that you can almost overlook the coyness of the story. Of the various fantasy elements in this film, the one I found most annoying was some business about antarctic ice melting and releasing aurochses that then chase Hushpuppy. (The aurochses are depicted as looking like gigantic wild boars. They were actually the ancestors of modern cattle.) This struck me as nothing more than a destraction from the main story.

In an interview with Film Comment, the director, Benh Zeitlin, explains what he was trying to do with this film:

    When I first came here [Louisiana] a year after the storm, it was a totally surreal place,” says Zeitlin, who credits the phantasmagoric films of Emir Kusturica with inspiring him to become a filmmaker. “It seemed just like Biblical apocalypse, and whether or not that was every individual experience, it was important to me to kind of elevate the story, as I did with Glory, to the level of a myth or a folktale. Look, the politics of any event is always incredibly divisive: ‘It was all Bush’s fault.’ Or: ‘It was the local government.’ Black people. White people. None of which actually gets at the real tragedy or the real emotion of the event. To me, that’s sort of the purpose of myth and folklore, to be able to talk as an entire culture about something. So we have the story of the West, and there’s this cowboy, and we can revise the story of the cowboy depending on how we want to interpret our culture.

I’m not keen on this whole idea of creating “myths”. First of all, it shows a misunderstanding of the function that myths serve in primitive societies. Myths are a way for people to try to understand the world. Beasts of the Southern Wild is amusing to watch, but it doesn’t in any way help us to understand Hurricane Katrina. What’s more, this idea of “myths” seems to me to be a way of avoiding dealing with complex and possibly unpleasant topics. Moreover, I don’t understand Zeitlin’s aversion to the idea of assigning blame for the destruction of New Orleans. His argument smacks of that hippy-dippy-feel-good-kumbaya philosophy that forbids the idea of judging other people, which is the most pernicious legacy of the 1960’s counterculture.

Zeitlin shows talent as a director. I just wish he would drop this “myth” nonsense.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

August 2, 2012

Gore Vidal has died. I enjoyed reading his essays in the New York Review of Books, but I was never keen on his novels. (Although I did enjoy Julian.) Vidal’s acerbic criticisms of U.S. foreign policy and of this country’s plutocracy earned him an enthusiastic following among the left. However, Doug Henwood, who is generally an admirer of Vidal’s, reminds us that he had a “creepy nativist streak”. He recalls hearing Vidal express sympathy for the racist Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn. In the 1980’s, Vidal published an article titled The Empire Lovers Strike Back, in which he wrote:

    My conclusion: for America to survive economically in the coming Sino-Japanese world, an alliance with the Soviet Union is a necessity. After all, the white race is the minority race with many well-deserved enemies, and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers—or, worse, mere entertainment—for more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.

The kindest thing one can say about this is that it shows that Vidal was completely ignorant about Asia. Vidal surely must have been aware of the “Yellow Peril” rhetoric that was common in the early twentieth century. And bear in mind that he was making this argument in a country with a history of discrimination against Asians, including the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In the same article, Vidal says that Norman Podhoretz is not an “assimilated American”. This comment provoked accusations of anti-Semitism. Vidal once said of Hilton Kramer that his name “sounds like a hotel in Tel-Aviv”.

Also problematic for the left are the disturbing implications of Vidal’s ham-fisted writings on population control. He once said:

    If the human race is to survive, population will have to be reduced drastically, if not by atomic war then by law, an unhappy prospect for civil liberties but better than starving… it may already be too late to save this ark of fools.

Vidal would perhaps have been pleased to know that the birth-rate in Japan has been falling.

Despite all his faults, I am saddened by Vidal’s passing. He was a public intellectual, a type of person that is becoming increasingly rare in the United States. Unfortunately, the media often saw him as a figure of entertainment rather than enlightenment. They could never get enough of his silly fight with Norman Mailer or his tiresome feud with Truman Capote. It seems the media must trivialize everything, including writers.

Chris Marker (1921-2012)

August 1, 2012

The legendary filmmaker, Chris Marker, died on July 29, which happened to be his birthday. (It also happens to be my birthday.) His real name was Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve. He once said that the reason he used the name Chris Marker was because he traveled a lot and he wanted to use a name that people could easily pronounce. He served in the French resistance during World War II. After the War, Marker was one of the founders of the influential journal, Cahiers du cinéma. Marker worked in different media, but his best known work is the short film, La Jetee, in which he uses a series of black & white photographs to tell a haunting story about time travel. It is often shown in college art courses as an example of how simple images can be used to convey complex ideas and associations.

Marker’s other best known work is Sans Soleil, which is often called a documentary, although it would more accurately be called a cinematic essay, or perhaps a cinematic meditation. A woman narrator reads a series of letters sent to her by a fictitious cameraman named Sandor Krasna (presumably the letters were written by Marker himself), while film footage shot by Krasna is shown on screen. The film is structured in a non-linear, free-associative manner. It touches upon a vast array of ideas ranging from Japanese religious ideas to anti-colonial struggles in Africa to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The film seems longer than its hour and forty-four minute length. I actually mean that in a good way; one of the film’s ideas is that our perception of time can vary. Here is the full film: