Archive for September, 2012

Good Vibrations

September 27, 2012

Good, clean, wholesome fun. Plus backstabbing.

Just when you thought that the long, tortured saga of the Beach Boys couldn’t possibly get any more surreal, they are back in the news. That’s right, everyone’s favorite dysfunctional California family is at it again. Just recently, Mike Love, who owns the rights to the band’s name, fired fellow band members, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks. The reasons are pecuniary. You see, the Beach Boys have planned an upcoming reunion tour. Love explains:

    You’ve got to be careful not to get overexposed. There are promoters who are interested [in more shows by the reunited line-up], but they’ve said, ‘Give it a rest for a year’. The Eagles found out the hard way when they went out for a second year and wound up selling tickets for $5.”

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t even pay five dollars to see the Eagles. Lyin’ Eyes was the most overplayed song of the 1970’s. Seriously, if I ever hear that song again, it’s possible that I might get violent. Anyway, you would think that Love would imagine the Beach Boys to be more popular than the Eagles. I guess he must be a self-effacing guy. He is still planning on having the reunion tour, although he will be the only original member of the band. That’s right, Love will be having a reunion with himself. Several years ago, I saw a reunion of Jefferson Airplane. It had two original members of the band, so I guess it qualified as a reunion of sorts. What Love is doing, however, strikes me as being the musical equivalent of one hand clapping.

Not surprisingly, there has been some sour grapes about all this. Brian Wilson said:

    I’m disappointed and can’t understand why he doesn’t want to tour with Al, David, and me… We are out here having so much fun. After all, we are the real Beach Boys.

So, all Brian Wilson wants to do is have fun, whereas his cousin, Mike Love, wants to make money. Clearly, Love is the more serious person. I suspect that Wilson belongs to that 47% of the population that Mitt Romney says is sponging off the other fifty-three percent. (It’s perhaps worth noting here that Love is a Republican.) You can’t stop progress, Brian Wilson. If you don’t like it, start your own band.

Oh, wait…

(The author is currently working on a biography of the Beach Boys titled, Those Wacky Wilsons. Look for it at a finer bookstore near you.)

Dr. Ismail Salami and the “Clash of Cultures”

September 26, 2012

Ismail Salami, Shakespearean scholar, author of children’s books, spouter of gibberish.

Dissident Voice has recently posted this cracking good article by Ismail Salami, entitled West Braces for Clash of Cultures. (No one I know is bracing for a clash of cultures, but then maybe I just don’t move through the right social circles.) The article begins:

    With the publication of the profane pictures of the holy Prophet of Islam in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the West seems to be consciously moving in a direction where chaos will dominate the international arena and a clash of cultures will inevitably run deeper for an indefinite period of time.

A literary agent once said to me, “You’ve got to grab the reader by the throat and lift him out of his chair.” Dr. Salami (I’m trying hard not to go for the obvious joke here) has clearly accomplished this with this extraordinary paragraph/run-on sentence. But what exactly does it mean? In the first half, he seems to suggest that Charlie Hebdo is published by somebody named “the West”. In the second half, he seems to be saying that a “clash of cultures” will “run deeper” (like a submarine?).

Clearly, Salami is a master of the Nietzschean aphoristic syle. However, he can be shockingly blunt when he puts his mind to it:

    There are abortive attempts by western analysts to interpret the two baneful incidents in the light of freedom of expression and thereby explain away the emotional hurt of the Muslim world.

That’s right, 1.6 billion Muslims will not be able to sleep tonight because of some cartoons in an obscure left-wing newspaper in France. If you believe that, I’ve got some property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

    However, to an intellectually trained mind, this seems more than just an insult to Islam and the Muslims.

Of course, those of us without intellectually trained minds just have no idea what the fuck is going on, do we? (By the way, someone needs to explain to Dr. Salami that “intellectually trained mind” is redundant.)

    The calculated move of the French magazine [sic] in publishing the insulting cartoons immediately after the blasphemous film indicates a united front forming against Islam in the West.

Damn right. As soon as the right-wing Christian producers of Innocence of Muslims had finished filming, they immediately called up their left-wing atheist comrades in France and said, “It’s your turn, bros!” Tag team style.

    On the one hand, the move can be seen as an attempt to help escalate the crisis in the Middle East region and on the other hand to plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.

“… plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.” This may not be worthy of Shakespeare, but it’s almost worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.

    Should we naively believe that the anti-Islam film which has caused much uproar and intellectual chagrin in the Muslim world is the work of a Coptic Christian Egyptian fraudster, a small-time porn director and a bunch of extremists who harbor deep hatred against Islam?

Uh… yes? Is this some sort of trick question?

    This is a good question and it deserves an answer.

As my Aunt Bea used to say, “Every good question deserves an answer.”

    Still, the answer seems to be found in the incident which followed the film i.e. the publication of the blasphemous cartoons.

Uh… what?

    Seen from an analytical point of view, the entire scenario apparently tilts the scale in favor of the Zionists who capitalize on a large-scale fracas between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. In fact, they are the ones who will catch the bigger fish in these trouble waters.

Bigger than whose fish?

    Amidst this craftily authored plan [yeah it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?], Israel has commenced a series of war games in Golan Heights, the biggest the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has conducted in the six years since the second Lebanon war on Hezbollah in 2006. Military sources say the war game looks like a real war with tens of thousands of soldiers and senior officers, including the artillery and the air force taking part. Israeli officials have announced that the situation in Syria is precariously volatile and that the country is in possession of a huge arsenal of chemical weapons which they fear might fall into the hands of wrong people stockpile if President Bashar Assad is ousted. This is the excuse which they use to justify their military show-off. In point of fact, Israel is readying itself to wage a military encounter in the region by using the anti-Islam scenario.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but the last two sentences seem to contradict each other. If Israel can use an alleged chemical weapons stockpile as an excuse to intervene in Syria, why would they need to use “the anti-Islam scenario” (whatever that is)? (By the way, the Israelis have never needed an excuse to do anything.)

One can clearly see why the editors of Dissident Voice thought this article was worth posting. What better way to understand what is currently happening in the Muslim world than by reading gibberish?

I feel inspired to write my own article for Dissident Voice. It will be a learned dissertation on why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Watch for it.

Random Thoughts on the Current Troubles

September 15, 2012

The growing inter-connectedness of the world does not always redound to our advantage. Case in point: a cheesy movie made in a strip mall in Monrovia, California, causes riots and the deaths of four people on the other side of the world. We are living in the Global Village, and just as Marshall McLuhan warned, it is filled with “panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.” Fear increasingly becomes people’s normal state of existence, because they are increasingly bombarded with ideas and facts that they don’t understand or only partially understand.

Reading the comments on threads on other sites, I am struck by how many people have no desire to try to understand what is happening. We have an amazing informational tool in the form of the Internet, yet some people would prefer to use it for spewing hate and parading their ignorance. Sad.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, alias “Sam Bacile” is the auteur responsible for that blood and sand epic, Desert Warrior Innocence of Muslims. Nakoula is a Coptic Christian from Egypt, yet he told the Wall Street Journal that he is an Israeli and that the film was funded by Jewish donors. The kindest thing one cam assume here is that Nakoula wanted to prevent any blame for the film being placed on Egypt’s Coptic community, yet there is something sinister about the fact that Nakoula invented a story about non-existent Jewish donors. One has to question what game Nakoula is really trying to play.

The cast and crew of the film say they were duped, and I believe them. The 14-minuste clip on Youtube is heavily (and badly) dubbed. These people will be haunted by this for the rest of their lives. They were used by Nakoula, Steve Klein, Terry Jones and other right-wing Christians to advance their twisted political agenda.

Mapping American Decline

September 11, 2012



USA Today has two maps on its website, showing which counties in the U.S. have substantial poverty rates. (You can find an interactive version of the maps here. One is for 1980 and the other is for 2010. The colored areas indicate a poverty rate of 20% or more. The dark brown areas indicate poverty among the elderly, the light brown areas indicate childhood poverty, and the gray areas indicate a combination of the two.

Overall, the maps give the impression that Americans are poorer today than they were thirty years ago. Also, there has been a shift from poverty among the old to poverty among children. This is perhaps because declining wages have resulted in more children being raised in poverty. One is also struck by the increase in the poverty rate in Western states (with the notable exception of Utah). This may indicate that the inland West is being largely passed over in the new globalized neoliberal economy.

One thing that is clear from these maps is that the southern half of the U.S. has always been poorer than the northern half. This is probably the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and so-called “right-to-work” laws. This shows what a sorry joke the much bally-hooed “New South” is. It’s worth noting that while the population of this part of the country has been steadily increasing, it has apparently not gotten any wealthier.

There are two large areas where poverty has not apparently increased substantially. One is a region that the French geographer, Jean Gottmann, called “Megalopolis”. It extends roughly from Boston along the Atlantic coast to Washinton, D.C. (Judging from these maps, one can add northern Virginia, Vermont, and New Hampshire to this.) This is the most densely populated region in the country. (Note how lightly populated counties in the West have gotten poorer.) It’s also a region with major port cities. This no doubt shows the importance of global trade to the economy. This region also has a good deal of high tech companies

The Great Lakes region has has also been relatively steady, with the notable exceptions of Michigan and Ohio, which have been hit hard by outsourcing in the automobile industry.

Also indicating the importance of trade and technology is the fact that the major West Coast ports, plus the Silicon Valley and Hawaii, have been doing comparatively well. Los Angeles and Long Beach appear to be the exceptions here, but bear in mind that Los Angeles County covers an enormous area, mostly desert and mountains, so this may be deceiving.

Note also that the poorer states tend to be what pundits call “red states”, that is, they tend to vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections. Since Republicans don’t even pretend to care about the poor, one must assume that this is due to social conservatism. Clearly, we on the left have our work cut out for us.

Jean Bricmont

September 5, 2012

The August 31 edition of CounterPunch contains an interview with the Belgian writer and physicist, Jean Bricmont, conducted by Kurosh Ziabari. I agree with most of what he says, but he makes a couple of highly problematic arguments. In response to a question about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Bricmont says:

    Well, I think one has to make a difference between support for Israel and the desire to “devour” oil. The two policies are not the same and are, in fact, contradictory. As, I think, Mearsheimer and Walt have shown, the pro-Israel policies of the U.S. are to a large extent driven by the pro-Israel lobby and do not correspond to or help their economic or geo-strategic interests. For example, as far as I know, there would be no problem for our oil companies to drill in Iran, if it weren’t for the sanctions imposed on that country; but the latter are linked to the hostility to Iran from Israel, not from any desire to control oil.

I can’t quite agree with this. Does Bricmont really think that the U.S. derives no advantage from having a heavily armed ally in the Middle East? The Arab Spring exposed the fragility of the U.S.’s client states in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, is rock solid. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to have a “policeman” in the Middle East. As for drilling for oil in Iran, even if there were no sanctions it would be impossible, because Iran has a nationalized oil industry.

From this, Bricmont immediately segues into another argument:

    The second remark is that the anti-war people are not necessarily on the left. True, there is a big part of the Right that has become neo-conservative, but there is also a big part of the Left that is influenced by the ideology of humanitarian intervention. However, there is also a libertarian Right, Ron Paul for example, that is staunchly anti-war, and there are some remnants of a pacifist or anti-imperialist Left. Note that this has always been the case: the pro and anti-imperialist position, even back in the days of colonialism, do not coincide with the Left-Right divide, if the latter is understood in socio-economic terms or in “moral” terms (about gay marriage for example).

    What we do not have is a consistent anti-war movement; to build the latter one would have to focus on war itself and unite both sides of the opposition (Right and Left). But if movements can be built around other “single issues,” like abortion or gay marriage, that put aside all socio-economic problems and class issues, why not?

This is the same as the “left-right” alliance argument that the late Alexander Cockburn used to make. This idea has always been a non-starter, for reasons that should be obvious. These “anti-war” conservatives all have terrible politics. Pat Buchanon is a racist. Ron Paul has ties to white supremacist groups. Israel Shamir is an anti-Semite. These things are not accidents. The supposed “anti-imperialism” of such people is really just the outward expression of an essentially nativist world-view. It is simply absurd to think that leftists can march side-by-side with racists and neo-fascists. Bricmont might as well talk about why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012)

September 3, 2012

Sun Myung Moon was one of the greatest entrepreneurial geniuses of the twentieth century. Like L. Ron Hubbard, he grasped the essential truth that religion is a business. You promise salvation to people, and they pay you money for it. (Salvation is a special kind of commodity. Although it has no form or substance, it is nonetheless fungible.) His Unification Church is quite the corporate conglomerate. According to the Associated Press:

    The church’s holdings included the Washington Times newspaper; Connecticut’s Bridgeport University; the New Yorker Hotel, a midtown Manhattan art deco landmark, and a seafood distribution firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the U.S. It acquired a ski resort, a professional football team and other businesses in South Korea. It also operates a foreign-owned luxury hotel in North Korea and jointly operates a fledgling North Korean automaker.

All in all, Moon didn’t do badly for a man who was sent to complete Christ’s work on Earth.

In 1991, Moon traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim Il Sung, who was himself a messiah of sorts. The two of them got along famously, no doubt because they had so much in common. Imagine Jesus and Mohammed meeting at a barbecue and talking shop. It must have been something like that.

When I was young, I attended a college in Boston. The place was lousy with Moonies. They had an office across the street from the campus. They were always trying to recruit people. One day, while I was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch, a young East Asian man came up to me and started giving me the Moonie spiel. He talked about how corrupt our society is and how we need to do something about it. I finally got irritated, and I said to him, “If that’s the way you feel, why don’t you go back to your own country.” That was not a good thing to say, I admit. The guy had a humorless, monomaniacal air about him. Later on in my life, I would meet members of sectarian left groups who had that same quality about them.

Still, I would argue that Moon didn’t do nearly as much harm as Mitt Romney and his Bain Capital did. The worst that Moon did was make people take part in mass weddings that everyone else thought were creepy. I know a guy whose parents were married in one of these ceremonies, and he seems pretty normal. (Well, to me, any way.) Whereas Bain put people out of work and destroyed whole communities.

Some Thoughts on the Republican Convention

September 2, 2012

“You shoulda seen it. The corn dog was this big! And I ate the whole thing!” The audience roars its approval.

You’ve got to admire the discipline of the Republican Party. They managed to make it through their three-day convention with only a few racist incidents. Truly, this is a party ready to rule.

In his keynote speech, Chris Christie, the morbidly obese governor of New Jersey, bragged about how his state has had a balanced budget three years in a row. This drew rapturous applause from the audience. Of course, Christie neglected to mention that New Jersey’s economy is doing worse than the rest of the country’s. After all, balanced budgets don’t create economic prosperity. Had Christie mentioned this fact, though, it would not have mattered to the delegates. For Republicans, a balanced budget is the Holy Grail of public policy. It is the ultimate goal of their holy quest. Strange to say, the last three Republican presidents failed to have balance budgets, an unfortunate result of their enthusiasm for foreign adventures and tax cuts for their friends. Ah, human frailty.

There has been a lot of grousing about all the lies that Paul Ryan told in his acceptance speech. Well, what do you expect the poor guy to do? Do you really think people are going to get excited about the prospect of paying higher taxes just so that rich people – er, I mean job creators – can pay lower taxes? So, instead Ryan takes us into an alternate reality, complete with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

As for Clint Eastwood’s much maligned speech, I actually found it entertaining. My only criticism is that instead of an empty chair, he should have had a ventriloquist dummy that looked like Obama. That would have worked more smoothly. I noticed that when Eastwood mentioned that Obama has been going around to colleges and universities to talk about student loans, the crowd laughed uproariously. I guess there is nothing that old white people find funnier than the thought of the younger generation drowning in debt.

Romney’s speech was simply dull and dishonest, which was appropriate for the occasion.