When the gods dance...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Lateral State of America by NOAM CHOMSKY

The Occupy Times Interview

Since 2008, the latest crisis of capitalism has given birth to a new wave of horizontal and collective forms of organising in the United States: The occupation of the State Capitol of Wisconsin in early 2011 in opposition to Governor Scott Walker’s plan to drastically reduce collective bargaining rights. The Occupy movement and its notorious occupation of Zuccotti Park in late 2011, followed by similar occupations of public space across hundreds of American cities. And most recently, the network of relief hubs, organised at a community level and aimed at cultivating an atmosphere of mutual aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Indeed, Occupy Sandy has been at the forefront of filling the gaps where the state seems absent. The last few months has witnessed the development of tools for debt resistance, exemplified by numerous debtors’ assemblies held in city squares across America, and more recently by the Rolling Jubilee, which aimed to display the power of collective refusal of debt peonage.
One unifying thread that runs through these recent and varied forms of collective organisation is the lack of institutionalisation. In fact, institutionalised forms of collective bargaining have been declining for some time. Today, US union membership is lower than at any other time since 1933. Losses in private and public sector unions saw total union density fall from 11.8% to 11.3% last year. Meanwhile, anti-union laws are being pushed through state legislatures, most recently in Michigan.
One of the most prominent voices in the debates around collective bargaining and organising has been the MIT linguist and long-time political commentator Noam Chomsky. Recently, the OT sat down with Professor Chomsky in the hope that he might provide a few insights into recent developments on the American Left, and into conservatives’ fight against unions. Below are excerpts from the conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.–Occupy Times.
OT: After Hurricane Sandy, New York City seemed to turn into an authoritative vacuum. Nobody expected much help from the feds. Do you think that Occupy Sandy can capitalise on that feeling?
Noam Chomsky: The trouble is, it is a double-edged sword, because to the extent that Sandy or other citizens efforts are effective, they reduce the pressure on the federal government to stand up and do what it is supposed to do. That is a trap you want to be able to avoid. There also ought to be pressure on the feds to say: “You guys are supposed to be doing this.”
OT: So, Occupy Sandy and these various movements that have come out in the last year, they are double-edged in the sense that they alleviating the pressure we should put on [governments], but they are also desired responses in many ways.
NC: What ways? The trouble with saying “the government backs off” is that it only feeds the libertarians. The wealthy and the corporate sector are delighted to have government back off, because then they get more power. Suppose you were to develop a voluntary system, a community type, a mutual support system that takes care of social security – the wealthy sectors would be delighted.
OT: Absolutely, so it’s an interesting dilemma. The idea of mutual aid is very prevalent within Occupy Sandy. Because of the failure of government responses, it has resulted in this thing that can potentially be used against us in lots of ways.
NC: It’s difficult. In principle you are doing what a lot of communities ought to be doing. An organised community is just a government – in a democratic society at least, thus not in ours. Your problem is the effectiveness of the whole doctrinal system which has undermined any belief in democracy. You see it on the front page of every newspaper. Why is there a fuss now about raising taxes? In a democratic society, you would have the opposite pressure to raise taxes, because you appreciate taxes, taxes are what we pay for the things we decide to do. But if the government is a big alien force, we don’t want them to steal our money, so we’re against taxes.
OT: The idea of taxation seems so thoroughly demonised, even though it obviously results in things that everybody takes for granted.
NC: I think the demonisation is a consequence of the feeling that the government is not simply all of us formulating and carrying out our plans. If that’s what the government was, people wouldn’t object to taxes.
OT: There’s a lot of spillover from that sentiment – taxation and its implications for the average individual – to what we are seeing in terms of attacks on labour unions, like what just happened in Michigan.
NC: Its been going on for a 150 years, and it’s a very business-driven society today. In every society business hates labour, but the United States is run by businesses to an unusual degree. It has a very violent labour history. Several times in the last century, labour has been practically destroyed, just through violence, government violence, business violence. Strikers were being murdered in the United States in the late 1930s, and in other countries for decades.
Many legal instruments have been used to discipline the labour force across the USA over the past few decades. One of the most damaging forms of legislation is known as Right to Work law. It exists on the statute books of nearly half of American states, primarily in the South. Its main function is to prohibit the requirement that workers pay union fees as a condition of employment. This doesn’t prevent those who do not pay union membership fees from receiving the benefit of collective bargaining. The long term effects of the legislation, as with most laws designed to restrict labour rights, is a lowering of wages and worsening safety and health conditions for workers. Regions which utilise these laws are often dismissively referred to as “right to work for less” states by their opponents.
OT: What do you think of Michigan’s legalisation of collective bargaining or in-shop organising? Did the integration of potentially radical tactics from the labour force take the ground away from under it? Or have they been normalised?
NC: It just depends how it works. Legalising collective bargaining made it possible to develop labour unions, but it really depends how they work. Take the United States and Canada. They are pretty similar societies but organised labour has worked in quite different ways. The reason that Canada has a health system, and the US doesn’t, is because of the way the labour unions handled it. You had the same United Auto Workers on both sides of the border, and it was about the same time in the 1950s. The Canadian unions pressed for healthcare for everybody, the American unions pressed for healthcare for only themselves. So the Americans got a good contract, a reasonably good contract for UAW workers, but nobody else did, and so we end up with this monstrosity.
Furthermore the UAW leadership weren’t just thugs, they were serious and unbelievably naive. They thought they could make a compact with management and work together. But by 1979, the head of the UAW, Rick Frazier, gave an important speech – it’s probably on the internet. He pulled out of some labour management group that the Carter administration was setting up, realising it was a farce. He said that he realised a little late that business was fighting a one-sided class war against working people, that they don’t mean it when they sign these contracts, that they are just waiting for a chance to cut back and get out of them. And he said that he had finally figured out what workers knew 150 years ago: business is fighting a bitter class war, all the time. The business world is full of dedicated, vulgar Marxists who are always fighting a class war and the labour leadership didn’t understand it, or wanted not to understand it. In any event, they entered into these compacts. Business wanted to undercut them, they did, which is what is happening. Unions were demonised by massive propaganda. We have movies, advertising, everything; it’s moderately well studied. It’s pretty dramatic when you look at it, and it has had an effect.
My daughter teaches in a state college where the students are mostly working class. They don’t call themselves working class, she’s not allowed to use the term – it’s called middle class. Basically, they want to be nurses, police officers or skilled workers. She said she teaches labour history, and she says they just hate unions. Because they regard the union as something which forces you to go on strike, which steals your dues and doesn’t do anything for you. As far as that’s the case, they just hate unions.
Over the past few months, there has been a noticeable focus from activists on debt and its relationship to people’s labour and livelihoods. While debt is not a new phenomenon, the level of analysis has become more detailed after the 2008 crash and the rise of the Occupy Movement. There’s the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which has campaigned for some time against sovereign debt clawed from impoverished countries. Strike Debt is developing ideas around the debtor as a new political subject. The Rolling Jubilee collectively purchased distressed medical debt on secondary markets in order to instantly write it off as an act of solidarity. These initiatives, along with the European We Won’t Pay campaign, are some of the more recent movements against illegitimate debt that have grown to prominence.
OT: Looking at the Rolling Jubilee, it also is a double edged sword. On one hand you are helping someone dramatically by abolishing their thousands of dollars worth of medical debt. So instead of debt collectors buying it on the market and saying “You owe this amount of money” and giving you a principle balance and some other fee, you don’t have to pay it back. But on the other hand, you’re giving five-hundred thousand dollars to speculators on the market.
NC: And you’re also undercutting the government responsibility to do it in the first place. Political pressure that would lead them to do it. The same issue arises all the time. Let’s say with charity, when you give aid to homeless people, you’re taking away the community responsibility to do it, and in a democratic society, that usually means the government. And this is true, you can’t escape the world you’re in, you can tonly ry and change it. It’s not an argument against giving to charities…
OT: Absolutely. I don’t want to use the term morality, but there’s definitely a sense that it’s time to take action.
NC: We are responsible to other people. We should at the same time, and I think that’s what Occupy ought to be doing, create an understanding that there is a community responsibility. It’s not our responsibility, we’re doing it, because the community isn’t. It’s like schools: there’s community responsibility to make sure that kids go to school. People who want to privatise schools would be delighted if an individual charity sent particular kids to school, then it wouldn’t have to be a community responsibility and it would cost them less in tax money. But I think much deeper than that is that they want to undermine the conception of communal responsibility. That also goes back 150 years, back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. It’s remarkable to see how persistent it is – this idea that workers and working people were being driven from the farms into the factories. In England, the same thing happened basically a century earlier, and they bitterly resented it. The labour press from that time is very striking; people should read it and reprint it. I mean, it’s very radical. They had never heard of Marx, never heard of communists, but the press was just instinctively very radical. They were opposed to wage labour and regarded it as not very different from slavery. The main thing they opposed was what they called the “New Spirit of the Age” – ‘you gain wealth, forgetting anybody else’. So that’s what they’ve been driving into people’s heads for 150 years. I talk to MIT students, kind of upwardly mobile students, not Harvard, a lot of them are kind of behind [Ayn] Rand, “Why should I do anything for anyone else? I should be after it for myself.”
That sentiment has spread. Actually I think that’s what happened in Michigan. The anti-union feeling that has been built up is, “Why should that guy over there have a pension when I don’t?” In Wisconsin, that feeling was very strong. The labour movement was never able to get across the fact that these guys are hard working people who gave up their wages so they could have some benefits, they’re not stealing from you. That never got across. So the very widespread feeling even among union members was, ‘They got a pension, they got tenure. I don’t have a pension, I don’t got tenure, I’m just after myself, I don’t care.’ And that’s one of the problems with volunteer and popular activism: It builds a sense of solidarity among participants, but it undermines another sense of solidarity in the community at large. That’s really significant. I think that’s what underlies the massive attack against social security, which is really a bipartisan attack. Obama says we have to cut it, too. There’s no economic problem, but social security is based on the conception that you care about other people. That argument has become unpopular. But you got to drive that out of people’s heads. You have to make sure not to contribute to that.
OT: We were trying to think that if we had to describe Occupy Wall Street and the protests of the last year in a very succinct kind of way, it would probably be based on the idea that for generations prior there was a sense of working class solidarity and the idea of having collective power.
NC: You’re right, I thought the most important contribution of the Occupy movement was to recreate this mutual support system which was lacking in society. But it has this dual character: You have to figure out ways to do it which don’t undermine the broader conception of solidarity. ‘Actual solidarity’ is the slogan of the labour movement – well, it used to be.
OT: With that in mind, if Strike Debt is taking this approach where it’s focusing on debt, the commonality is that we’re not all workers, but we’re all debtors. Would you say that this is a rallying point?
NC: Sure. There are many points of commonality among people, say… schools. I don’t have kids who go to school, I suppose you don’t either, but nevertheless, many of us, we’re committed to making sure kids go to school. We’re part of that community and lots of other communities.
OT: But it’s much easier to say, “you’re a worker, you sell your labour for a wage.” It’s much easier to say that than it is to say: “You owe a debt and you have a solidarity to this person who also has debt.” How do you articulate that bond of solidarity?
NC: That’s the obvious point of contact. That’s the way health organising ought to work: Everybody is going to face health problems.
OT: It’s obvious that there is a need for that kind of thinking. But I’m not sure that it’s so obvious that you could communicate it to people and get people out on the street and organising amongst themselves.
NC: Well, you know, it certainly happened in other places. Again, Canada is not that different but at least it had something of that concept of solidarity. That’s how they got a national health system. Actually, one of the amazing things in Michigan is how the unions were never able to get across the point that even the concept ‘right to work’ is a lie. It’s ‘right to scrounge’. It has got nothing to do with work, but they could never get it across. When you mention that to people they say “yeah, I never thought of it”.
They don’t know what a scam it is to even call it “right to work.” That should have been a major educational issue, just like with pensions for public workers. They should have said: ‘Pension cuts mean that they cut back your wages’. Or take when Obama froze wages for federal workers and it was praised across the board. He was raising taxes – and this is right in the middle of saying ‘You’re not allowed to raise taxes’. A pay freeze for federal workers is identical with a tax on federal workers. Almost nobody pointed it out. We’re just losing a lot of opportunities
The same thing is to be done about debt, as I’m sure you’re doing it. A lot of the debt is just totally illegitimate. Take student debt. There’s no economic basis for it, it is just a tactic of control. You can prove that there’s no economic basis. Other countries don’t have it. Poor countries don’t have it, rich countries don’t have it, it exists only in the US – so it can’t be economically necessary. The United States was a much poorer country in the 1950’s, much poorer, but it had basically free education.
OT: Sure, the NHS in the UK was founded after World War II when the debt was far greater in proportion to the nation’s wealth.
NC: Even in the US, which came out of the war very rich, it was nowhere near as rich as it is today. But the GI bill gave us free education. Yes it was selective: only whites, very few women, but it was free education for a huge amount of people who would have never gone to school. In the 1940s, when I went to college, I went to an IVY league school, it was $100 tuition. That’s a poor country compared to today’s standards.
Noam Chomsky’s book, Occupy, is available from Zuccotti Park Press as part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series, www.zuccottiparkpress.com.

1967 Gyro-X car to be restored

The self-balancing Gryo-X 

February 26, 2013
The 1967 gyroscopically-stabilized Gyro-X car is being restored by an auto museum
The 1967 gyroscopically-stabilized Gyro-X car is being restored by an auto museum
Image Gallery (11 images)
Back in 1967, California-based Gyro Transport Systems built a prototype vehicle known as the Gyro-X. The automobile had just two wheels, one in front and one in the back and, as the car’s name implies, it utilized a built-in gyroscope to remain upright when not moving. Although its developers hoped to take the Gyro-X into production, the company went bankrupt, and the one-and-only specimen of the car became an orphan. For much of the past 40-plus years, that car has passed from owner to owner, its condition deteriorating along the way. Now, it’s about to be restored to its former (weird) glory.
The single-seat Gyro-X was created by renowned industrial designer Alex Tremulis, who was contracted by Gyro Transport Systems. He had previously designed vehicles (the four-wheeled variety) for the likes of Cord Automobile, Duesenberg, General Motors, Tucker Car Corporation and Ford – where he worked as Chief of Advanced Styling.
According to an article in the September 1967 issue of Science & Mechanics, the finished car could reach a top speed of 125 mph (201 km/h), and could swoop through 40-degree banked turns without tipping. It weighed in at 1,850 pounds (839 kg), measured 47 inches (119 cm) in height, just 42 inches (107 cm) in width, and 15 feet, 5 inches (4.7 meters) in length. It rolled on two 15-inch wheels, and was powered by a small 80-horsepower engine.
Its single 20-inch hydraulically-driven gyroscope – developed by noted “gyrodynamist” Thomas O. Summers Jr. – spun at up to 6,000 rpm, creating 1,300 foot pounds (1,763 Nm) of torque. It did take approximately three minutes to build up to that speed, however, meaning that drivers couldn’t just get in and go. A set of training wheel-like retractable outriggers held the car up in the meantime.
The Gyro-X in the workshop
While it isn’t known exactly what became of the Gyro-X immediately after Gyro Transport Systems closed its doors, the car was recently acquired by the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville ... and it’s seen better days. As can be seen in a YouTube video posted by Nevada-based past owner John Windsor, its gyro is long-since gone, and the car is now held up by added-on dual rear wheels. Windsor acquired the car in 2008, sold it to Texas-based auto collector Mark Brinker, who in turn sold it to the museum.
Tremulis would be turning 100 next January 23rd. In honor of his centenary, the museum has begun restoring the Gyro-X to like-new condition, in hopes of taking it to auto shows next year.
Part of the project will involve rebuilding its rear end, replacing the two back wheels with one, as per its original configuration. The missing gyroscope also has to be rebuilt from scratch. To handle that end of things, the museum has enlisted the services of Thrustcycle Enterprises – a company that is currently developing its own modern gyroscopically-stabilized two-wheeled vehicle, known as the SRT. Thrustcycle will also be tasked with rebuilding the controls and outriggers.
Designer Alex Tremulis with the Gyro-X
Designer Alex Tremulis with the Gyro-X
Experimental gyro cars have been around since at least 1914, and thanks to modern technology, we may yet see one reach production – along with the SRT, the Lit Motors C-1 is also currently in development. Still, given how long people have been dabbling with them, the question of why haven’t they ever caught on needs to be asked.
“The gyro people, their thing was that the cars were going to be narrower, they were going to take up half as much room – they’d be more fuel-efficient, they’d be safer because it would be very difficult to flip them over,” explained Jeff Lane, director of the Lane Motor Museum. “The ideas were good, but I think in reality the gyroscopic part of it was very complicated and fairly expensive ... it always works out on paper, but it doesn’t always work out in the workshop. It’s a very obscure, weird part of history, but it’s also a very interesting part of history.”
Some rare footage of the Gyro-X being driven can be seen in the video below.
All photos courtesy Steve Tremulis
About the Author
Ben CoxworthAn experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth

DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political

"The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright. I was going to start that last paragraph with 'In a stunning turn of events,' but I realized that would be inaccurate — because it's really not that surprising. Many people speculated throughout the whole ordeal that this was a political prosecution, motivated by anything/everything from Aaron's effective campaigning against SOPA to his run-ins with the FBI over the PACER database. But Aaron actually didn't believe it was — he thought it was overreach by some local prosecutors who didn't really understand the internet and just saw him as a high-profile scalp they could claim, facilitated by a criminal justice system and computer crime laws specifically designed to give prosecutors, however incompetent or malicious, all the wrong incentives and all the power they could ever want. But this HuffPo article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/22/aaron-swartz-prosecutors_n_2735675.html  and what I’m hearing from sources on the Hill, suggest that that’s not true. That Ortiz and Heymann knew exactly what they were doing: Shutting up, and hopefully locking up, an extremely effective activist whose political views, including those on copyright, threatened the Powers That Be."


Digital Sales Drive Music Business To First Revenue Gain Since '99

Ad Increase The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) this week reported that global music sales posted a 0.3% increase in 2012, with sales topping $16.5 billion - ending a 13-year slide. Noting that digital sales were the primary growth factor, Sony Music President/ International Edgar Berger told Reuters, "At the beginning of the digital revolution it was a common theme to say digital is killing music. Well, the reality is, digital is saving music. I absolutely believe that this marks the start of a global growth story. The industry has every reason to be optimistic about its future." IFPI figures indicate digital sales were up 9% vs. 2011, to $5.6 billion, accounting for 34% of overall income for the music business. Meanwhile, download sales were up 12% percent to 4.3 billion units, and digital album sales jumped 17% to 207 million units, vs. 2011 figures. "While the overall 0.3% rise was modest, it was fueled in part by a 9% jump on the digital side, an exciting development that bodes well for the future," National Association of Recording Merchandisers President Jim Donio said in a statement. "The year also saw a significant expansion of subscription and streaming models, with a 40% rise in the number of fee-paying customers. We have now had a full year to measure the impact of these services such as Spotify, Rdio, and more in the U.S., and they are expected to account for more than 10% of total digital revenues worldwide for the first time." [Full story: All Access]
Adaptation To Once-Feared Internet Now Fueling Music Business

Music Business What at one time frightened the recorded music business now is causing music execs to (mildly) rejoice, as "music has not only adapted to the internet - it is at the very heart of its development." That's the word from Frances Moore, chief executive of the IFPI (acronym explained above), who said a symbiotic relationship has helped drive technology growth and device sales while boosting such outside industries as television and social networks. "These are hard-won successes for an industry that has innovated, battled, and transformed itself over a decade," she said. "They show the music industry has adapted to the internet world, learned how to meet the needs of consumers and monetized the digital marketplace." Additionally, Warner Music Group EVP Stu Bergen emphasized the new revenue streams the digital market has opened up for music companies. "We have plenty to do and some amazing opportunities ahead of us," he explained. "Until recently, the vast majority of our revenues came from a handful of countries. Today, digital channels mean we can monetize markets worldwide much more effectively." Still, every silver lining has its cloud, and IFPI Chairman Plácido Domingo said copyright issues - and the ability of artists to make a living from their craft - remains a top issue. "Copyright is the key ingredient to ensure this," he said in a statement. "Policymakers around the world are now debating how best to protect artists' rights in the digital age." [Full story: Medill Report]
Study: As Digital Music Sales And Streaming Increase, Piracy Declines

Music Pirate Hidden in this week's positive music sales report was another bit of good news: music piracy is on the decline. As reported by the Washington Post, not only have free or low-priced streaming services (think Pandora and Spotify) provided music lovers easy access to their favorite tunes, the NPD Group found in a separate study that broader access to music is also driving fewer people to download songs illegally. These services have gained some industry support because they allow consumers to get the music they want while still supporting artists, record labels, and others in the industry. In fact, the NPD analysis strongly suggests that not only is the volume of illegally downloaded music files over file-sharing networks down 26% compared to 2011, but the number of people who burn and rip CDs, swap music files on hard drives, and download music from digital lockers also is down sharply. The NPD Group said a crackdown on sharing sites and questions about their digital safety, combined with the rise of easy, legitimate music streaming has fueled the decline. As a result, tearly 20% of users have stopped using these sites because they've been shut down or because of issues with spyware and viruses. [Full story: Washington Post]
Broadcasters Foundation
Pandora Caps Mobile Listening Hours; Says Royalty Costs Are To Blame

Pandora Mobile The only digital music company that isn't cheering the positive jump in recorded music business revenue may be Pandora, which this week announced it would cap the number of monthly free hours on its mobile apps to 40. According to company founder Tim Westergren, "Limiting listening is a very unusual thing to do, and very contrary to our mission. [However], Pandora's per-track royalty rates have increased more than 25% over the last 3 years, including 9% in 2013 alone, and are scheduled to increase an additional 16% over the next two years." Noting that only 4% of Pandora's active listeners will be affected, Westergren told users in an email that "most of you reading this will never hit the limit. For perspective, the average listener spends approximately 20 hours listening to Pandora across all devices in any given month." History shows that those "power-users" who tune to Pandora more than 40 hours a month are unlikely to upgrade to a paid subscription. because they know the "free ride" starts over in just a few days. Still, Pandora says the cap has proven to be a smart lever to impact royalty costs. [Full story: Digital Music News]
Universal's Keeling: "Google Would Be Biggest Funnel We Have"

Google Music 3 While the recorded music industry must work with such subscription music services as Spotify and Deezer to provide listeners with a free experience, a Google streaming service would provide the largest "funnel" the industry could hope for. That's the word from Francis Keeling, Universal Music's Global Head of Digital Business, who this week said that Google's entrance into music streaming would provide the industry with "arguably the biggest funnel" with regards to turning music consumers onto legal licensed services. As reported by Billboard, Keeling said, "With the likes of Spotify and Deezer and Rdio and other subscription services, we give consumers a free experience because we know that we need to change behavior. By giving a free experience to legal services we can encourage consumers to subscribe. Google, with its hundreds of millions of users through search, and YouTube with more than 800 million users [per month], arguably is the biggest funnel we can have. Clearly, if we can get consumers into a legal funnel through that route and encourage them into subscription, that would have a very positive impact on the business." Noting that "music tastes are complex and ever-changing," Keeling proclaimed that "music continues to drive the digital space." [Full story: Billboard]
Ford, Spotify Jointly Announce Sync Applink Deal

Ford SyncFord Motor Co. and Spotify this week jointly announced a new app designed to bring the music streaming service to the Sync Applink platform. Unveiled at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, the deal marks Spotify's first partnership of this type with a car manufacturer and it means Ford owners will be able to access the music service's entire song catalog via voice activation technology on their smartphones. The app will support such voice commands as "play music," "shuffle." "repeat," and "choose playlist." The service will initially be made available to more than one million Applink-enabled cars in the U.S. but will eventually come SYNC-equipped vehicles in Europe too. "As one of the world's most popular music streaming services, Spotify is the perfect partner to demonstrate the benefits of the Ford SYNC AppLink system," gushed Paul Mascarenas, Ford's chief technical officer. [Full story: MT3]
Al Bell Presents American Soul Music ... And American Soul TV

Al BellIf you're into classic and contemporary Soul, R&B, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Hip-Hop Soul, Rap Soul, and Neo-Soul, we invite you to listen to Al Bell Presents American Soul Music. Former Stax Records owner and Motown Records Group President Al Bell personally has programmed this awesome radio station online, presenting your favorites from the 1960s and '70s [and some '80s], a lot of the best new music that's being released today, and some real gems you haven't heard in a long, long time. Come to www.AlBellPresents.Com and hear it for yourself!

They live among us: the new enemies of Hollywood

Posted: 27 Feb 2013 11:34 AM PST
Post image for They live among us: the new enemies of Hollywood

As Hollywood responds to the crisis of global capitalism, it has become clear that we ourselves are the ultimate threat to the prevalent social order.

This article was published earlier in abridged from on openDemocracy

For the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, hegemony was not something that was necessarily attained through force or economic power. Gramsci instead wrote about a form of power that was more subtle and covert in nature: he emphasized the large role of cultural institutions which through ideologically impregnated imagery unconsciously shape our value systems. We not only give our consent to this process, but most of the time actually enjoy such experiences and are even willing to invest our time and a lot of money into it.

For a long time already, the cultural format that we seem to enjoy the most is the movie. The greatest promoter and financially most successful exporter of visual and symbolic imagery is, of course, Hollywood. The political success of Hollywood can be measured by its ability to universalize its principles onto the world at large. The military setbacks of American forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have not only proved that Hollywood is a cheaper means for obtaining global hegemony, but also makes us aware that culture is a much more effective and longer lasting instrument than any military complex could ever wish to be.

There has historically been little ambiguity in Hollywood movies as to who are the good guys and who are the ‘baddies’. Those with good intentions normally embody the universal principles of a right to life, liberty, and property. Those who are licensed to be killed are basically all those who for some reason or another disagree. The position of protagonists and antagonists are similarly often clearly located. The thin fictional layer of their identity can easily be exposed by their physical location or environment. Moscow was for a long time the seat of the Soviets. The Alps is the best place to find Nazis. The caves of Afghanistan are the hothouses for terrorists. All terrorists are, in case you wondered, indeed Islamic.

These fixed territorialized positions and identities have, however, gradually started to change in Hollywood movies. There seems to be an increasingly powerful idea that the real enemy lures within our midst, and that he (yes, the enemy is most of the time a male) once used to be ‘one of us’.

Old baddies die young

Successful movies (for Hollywood success is measured in dollars) have historically featured a ‘good guy/bad guy’ dichotomy. The other 50 per cent of the gender population is, as you know, often ignored or finds itself in dire need to be rescued. The message contained within these movies is watched by a historically unprecedented number of people scattered around the globe. Politics is, therefore, not only made by explicitly political movies such as, well say, The Battle of AlgiersDr. Strangelove or Apocalypse Now. Batman and 007 instead reach out to billions of people who normally would not consider themselves as being political.

Much has been said about the fact that the 1990s and early 2000s were a difficult time for Hollywood. Studios had run out of ideas after the big bully in the East had been ‘defeated’. Russians were welcomed in a US-led world order (think for example about Armageddon and Independence Day, among others). The market for Nazi stereotypes had 60 years after WWII increasingly become saturated. Germans were shown to possess human traits (think Oskar Schindler) and could even be made fun of (Inglorious Bastards).

Arabs have since the onset of Hollywood already been vilified and are rarely (if ever at all) portrayed as the heroes in the way white guys are. The 9/11 events did not seem to have worsened the already existing institutionalized racism. The hijackings of planes had already been shown dozens of times before 9/11, and some of the hijackers are even claimed to have watched some of these very same movies for their preparations. If the good white guys (and the few good ‘gals’) of Hollywood wanted to make new blockbusters, new baddies were desperately needed.

The late 2000s seemed to have marked a turning point for the fortunes of Hollywood. The Avengers (2012) grossed over $1.5 billion USD, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010 and 2011) and the latest Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) follow suit. All three movies now rank very high in the list of the 10 best grossing films of all time. The latest Batman production, The Dark Knight Rises, and the return of James Bond in Skyfall complete the list that is headed by Avatar.

All of these movies (with the exception of Avatar) were part of a successful, existing franchise and thus enjoyed what marketing people like to call ‘synergy opportunities’. This explains, however, only partially their ‘marketable’ attraction and subsequent great financial success. The key here seems rather to lie in the evolution of the identity of the bad guys. Let’s have a closer look at the ways in which politics has infiltrated and shaped these movies. My theory is that the crisis of global capitalism has fundamentally changed Hollywood’s classification of judging who is good and who is evil.

The content of the movies filmed before 2008 seemed to have remained largely unaffected by contemporary politics. They instead follow neatly in the footsteps of their respective franchise traditions and were based on the struggle between the all too familiar heroes and their adversaries. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is based on Alan Dean Foster’s Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday (2007) and is largely based in a Cold War setting. It brings back the well-known American themes of the right to property (think pretty cars and a lot of guns), the conservative pride that comes with patriotism (flags) and is filled with a good amount of Christian dogmas.

Talks about The Avengers (2012) movie adaptation started already in 2005, but the Avengers comic series made its debut already in 1963. The movie inevitably contains many elements (such as the S.H.I.E.L.D. law enforcement agency) that similarly are reminiscent of the Cold War period. The last Harry Potter, which is among the most expensive multi-film projects in history, is based on the book (written in 2007) with the same title. The themes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have a lot less to do with American geopolitics but do contain many elements that remind one of the infamous Nazi eugenics programs.
The identity and character development of the bad and the good guys was largely identical to movies we had come to expect from Hollywood. The viewers were constantly made aware of the fact that the movies were detached from a political reality by locating the movie outside contemporary political debates. The political themes in the movies, of which there are certainly plenty, are as a result rather predictable (and therefore easily) consumable. Viewers had for long been trained to distinguish the good guys from bad ones.

Jaime Bond and the Badman

The latest Batman and James Bond production were instead made after (or during if you like) the financial meltdown, and seem to a much greater extent have been the brainchild of their directors, who were closely involved in the realization of the scripts. The temporal divide also carries a distinguishable political dimension. It is difficult not to recognize the strongly embedded moral sentiments in the restyled Batman.
A lot has already been already said about the politics of Batman. The Dark Knight fights a heroic battle against the erratic masses who have taken hold of the streets of Gotham city. A revolution has brought Gotham to its knees. French Revolutionary-styled executions take place and the financial markets get robbed (but by the wrong kind of people). Fortunately the Batman is there to restore the natural human order of things in Gotham; something which proved to be impossible in Paris roughly 200 year ago. The aristocrat (not bourgeois capitalist!), played by Batman consequentially reintroduces the kind of peace and justice that wild neoliberalism had disrupted. The city is once again in control of Batman (or is it secretly Benjamin Disraeli?), and everything soon enough returns to its quotidian routine.

Nolan’s own political and literary influences are widely known – but what is perhaps more interesting is the real identity of his villains. The bad guys are no longer geo-politically from somewhere else (e.g. Russia, Germany etc), but are among our own. They are moreover not led by a Che Guevara-like figure (Bane), as suggested by some critics, but are rather portrayed as the victims of the hegemonic struggle between Batman and Bane. I cannot remember a single scene in the entire movie — forgive me if I am wrong — in which Bane is accepted as the legitimate revolutionary vanguard. Under Bane and his vicious mercenaries, life in Gotham is in fact worse than it was previously under the Batman. The masses are presented as the mere background (noise) to the real show-off between Batman and Bane.

The brutal violence and oppressive nature of Bane’s rule almost compels us, however, to forget that he is a mere pawn used by the real villain of the story: Roland Daggett. It is Dagget who represents the antagonistic vanguard, but not of the progressive kind. He is rather the exponent of an extreme form of libertarian capitalism. Batman and Daggett symbolize two alternative models for society. One is deeply aristocratic, moral, Christian and conservative.

The other is secular, (right-wing) libertarian, amoral and populist. This was a showdown between two rivaling fractions within the conservative political spectrum: the first is libertarian and sides with Nozick (Daggett), while the second is neo-Victorian and defends moral virtue, God and the nation (the Batman). In contrast to what happened during the French Revolution, the masses side not with the bourgeoisie but with the aristocracy.

In Skyfall we are witness to a different scenario — but the message is very similar. James Bond is not simply the sexist, racist and imperialist vanguard of the British secret services that we have come to be familiar with. The stylish protector of Victorian conservatism now finally admits to his Oedipus complex. His only long-term relationship with a woman is that which he shares with M (this time played by Judi Dench). This form of mother love goes perhaps a long way explaining Bond’s trademark misogynistic tendencies.

The only woman Bond loves is his mother. His relationship with M, head of MI6, has always been one of controversies — but never has it taken such explicit heights as in Skyfall. Bond faces stiff competition from the former secret agent and arch-anarchist Julian Assange (or Raoul Silva as he is called in the movie), played by the politically engaged actor Javier Bardem. Indeed, it looks like a very unhappy family (without an immediate father-like figure).

In Skyfall, Raoul Silva is, to cut a long story very short, the victim of M, whose ruthlessness is characteristic of a sovereign defending the interests of the British nation state (played by a porcelain Bulldog). Silva is out for the humiliation of M and perhaps a bit of plain revenge. He succeeds however in both.
In the role of Raoul Silva, Bardem not merely embodies Bond’s deviant brother, but in many ways represents a better and more progressive Bond. He clearly was and is the more advanced agent: confident, liberated from self-loathing, sexually more potent and in the end more effective than 007. The fundamental difference between the twins is their relationship with M. Silva knows that M is responsible for his suffering but Bond is naively driven by his sense of loyalty to (M)other.

This tension is resolved by Silva’s killing of M. Silva knows, better than Bond, who has caused his (and Bond’s) suffering. After Silva has settled his score with M, we are led to the final scene in which a visually released Bond is introduced to a male M (Ralph Fiennes) and reconnects with Eve Moneypenny (no longer an agent, but a secretary). Bond is now again under a male-led hierarchy. The paternalistic and conservative order of society is restored and Bond is now able to resume control of his life.

In both The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall, the enemy is thus increasingly portrayed to be among us. It is no longer a clear-cut ‘them’ versus ‘us’. ‘They’ are rather believed to live among us. This is also the theme of Avatar (2009), which remains until today the highest grossing movie of all time. Too much perhaps has already has been said about the elements of imperialism and anti-Americanism in the movie. What perhaps has been less cogently argued is that we, the humans, are portrayed as the superior species and masters of our and others’ destinies.

The Na’vi people, meanwhile, are displayed as a kind, but ultimately helpless and disempowered humanoid species that ultimately depend on us for their survival. In other words, we are the bad guys, but that does not make the Na’vi necessarily the good guys. The Na’vi are incapable of overpowering and changing us (either by coercion or consent). The latter ultimately only happens because of human mediation. The conservative undertones are not visibly prevalent in the left-liberal Avatar, but it similarly clear that society is under attack by a force that resides within rather than outside of us.

Animate Corpses

The idea of an ‘evil within’ is the characteristic feature of the increasingly popular Zombie movies. Zombies display all the physical characteristics of human beings. Anybody could turn into a zombie. The genre has recently started to portray family members as dangerous zombies. A famous scene of the Walking Dead TV series shows, for example, how one of the main characters (Andrea) is confronted by her ‘turned’ sister.
There exists genuine confusion as to whether the antagonist is actually really antagonistic. Andrea looks down and tries hard to discover a sign of her sister in the reborn undead. A couple of moments later she puts a bullet through her head. The emotional distance that we felt towards Giorgio Romero’s zombies seems to have become significantly smaller in recent Zombie movies and series. There is fact an increasing sense of emotional association with zombies.

The apocalyptic showdown with our antagonistic Other is anticipated to materialize in the aptly titled blockbuster World War Z (released later this year), which is based on the Max Brooks’ bestseller World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006). Zombies are in the trailer of the movie no longer the sluggish characters we know from the 1970s and 1980s, but are portrayed as possessing such a superhuman speed that they pose a credible threat to the existing world order.

The notion of speed has been argued to be important in the movie because it enhances and underlines the nature of epidemics. Other than their speed, the masses are leaderless and that is according to the author exactly what “makes them so dangerous”. The baddies are leaderless, fast and furious. These characteristics set them apart from the one-dimensional and slavish rioters in the Dark Knight Rises. It is easy to identify the zombie hordes with the global spreading of the protest movements around the world.

Brookes elsewhere argues that masses without leaders are “like a disease; no rationality, no middle ground, no negotiation, just sheer instinct to consume and multiply”. The conservative fear over the fate of the existing, rational and natural order of things has been the hallmark of successful Hollywood movies. The antagonists who destabilize the order are, however, no longer envisaged to be outside of the ruling system but are increasingly shown to be among us.

Facing the mirror

Hollywood movies show an increasing fear over a loss of order. Protagonists fight heroic battles, sometimes with themselves, to uphold values that no longer are self-evidently good. The identity of the antagonists has according to this shift (which I believe to have been caused by the on-going global crisis of global capitalism) evolved since the 2000s. The antagonist is, in contrast, no longer portrayed as being somewhere outside of the system but is increasingly imagined to be among us.

Hollywood is the product of the same universal values which it uses to distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. It is these values which seem to be under attack, not from outside, but from within. The challenge to the order is no longer fought abroad but is with accelerating pace epidemically infiltrating the fabric of ‘our own’ society. The virus spreads and infects standing citizens and even those we love most are not spared.
For Hollywood, it is not only that our families are under attack, but it has increasingly become clear that we, ourselves, are the ultimate threat to the prevalent social order.

Marijn Nieuwenhuis is a PhD candidate at the Politics Department of the University of Warwick.

Reflections on a Revolution

Posted: 27 Feb 2013 04:08 PM PST
Post image for Grillo’s Five Star Movement has defended the system

According to the Wu Ming collective, the electoral success of Grillo’s web-based Five Star Movement just covers up the vacuum of Italian social movements.

Editor’s note: In what amounts to a massive shock for the Italian and European elite, the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle led by populist comedian Beppe Grillo won nearly a quarter of all votes in this week’s Italian elections. In this article, the Bologna-based writers’ collective Wu Ming responds to the mainstream media’s interpretation of Grillo’s electoral success as a ‘radical repudiation of austerity’, and argues that Grillo is in fact instrumental in protecting the Italian status quo.

By the Wu Ming Collective. Translated from Italian by Tamara van der Putten.

Now that the Five Star Movement (M5S) has achieved its unprecedented success in the Italian elections, we believe it is no longer possible to avoid examining the political vacuum that Grillo and Casaleggio’s movement represents. The M5S fills the absence of radical movements in Italy. M5S occupies an empty space in the political system… in order to keep it empty.

Despite its radical appearance and its revolutionary rhetoric, we believe that in recent years the M5S has been an efficient defender of the current status quo, a force that has served as a ‘cap’ and has ultimately been used to stabilize the system. This statement is counter-intuitive and at a superficial glance it even sounds absurd, especially if one focuses exclusively on Italy. How can Grillo be a stabilizing factor? He who wants to ‘sweep away the old political system’? He who is commonly known to be the greatest factor in making Italy ungovernable?

Yet, we believe that Grillo has ensured the maintenance of the system, willingly or not.
Over the past three years, while several Mediterranean countries and the West have witnessed the unequivocal expansion of anti-austerity and anti-capitalist movements, nothing comparable has taken place in Italy. There have been some important struggles, but these only lasted a short while and remained confined within restricted territories. There have been small fires but no major spark ignited the prairie, as has occurred elsewhere. No indignados for us; no #Occupy, no ‘spring’ of any kind, no ‘Je lutte des classes’ against pension reforms.

We did not have a Tahrir Square, a Puerta del Sol, or a Syntagma Square. We have not fought the way others have fought — and in some cases are still fighting — elsewhere. Why is that?

There are several reasons for this, but today we will only hypothesize one of them. Perhaps it is not the main factor, but we believe it holds some relevance.

In Italy, a large share of the ‘indignation’ was intercepted and organized by Grillo and Casaleggio — two wealthy baby-boomers from the entertainment and marketing industries — who created a political franchise/company with its own copyrights and trademarks. Their ‘movement’ is strictly controlled and mobilized by a hierarchy that picks up and repeats claims and slogans of social movements, but actually blends it with apologies of ‘healthy’ capitalism and with a superficial discourse focusing on the honesty of the politician and the public administrator. Liberal and anti-liberal, centralist and federalist, libertarian and conservative proposals all co-exist to create a confusing program: a ‘one-size-fits-all’ program that is typical of any political ‘diversion’.

Think about it: the M5S separates the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in a completely different way from other radical movements mentioned above.

When #Occupy proposed the separation between the 1% and the 99%, it referred to the distribution of wealth, deeply reflecting the problem of social inequality: the 1% are the multi-millionaires. Had they known Grillo, the #Occupy supporters would have included him in there. In Italy, Grillo is part of the 1%.

When the Spanish protestors take up the cry of the Argentine cacerolazos, ‘Que se vayan todos!’, they do not simply refer to the ‘political caste’, nor do they aim to replace them. They are calling for self-organization and the autonomous re-organization of society. Let’s try to do as much as possible without them, create new alternatives in neighborhoods, workplaces and universities. None of their new forms resembles the technological, fetishistic compromises of Grillo’s movement, such as the petty rhetoric of the online ‘parliamentary elections’. Their practices are radical, they entail organizing communities in order to protect them, by physically preventing evictions and foreclosures, for instance.

The Spaniards would also include Grillo and Casaleggio among those who ‘have to go’. A movement led by a multi-millionaire and a PR consultant would be simply inconceivable. They would probably also include Pizzarotti – the same M5S representative who has led the austerity policies in Parma for a few months now, and who is belying his bombastic electoral promises, one after another.

A new phase begins, one in which ‘Grillismo’ is entering the Parliament, chosen as a last resort by millions of people who were understandably fed up with all the other political options. The only way to understand the phase that is just beginning is to understand the role of Grillo and Casaleggio in the political phase just ending. Many believe they acted as ‘arsonists’ of the system; we believe they were actually its ‘firefighters.’
Is it possible for a movement born as a diversion to become a radical force, addressing crucial problems and distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them’ along legitimate fault lines? It could happen, but there are some prerequisites. There needs to be some Event, opening a rift or a crack (even better, cracks) inside that movement. In other words: the movement should free itself from Grillo’s grip. It has not happened so far, and is unlikely to happen in the future. It is not impossible, though. We, as always, support revolt. Even within the Five Star Movement.

Wu Ming (extended name: Wu Ming Foundation) is a pseudonym for a group of radical Italian authors formed in 2000 from a subset of the Luther Blissett community in Bologna.

Posted: 27 Feb 2013 02:50 PM PST
Post image for Stéphane Hessel, “father of indignados”, dies aged 95

French resistance hero, co-drafter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and author of pamphlet that helped inspire a global youth uprising, dies.
Hope has always been one of the dominant forces of revolutions and insurrections, and I still retain hope as my design for the future.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his last interview, three weeks prior to his death.
To create is to resist. To resist is to create. Those are the words with which French resistance hero and public intellectual Stéphane Hessel closed off his 2010 pamphlet, Indignez-Vous. The 32-page booklet went on to sell 4.5 million copies in 35 countries and, a year later, helped to inspire a global youth uprising, as protesters throughout world — from the Spanish indignados and the Greek aganaktismenoi on to the occupiers at Wall Street and beyond — took up his call for a “peaceful insurrection” against the inequities of global capitalism.
Writing at the noble age of 92, Hessel urged today’s youth to resist the injustices of our globalized world — the growing gap between the rich and poor, the subversion of democracy by powerful corporations, the global ecological crisis, the systematic mistreatment of immigrants, the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people — with the same outrage and ferocity with which his generation fought Nazi tyranny. “The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times,” he wrote. “But look around and you will find them.”
Stéphane Hessel lived a remarkable life in more ways than one. A Jewish-born resistance fighter who was apprehended and tortured by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, he not only survived the Holocaust by escaping imprisonment after swapping identity with a deceased friend, but also went on to become an influential French diplomat who would help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Throughout his professional life, he remained fiercely critical of French and Israeli government policy.
Despite this — and unlike the young generation that took up his call for resistance — Hessel retained a firm commitment to liberal democracy, supporting François Hollande’s bid for the French presidency last year. Perhaps as a refusal to let go of the institutions which he risked his life defending, Hessel even expressed his skepticism about the indignados‘ unwillingness to get engaged in electoral politics in Spain, possibly mistaking their rejection of representative institutions for political apathy.

“Indifference,” wrote Hessel, “is the worst of attitudes.” Only through constant critical engagement with the social, economic, political and ecological injustices occurring around us can we start to alleviate some of the suffering experienced by our fellow human beings. In Indignez-Vous, Hessel deliberately refused to propose a concrete program for change, nor a detailed vision of an alternative world order. Rather, he saw within the act of resistance the seedlings of the creation of a better world. For Hessel, it all starts with a sense of outrage.
«Le motif de la résistance,» he wrote in his pamphlet, «c’est l’indignation.» Therefore, “we, veterans of the Resistance movements and the Free French Forces, we call upon the younger generations to revive, to pass on, the heritage of the Resistance and its ideas. We tell them: take over, indignez-vous! Get angry! Our political, economic and intellectual leaders and society as a whole should not stand down, nor let themselves be impressed by the present international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is threatening our peace and democracy.”

Hessel died on Tuesday at the age of 95. And while he died indignant at the state of the world in which he lived, he carried with him into his grave an immense dignity that could serve as a shining example to all of us involved in the struggle. “I am eagerly awaiting the taste of death,” he told RTL in an interview back in 2011. “Death is something to savor, and I hope to savor mine. In the meantime, given that it has not yet happened and that I’m generally getting around normally, I’m using the time to throw out some messages.”

Hessel may not have lived to see the full fruit of his life’s work, and his faith in liberal democracy may not be shared by those inspired by his call-to-action, but at least he got to experience the early stirrings of the global resistance that he so championed. It is through the legacy of those who chose to struggle that the fruits of resistance will one day ripen. May our comrade savor death like he savored the sweet taste of resistance and triumph in the face of the greatest evil the world has ever seen. A hero has died. Millions more will rise.
« Créer, c’est résister. Résister, c’est créer. »
To create is to resist. To resist is to create.