The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

A palate cleanser for that terrible NYT piece about the “Intellectual Dark Web”

A recent episode of Revolutionary Left Radio (which I’ve previously fawned over) takes a deep dive into the commonalities and differences between three of the Status Quo Warrior’s described in the NYT: Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker (whom only makes a brief appearance in the article).

To me, it’s refreshing to listen to them being discussed in this format, because they all cater to different types of reactionary audiences coagulating around the center of the political spectrum that is ever shifting to the right: Peterson for the sad and lost, Harris for the arrogant, and Pinker for the starry-eyed optimist.

But! Know that by listening to Rev Left’s critiques you are contributing to the tragic misunderstanding and ultimate silencing of these precious, delicate snowflakes. If you don’t mind having that on your conscience, perhaps give it a listen.

Hell yeah Steve Bannon

Following his hilarious public emasculation, Steve Bannon scuttled back to his fetid lair to lick his wounds, largely out of the public eye. But he’s back:

The former White House chief strategist argued the movement against male-dominated politics was going to advance similarly to the Tea Party – a conservative movement loosely associated with the conservative branch of the Republican Party – but would surpass it in terms of impact.

He added: “I think it’s going to unfold like the Tea Party, only bigger. It’s not Me Too. It’s not just sexual harassment. It’s an anti-patriarchy movement. Time’s up on 10,000 years of recorded history. This is coming. This is real.”

Cool! If ever there were a social institution that should’ve been snuffed out in the cradle, it’s the fucking patriarchy. This will likely be the only time I hope he’s right. I like this idea much better than his silly apocalyptic war fantasies.

Here’s some more:

“You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society,” Bannon said, according to Green. “And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

In this context, Trump is like the final boss of an early 90’s video game. He is everything rotten about this country fused together in the form of one repellent man-child, whose final defeat will usher in an era that will see his most odious beliefs destroyed. Bannon sees the would-be patriarchy smashers as the plucky heroes to get it done. I know life doesn’t work like this, but it’s a nice thought.

For Rojava

The destabilized Syrian and Iraqi hinterlands have given rise to a bewildering constellation of organizations, warlords, and opaque borders, the causes of which are complicated and manifold. Out of that fog has risen a new kind of state, centered on a mélange of anarchist, socialist, and other skeins of broadly leftist ideologies – the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, colloquially known as Rojava. It is an eminently worthy and important experiment.

This most recent manifestation of an autonomous leftist region is under siege. However, its existence isn’t very well known by the general populace. This shouldn’t be too surprising – to most, they are just one of many entities existing within the context of a civil war in Syria that is barely comprehensible and not worthy of too much scrutiny. ISIS are the bad guys, and aside from them, the surrounding states, and the meddlesome West, the other entities are virtually indistinguishable. One is reminded of the confusing and fluid state of Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001.

In the past several centuries, it’s taken war to provide the unique and varied set of circumstances necessary for revolutionary attempts at sovereignty. Just about all were either eliminated in the cradle or transformed into authoritarian regimes that were never able to implement their specific ideology’s lofty ideals. Of the ones that persisted, the justifications for their betrayals varied from place to place, but in the end, they only offered funhouse mirror images of the excesses of capitalist states: “the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy.”

Rojava is somewhat comparable to the Catalan anarchist-controlled areas during the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the similarities between the mujeres libres and Rojava’s Women’s Protection Units. More broadly, both were born during the chaos of war. Both were (and in the case of Rojava are) obviously imperfect in implementing their utopian ideals, but this should be expected as their existences have occurred during the trauma and destruction of warfare and surrounded by a variety of powerful enemies. Rojava has even attracted would-be revolutionaries from the West, echoing the exodus of leftists to Civil War era Spain, and contemporarily paralleling the modern-day allure of ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups to disaffected Muslim youth.

Currently, they are on the verge of being crushed by the considerable might of their Turkish neighbors to the north. Taking a page from the Bush-Cheney handbook of giving military exercises Orwellian names, the offensive is called “Operation Olive Branch.” This has been on the horizon since its inception – the Turks have long had an uneasy coexistence with the Kurds within and adjacent to their borders. They could scarcely have picked a worse person to get their inspiration from than Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Anti-Kurdish sentiment is something they have in common with every other state in the vicinity, all of whom are hostile to the idea of a pan-Kurdish nation state. It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder why Kurds wouldn’t want to remain under the watchful eye of authoritarian regimes that hate them.

As of today, Afrin has yet to fall. I glossed over this earlier, but the area is a veritable hornets nest of competing interests. The US are content to give funds and munitions to the Kurds (as they have for decades) but oppose any kind of Kurdish state. Turkey is simultaneously backed by Russia and collaborating with the remnants of ISIS, while seething over US support for the Kurds. Syria wants its territory back. NATO has remained silent. The UN is powerless. Obviously, the preceding snapshot is not entirely correct and certainly missing key narratives (this is a good summary of the geopolitical situation). But the underlying theme is that a good thing is in peril. I don’t really know how else to end this other than to say that this sucks.

Revolutionary Left Radio and anticapitalist sectarianism

I love the Revolutionary Left Radio podcast, whose subject matter is what the name implies. Their approach allows for an incredibly diverse amount of voices within the broad landscape of leftist thought to explicate their ideologies, ideas, and research.

The host does a great job of giving his guests room to talk about their area of expertise in a non-confrontational manner. Of course, such leeway can lead to times where the listener may wish for some push-back (for example, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bunch during a recent Marxist-Leninist episode). But debate is not the point. The point is to learn about the various strands that comprise political thought far to the left of mainstream liberalism. I transcribed the host’s overarching message from the last podcast, which perfectly sums up the podcast’s mission:

We’re pan-leftists, we’re non-sectarian precisely because at this moment in history there’s a material need for leftists of all stripes to put our petty differences aside for now and figure out how we’re going to fight these very real threats on the other side. Because the far right and the capitalists have no qualms about teaming up when push comes to shove. And if we’re arguing “you’re this type of leftist,” or “you’re a Trotskyist,” I’m a Leninist,” “you’re a democratic socialist” “I’m an anarchist,” we are going to weaken and divide and break ourselves down into smaller and smaller groups. We’re going to be impotent in the face of this onslaught of late capitalism.

Their approach mirrors my own, philosophically. I take bits and pieces here and there from countless political ideologies, philosophies, religions, etc. I tend to look askance at those who proclaim their adherence to one specific belief. But I get why people do so. I guess I’m just not wired that way.

While the podcast is great, I can’t say it gives me too much hope. Sectarianism in the far left is endemic and, to me, a bit silly. So much time is spent arguing about what comes AFTER capitalism and/or widespread nation-state collapse that the generally agreed-upon institutional enemies are largely left unscathed. Is socialism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Is anarchism (insert any number of hyphenated varieties) a threat? Perhaps Antifa is. But from the perspective of the state, no far left ideology is even close to the threat level of, say, radical Islamic terrorism.

The made-up term “alt-left” is perhaps too kind – at least the diarrhea menagerie that is the alt-right were able to partially coalesce and exert their influence in the service of electing a veritable garbage person as president of the most powerful country in the world. I’m not sure what the corollary would even be in terms of real world effects wrought by the “alt-left.”

Anyways, here are some episodes I thoroughly enjoyed:

  • Black Feminism and Queer Theory w/ Zoe Samudzi
  • Leftist Podcasts, New Atheism, and the October Revolution w/ Dan Arel
  • Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding w/ Layla AbdelRahim
  • The Mexican Revolution and The Zapatistas w/ Alexander Avina
  • From Diplomat to Anarchist: The State, War, and the Fight for a Better World w/ Carne Ross
  • Gothic Marxism: The Horror Genre and the Monsters of Neoliberalism w/ TheLitCritGuy
  • Caliban and the Witch: An Interview with Silvia Federici

Should the far left ever unite, this podcast (available on iTunes and Stitcher) will probably play some kind of a role. We should probably hurry.

Remember the gulf oil spill?

In 2010, I completed a second degree in Environmental Science and was hopelessly looking for a full time job. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for the planet, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened. A hydrogeology professor put me in touch with a colleague that worked for a company hired by BP to perform a Natural Resources Damage Assessment. Next to no interview was necessary – they were basically looking for warm bodies.

I worked two and a half weeks on, and two and a half weeks off for 3 months. Each cycle began with my arrival to New Orleans. I would then rent a car and drive an hour west to the de facto command center. There were hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people everywhere representing dozens of different entities, a hive of activity buzzing 24/7. Once I received my gear and list of tasks, I headed out to the hotel, guest house, or bed and breakfast owned by an old racist [1] that was booked by the company’s logistics team. The following days would send me all over south central Louisiana, and Lake Pontchartrain looking for oil and taking various samples (water, oil, vegetation, beach sediment, etc.) at predetermined locations.

The days were long, usually 14-18 hours. The heat was unconscionable to a northerner such as myself. I ate greasy, unhealthy food, and decided to stop being vegetarian due to the lack of options, fatigue and a general “fuck it” attitude. And there was loneliness. I’m not a phone person in the best of circumstances, and this being my primary means of communication with my wife put a strain on the marriage.

All the while, I was obsessing over how long the job would last, how to find a full-time job back home, and what the hell I was going to do if I didn’t find one. In retrospect, it would’ve been a great situation if I were younger and single. But edging closer to 30, it was not something I was able to deal with psychologically and emotionally.

The boat captains and crew (usually charter fishermen) that I worked with were understandably not happy. While they were compensated by BP in the short term, there was considerable apprehension as to what the future would hold. What would the oil to do the resources they depend on? Would tourists, their source of income, still come? How long until they get to stop driving in circles in the service of remediation and monitoring of a tragedy they had no part in creating? It made my personal anxiety seem cheap by comparison.

On the other hand, I knew the Gulf was big, but seeing it first-hand was awe-inspiring. Flying around on fishing boats, seeing dolphins leaping and pelicans diving, one could easily forget the catastrophe that led to my being there in the first place. Once I got over being seasick, it was pretty cool.

During my time, I have to say I didn’t see very much oil. That was good for my psyche – witnessing oiled wildlife definitely would’ve haunted me for the rest of my life.

To my knowledge, the NRDA I participated in has not been released, either because it’s not ready or because it’s not intended to be released to the public. Probably the latter. However, the government released their NRDA a little under two years ago.

***

A few weeks back, my wife and I visited her parents in New Orleans. The final day of the trip we went on a tour of the marshes south of Houma, the general area of where my first stint was. It’s pretty crazy that the tour we went on is the only one in the area. Most tours are in the bayous north of the salt marshes. The primary tourist activity in and south of them is charter fishing. Perusing some of the rates, it’s no wonder that none of the boat captains are willing to explore mere sightseeing.

The tour was great, but served as a reminder of the negative effects of offshore drilling. The guide didn’t bring up the oil spill, and I didn’t press the issue – I thought it might be a touchy subject. But she had some choice words for the ample consequences of canal-making and maintenance by the oil industry. The chief concerns are flooding and saltwater intrusion. The wetlands have been crucial in limiting both, but “the local cuts and nicks, one acre at a time” are continuing to wreak devastation.

There are other effects as well, some that we could see. Any time one spends time in nature, they are usually blissfully unaware that things might not be great. There could be invasive species, endangered native species, or unseen pollution. To the untrained or uneducated eye, it’s hard to know.

In the salt marshes, as the tour guide helpfully pointed out, the deciduous vegetation lining some of the canals is not native to the area. The excavations, dumped onto the adjacent riparian areas, exposed the dredged muck which allowed long dormant but still viable seeds from upstream to germinate. Obviously I wouldn’t have known this if it weren’t pointed out to me, but the tepid autumn colors of the deciduous trees look very out of place in this region and serve as visual evidence that things aren’t right.

***

The relationship between the petroleum industry is, as it is everywhere oil can be found in the US, complicated. To distill the complications to their essence, it provides jobs but wrecks the environment (profound, I know). Those obtaining monetary rewards care only as much as it affects their bottom line (again, very profound).

Louisiana, as opposed to other locales, has a different relationship with the oil industry [2]. Offshore drilling in California, for example, has been met with widespread protest over the last century. Other areas of the country with shorelines that can be used for amenities (or picturesque enough for private ownership by the obscenely wealthy) are less likely to view offshore drilling as desirable. But in Louisiana, this hasn’t been the case for several reasons:

  • Louisiana’s southern coast contains the most extensive coastal marshlands in the US. Most Louisianans live miles from the coast, and much of it is only accessible by boat. Many have never even seen it.
  • Louisiana has historically been an area of the country where extractive industries reign supreme. In the middle part of the last century when offshore drilling was ramping up, locals were more likely to see it as just another type of industry they were already familiar with – after all, nature is a gift from God to do with as we please.
  • The ubiquity of the oil industry has ensured that just about every family contains one or more members that are employed directly or tangentially. It is a vital component of their local economy.

What brought on the spill, simplistically speaking, was pure hubris. Safety measures were ignored. Federal oversight was lax. The lack of recent catastrophes encouraged personnel to rest on their laurels, exacerbated by the fact that doing so saves money in the short term. Astoundingly, the means of dealing with the spill when it occurred were virtually the same as those used decades ago:

  • Capturing oil via containment booms. They are every bit as pathetic as they look. I recall seeing many a ship drive around aimlessly with their boom up and wondering how the hell they would be of any use.

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0611/Containment-boom-effort-comes-up-short-in-BP-oil-spill

BP had the foolish belief that nothing bad will ever happen, and they’re certainly not the only oil company who has this point of view. It is endemic to extractive, environmentally destructive entities. Problems can be dealt with when they happen. Hopefully the state of remediation is better now than it was then – especially with Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge edging closer to being opened for drilling.

***

Obviously the oil spill was bad in the short term. But 7-8 years on, how are things? The most recent comprehensive paper I could find was from last year. From it’s abstract:

Research demonstrates that oiling caused a wide range of biological effects, although worst-case impact scenarios did not materialize. Biomarkers in individual organisms were more informative about oiling stress than population and community indices. Salt marshes and seabird populations were hard hit, but were also quite resilient to oiling effects. Monitoring demonstrated little contamination of seafood. Certain impacts are still understudied, such as effects on seagrass communities. Concerns of long-term impacts remain for large fish species, deep-sea corals, sea turtles and cetaceans. These species and their habitats should continue to receive attention (monitoring and research) for years to come.

So the best that can be said is the worst case scenario was avoided. Hooray! That’s good PR for BP – they should use it in their marketing. And so we march on, racing inexorably towards exhausting a nonrenewable resource that, while making lives easier and more convenient for some, is wrecking our planet in so many different ways. On a lighter note, consider seeing the salt marshes of Louisiana. You won’t be disappointed.


[1] The casual, open racism was quite a shock compared to the thinly-veiled Midwestern variety I’m used to.

[2] The following information in the section comes from Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America by William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling. It came out within a year of the spill and the title is extremely misleading. The “future of energy” takes up around 10 pages, with the bulk of the book providing the historical and sociological contexts that led to and even predicted a spill like this to occur. It was a worthwhile read, though it contained numerous grammatical errors – pretty obvious is the fact they were in a rush to publish. Nevertheless, I would’ve thought MIT Press wouldn’t be so lax in their editing.

This seems like a big deal

The folks at Big Science are again putting humanity on blast. Twenty-five years ago, they issued a dire warning, one that hasn’t resulted in sustained, meaningful results:

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1). These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.

Is it too much to ask our beloved leaders to respond to this in a meaningful way? Let’s say the media actually does this. In this dream scenario, they could really hold their feet to the fire – be tenacious, refuse to accept non-answers, point out conflicts of interest, refute illogic, etc. It seems pretty important:

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

None of this should be news to readers of this site. But the paper appears to be exceptionally noteworthy:

We have been overwhelmed with the support for our article and thank the more than 15,000 signatories from all ends of the Earth (see supplemental file S2 for list of signatories). As far as we know, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.

Worth pondering is what to do when legal means of halting our death march continue to fail. Sure there are small victories here and there – for example, the article notes the decline in the manufacturing of ozone depleting substances. But the overall narrative of impending doom hasn’t changed. Collectively, we’re not listening. Or, put another way, those who are okay with destroying the biosphere, and those who profit off it directly and indirectly, haven’t listened. There doesn’t seem to be many good reasons to think they’ll start now.

I’m more comfortable being openly atheist than openly against the US military

I’ve never been shy about being an atheist. It’s not something I bring up among coworkers or acquaintances. But, if asked, I’m very comfortable talking about it. People close to me know and are respectful. There are other things I believe, however, that I don’t really like talking about.

Four American soldiers were killed in Niger, a country most Americans never heard of and even fewer could point out on a map. Many probably weren’t aware we were there in the first place, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. In 2015, the US had more than 800 bases in 70 countries. Somewhat hilariously, the senate has little idea of where and what our benevolent global police force is doing:

“Senator McCain is frustrated, rightly so, we don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said, adding that with McCain’s system: “We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.”

Dead soldiers rarely warrant more than a few days of media coverage. However, the dumpster president fucking up what should have been a simple condolence call has kept the story in public eye much longer than normal. Not that anyone really cares about what the US is doing in Niger. The media (damn you MSM!) isn’t particularly interested in giving us a nuanced, comprehensive look at the recent and historical geopolitical ramifications of US intervention in the Sahel:

The media’s efforts should have been devoted to exploring — really exploring — why Rangers (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media’s explanation.)

That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it’s all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country — no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story.

But maybe we should just accept the obvious reason we’re in Niger: to teach them “how to respect human rights.” I, for one, can’t think of a better teacher.

The first paragraph was written to contrast my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) with my feelings about the military. While I’m fine being an open atheist, I go out of my way to not bring up my feelings about the US military, specifically the people that eagerly join. Most people I associate with on a regular basis, very generally-speaking, fall somewhere on the left side of the spectrum, somewhere between Clinton and Sanders. But most would not take kindly to questioning the valor, sacrifice, and altruism of the troops. Critiquing US hegemony is mostly fine, but that’s where it ends. Criticism of the humans who provide the muscle is not socially acceptable. I get why this is. So many people have friends or relatives in the military. It would be pretty shitty telling them that their loved ones shouldn’t have joined. Only a monster would tell someone dealing with the loss of a loved one that the dead soldier “knew what he signed up for,” even if it’s kind of true.

It’s easy to blame the leaders of the American military-industrial complex, but soldiers are a huge part of the problem. They are not a force for good in the world. There is no causal relationship between a person joining the military and my or anyone else’s right to free speech. Dead soldiers are not automatically heroes. Maybe some have unequivocally done heroic things outside of their role in US hegemony, but anything in the service of it is not heroic. Our collective deification of the troops is infantile, and made even more pathetic by how the US government treats them when their service is ended.

I’ve had a few friends serve. I hoped very much that they would be safe and not do anything shitty to the war-ravaged inhabitants of the places we conduct unwinnable wars. But I always kept those feelings to myself. At any rate, I’m glad I have this blog to serve as an outlet for expressing something I’m uncomfortable talking about verbally.

As I wrote above, it’d be pretty fucking rude to give my spiel to anyone that’s been negatively affected by a loved one’s service by death or PTSD. Maybe some of you read this and think I’m an asshole for impugning individual soldiers. That’s fine. I would point out, though, that I support soldiers remaining alive by wishing them to not be in the military.

 

 

 

What about the Catalan anarchists?

It doesn’t seem like violent state repression of the Catalan independence referendum is that great an idea. If I were an undecided resident, I can’t fathom desiring to remain a part of Spain after the events of the past weekend.

In an area steeped in the romantic ideals of early 20th century anticapitalist movements, I found myself wondering how contemporary Catalan anarchists perceived the independence movement. It’s certainly not intuitive that they would support the secession from one state and the creation of another. Thankfully Crimethinc has it covered:

Anarchists hadn’t thought about what to do in relation to this movement until the referendum was approaching and the Spanish state began to crack down on civil liberties. Faced with the censorship imposed by the state, a large number of anarchist groups from different parts of Barcelona, who have already been organized in their own neighborhood assemblies and social centers, decided to give support to the local independentista movements.

Within the anarchist movement, there are people who support the referendum itself, and also people who don’t. Independentist people are demanding basic democratic rights and civil liberties, such as the right to vote, and some anarchists believe that anarchists should be out there with them. There are also people involved in the independence movement who we lost track of years ago when the political parties like CUP and Podemos that gained momentum after the 15M movement in 2011 institutionalized the energy from the streets. Now, with the referendum, people are returning to the streets, so we decided it was an important moment for us to be out there too. But this has created a good deal of debate within and between anarchist collectives, because we are definitely not coming from the same place politically as many of the independentistas.

For us, it has been really complicated. For me personally, sure, I hold contradictory positions all the time, like supporting certain reformist campaigns or engaging with single issue movements… but to defend a democratic process towards national dependence… it’s very hard to figure out where I stand. Many of the comrades in our neighborhood are trying to figure it out too.

Many of us went home yesterday very annoyed, because we had a lot of differences with what was happening. About two weeks ago, the anarchist collective here in my neighborhood had a discussion about whether or not to defend the process of national “self-determination.” There were many people close to us, with whom we share a lot of political affinity, who said it was better to struggle against the institutions of a Catalan state because it would be a smaller state. Many people also supported the process in hopes of destabilizing the Spanish state, because at the moment the Spanish state is very weakened. It’s a moment that could tip either way.

Personally, I don’t like either of the options. We can’t lose track of where we stand as anarchists. I think we should be supporting people in the streets, but I truly believe the worst thing that could happen to us would be if a Catalan state gained independence. In the end, it’s just a way to legitimize the social and political exclusions that exist today to believe that we’d have more control over them in a smaller state. But it’s hard for people to see a Catalan state as something other than their own, especially after struggling for years to achieve it.

I too have mixed thoughts. I’m totally all for a group of people leaving their nation-state if they so choose. But is what follows going to be better? Of course, as someone who doesn’t reside in the area, my opinion is completely irrelevant. However, in cases like this, one should always be cognizant of the odious themes of nationalism, and its associated bigotries of xenophobia and racism.

Catalonia, Kurdistan, Rojava, Scotland, Palestine, the Donbass, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Chiapas – these are only a few of many examples of unease within sovereign countries that are decades, if not centuries in the making. Many of these are bound to come to a head sooner than later. Though each situation is contextually different and related to their geopolitical particulars, they are associated thematically with the ongoing death spasms of neoliberalism, and the very real possibility of fracturing nation-states on the horizon. As to what comes next, and whether or not it will be for the better, who can say?

 

No refuge could save the hireling and slave: a post about the sports weekend

The sports world had a pretty eventful weekend. The slate of NFL games was actually good for once, the Knicks finally traded Melo, and Dwyane Wade was bought out freeing him to sign with a contender. Oh, and the president took time off from goading North Korea into nuclear war to castigate uppity black athletes. His racist word salad led to an avalanche of athletes losing their shit on social media.

Imagine that: the white supremacist president telling sport team owners to fire their largely black workforce for daring to impugn the self-evident majesty of the USA [1]. But it backfired, because the usually spineless league management and owners correctly determined which way the wind was blowing. Their public relations team no doubt informed them of the developing shitstorm, and they predictably realized that they would have to issue their own mealy-mouthed condemnations against a president whose candidacy many of them supported. To say they were going after low hanging fruit is an insult to low hanging fruit.

This is yet another example of Trump taking right wing talking points to their logical conclusion: if players not standing for the anthem is unpatriotic, and unpatriotic acts are unconscionably bad, then owners of any entity should be able to fire their employees for their heinous acts. Because fuck the first amendment: it shouldn’t even count for egregious acts like disrespecting America/military/flag/president. Love America or leave it. Maybe even be forced to leave it.

It’s a virtual certainty that Trump is both unwilling and unable to understand the reasons for the protests which go back to Colin Kaepernick last year. He has essentially co-opted the, for lack of a better word, movement and made it all about himself and by extension, racism. No one should forget that the protests began during his predecessor’s reign. Kaepernick’s cause, at its root was confronting systemic racism as manifested in police violence. Obviously Trump is a piece that fits snugly into the larger puzzle of historical and especially contemporary US racism.

***

The anthem protests were dying. The past two years have seen many players do it for a game or two, decide that was sufficient to get the point across, and cease. Sunday was different as players decided en masse to act. A lot went into the optics: should one sit on the bench, kneel, raise a fist, clasp arms with teammates, stay in the locker room, or stretch? And then, how does one explain their rationale to the media afterwards? Grossest of all was scumbag Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones kneeling with his team BEFORE the anthem, and then standing. What a wonderful show of unity in these divided times.

One NFL writer (I forget who unfortunately) stated on Twitter that players told him off the record that team management were ordering players to stand going back to last year. In a league where there are no guaranteed contracts, careers lasting around 3 years, and players being one injury away from unemployment and a lifetime of physical pain, it should surprise no one that so few players indulge in symbolic protest. Especially if the protest can be seen as disrespecting the totemic representations (flag and anthem) of the childish narrative of America being the greatest country in the history of the world [2]. And especially if the league they work for has wrapped itself in a cloak of unrelenting support for the American military industrial complex. If one isn’t good enough, the risks taken can be career-ending, as Kaepernick has learned.

It’s ironic that Trump’s tantrum might be the catalyst for Kaepernick’s return. Despite being unofficially blacklisted from the league, this is a very good time for a quarterback-needy team to sign him. Or not. One dipshit owner used the outpouring of negative fan mail as the reason for not signing him as a backup in the offseason, funny since they had no problems employing a serial domestic abuser. One can only imagine the renewed vitriol owners will receive from their bigoted fan base, egged on by their messiah. At any rate, Kaepernick may remain a sacrificial lamb, but perhaps for not much longer.

***

The events of this past weekend has led to the renewal of infantile arguments over what is and isn’t patriotic: “protesting is patriotic!” kneeling for the anthem is unpatriotic!” Both sides accuse the other of fundamentally misunderstanding their viewpoint. How nice it would be for a player to say, “you know what? How about fuck patriotism, fuck the flag, and fuck the national anthem“[3]. Which is kind of funny in a way, because the bigots screaming at traitorous black athletes assume this is what they’re specifically protesting. And the protesters reiterate that no, that’s not why.

What’s particularly striking is how this is breaking down upon racial lines amongst the players. I only know of one white player, Seth DeValve of the Cleveland Browns, who has kneeled or sat prior to yesterday. This is despite requests for solidarity from white players. One can only imagine if it has more to do with cowardice or misguided, simplistic patriotism. Surely it’s a mixture that varies from player to player [4].

This week, some locked arms with teammates (this isn’t really new) or placed a hand on a shoulder in solidarity. And even after what transpired over the weekend, I don’t believe more than a handful of white players chose not to stand. Annoying but unsurprising.

***

The larger question is how much this shit even matters. It likely won’t change too much. It seems we’ve run up against an impenetrable wall in the fight for true social justice. Solutions need to confront the systemic problems we face and I’m not convinced change will come from within the system, however one wants to define it politically and economically.

In regards to police violence, the catalyst for Kaepernick’s protest, shootings in 2017 are roughly on pace to match the total from 2016 [5]. It should surprise no one that sitting down for the national anthem has failed to solve this enormous problem. Moreover, there were ACTUAL PROTESTS about a cop shooting in St. Louis this past week. I don’t believe I heard one word about it from the direction of the NFL or NBA.

Such is the gravity of Trump that he is able to turn the narrative into a broader response to racism and white supremacy simply by injecting himself into the discussion. That pivot away from police violence may not be the worst thing in the world because actual racists and white supremacists are having a bit of a moment right now.

As noted, when this style of protest occurs on game day it is mostly symbolic. This should not be taken to denigrate the good work athletes such as Kaepernick do off the field. I really do think it’s important to stand up to racist assholes. Especially the one sitting in the White House and his adoring base. I can quibble about it not going far enough, but at this moment we need to keep screaming about racism’s prevalence and resurgence. Athletes likely are feeling a sense of catharsis that accompanies confronting injustice. Hopefully they keep it up, as the hummingbird-like attention span of the president shifts elsewhere.


[1] This is, of course, on the heels of not inviting the Golden State Warriors to the WH, and calling for Jemele Hill to be fired. I sense a pattern here but it’s so hard to put my finger on it.

[2] This is a narrative that the players almost unanimously subscribe to. No one, aside from perhaps Kaepernick, has really questioned American exceptionalism.

[3] “No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

[4] I’m a huge Packer fan and I was pretty bummed Aaron Rodgers stood, especially after a post on Instagram that was interpreted by some as a sign he’d kneel. I’m very biased and believe him to be far more thoughtful than brand-bots like Russell Wilson, good ‘ol boys like Drew Brees, and quasi-literate rapists like Ben Roethlisberger:

I ask him [Rodgers] what he thinks about that battle — the actual subject of Kaepernick’s protest. As always, he pauses to collect his thoughts. “I think the best way I can say this is: I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing — or any of my teammates have talked to me about.” He adds that he believes it’s an area the country needs to “remedy and improve” and one he’s striving to better understand. “But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with.”

All of that said, I’m pretty disappointed he chose to stand and not support three of his teammates that didn’t.

[5] See here and here