Breaking the Press (Part 3): Everything in this Universe is a PSYOP

Basketball, Fascism, and the Limits of Permissible Punditry

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Perhaps you know the story of the investigator who watched the dunk contest for this purpose, and equipped himself with pencil and paper to record, at the moment of awakening, whatever revelation might have been given to him. Fortunately, the expected experience took place, and, for a brief period, the investigator had the vivid conviction of complete comprehension of this universe, of life and death. He regained waking consciousness with the tail-end of the sensation still upon him, grabbed the pencil, and swiftly recorded the essential content of the experience just before it faded. After several minutes, during which his mind returned to its normal state, he looked at what he had written, and there upon the paper was the following immensely profound observation: everything in this universe is a PSYOP.

I’ve been meaning to write about the 2012 dunk contest for a while now. It remains, five years on, one of the most ludicrous and unsettling spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. It is so thoroughly saturated with signs and messages, along with the obligatory US State Department propaganda, that to do it justice would require a book-length write-up (a project I fully intend to pursue). In the meantime, with the UK general election nearing its conclusion, I would like to begin my formal investigation of the 2012 dunk contest by considering what it can tell us about parliamentary democracy.

The 2012 dunk contest was the first to completely dispense with judges (representatives) and implement a kind of direct dunkmocracy in which the audience voted (via text or Twitter) for their favourite performer. Phrases like “America votes” and “America, you decide” were repeated throughout the broadcast (evidently NBA basketball was not yet a #GlobalGame), but was this really a democratic process?

Even setting aside the obvious fact that its opaque electronic voting system was open to abuse, the democracy of the 2012 dunk contest, like the representative democracies of the United States and those of its allies, is illusory. Fans were permitted to vote for whichever dunker they preferred, but could select only from a field of four (horrible, insulting) candidates that they had played no part in nominating. There exists no mechanism which allows the public to select candidates for the dunk contest, to determine how many there will be, or to alter the format of the contest itself (which changes arbitrarily every year).

Thus, in 2012, audiences watched four obscure and incompetent nobodies stumble about before an almost silent audience as the arena hype man screamed at them that what was taking place was entertaining. The public is well aware that there are other, better dunkers in the NBA than Derrick Williams, but such individuals are almost never invited to participate. On the rare occasions that a superior dunker is permitted to enter the dunk contest, we quickly find that they are curiously unable to perform the very dunks that made them popular in the first place. These populist dunkers invariably find that in the face of the bright lights and insipid pageantry of the dunk contest, their dunking principles either desert them or are downplayed by the pundits on the sidelines.

This is no coincidence, nor is it the result of nerves; the current dunk contest system, by its very structure, prohibits original dunks. As with conventional parliamentary democracy, participants who are dedicated to progressive dunking are refused entry, and those few that do succeed in gaining admittance do so at the expense of whatever radical dunking ideology they may once have possessed.

Consider here Jeremy Corbyn, an ostensibly principled politician who has, throughout his long career, condemned the criminal organisations of NATO and the EU, voted against one imperialist war after another, and campaigned for the UK’s nuclear disarmament. After two years of relentless pressure from the Blairite hordes that dominate the parliamentary Labour Party as well as the craven stenographers of the capitalist press, his party’s manifesto ultimately turned out to be a pro-business, pro-war pile of shit (though, predictably, the usual suspects in the liberal press ate it up). Now that Corbyn’s election campaign is underway, Labour is “committed to NATO,” will ensure UK membership of the Single Market (i.e. membership of the capitalist EU in all but name), will continue funding Trident, and will put an extra 10,000 cops on the streets[1].

The challenge for organisers and administrators—whether of dunk contests or elections—is to keep the audience engaged in spite of the necessarily unpopular and uninteresting candidates from which they are expected to choose. This is achieved in two main ways. The first involves the inclusion of candidates so wildly inappropriate that the other contestants seem appealing by comparison: just as the 2012 dunk contest included Chase Buddinger, so elections in the US and Europe increasingly feature openly fascist candidates. How, for example, were French voters recently convinced to elect an investment banker as president? Simply by having him run against a repellent fascist[2].

It is in this way that liberalism and fascism exist in symbiosis: whether voters opt to thwart the rising tide of right wing extremism or to reject the liberal values of the bourgeois media, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen both ultimately exist to serve the interests of capital and of empire. No matter who wins, our class enemies always remain in power, yet the election of Macron—a former finance minister who referred to himself as a political “outsider” (a claim unquestioningly accepted by journalists and, as we shall see, even “critical voices” like Noam Chomsky)—was hailed as a victory for “progressive” values.

Which brings us to the second method by which interest and faith in these spectacles is maintained: the pundits. The 2012 dunk contest was narrated by the usual gang (Kevin Harlan, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and Shaquille O’Neal). Through catchphrases and feigned excitement, their job is to infuse the contest with energy and legitimacy. The fact that it takes a team of five to fill the horrified silence in the arena and give the television audience a sense that something is happening when in fact nothing of interest is taking place says a lot about how boring and irrelevant these contests are to ordinary people.

Likewise, political elections in the United States and Europe would not be complete without an assortment of familiar and beloved journalists and academics whose job it is to mediate these processes for us. The role of these pundits is not to inform, however; it is to lend an air of legitimacy to proceedings, justifying the obviously undemocratic nature of capitalist society, and to help police the boundaries of acceptable discourse. Two of the most famous and highly regarded of these intellectuals-for-hire gave their pronouncements on the UK election earlier this month.

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The problems, the men agreed, fell into three categories. First was the question of ‘communist sympathisers’ and ‘communist agents’ working at the BBC. Second was the possibility that ‘communist inspired speakers’ might be able to put their views across via programmes. The third problem the men discussed was, they agreed, the most difficult. This was the possibility that the BBC itself might become the location of industrial conflict and that the management of the Corporation might in a moment of ‘national crisis’ find itself vulnerable to ‘sabotage’ by BBC engineers.

Up first, Noam Chomsky was interviewed for  the BBC’s flagship programme Newsnight by Evan Davis, an animatronic puppet with a PPE degree from Oxford who has published books on such edifying subjects as why the privatisation of public services is actually really good and why you should definitely trust the BBC. To his credit, Chomsky managed—to the visible discomfort of Davis—to slip in a couple of salient remarks about class (there exist “divides on all sorts of things, but a fundamental divide is the class divide”). Yet the bulk of the 22 minute interview was spent parroting Tory Party talking points (he agrees with Davis’ assessment that “there’s a sense of a lack of clarity about quite what [Jeremy Corbyn] stands for,” and claims that Corbyn is “evidently not inspiring the population,” despite all available evidence contradicting such a claim) and slowly muttering other insipid and barely audible clichés (Chomsky does not “go along with those who say that we have incipient fascism[3],” and apparently believes that Emmanuel Macron “came from the outside[4]”).

He is invited to repeat his claim that the Republican Party is “the most dangerous organisation in human history,” but very conveniently elides the innumerable and unforgivable crimes of the Democratic Party, the organisation he has consistently urged American voters to support. As Michael Parenti recounts:

Under one or another Democratic administration, 120,000 Japanese Americans were torn from their homes and livelihoods and thrown into detention camps; atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with an enormous loss of innocent life; the FBI was given authority to infiltrate political groups; the Smith Act was used to imprison leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and later on leaders of the Communist Party for their political beliefs; detention camps were established to round up political dissidents in the event of a “national emergency”; during the late 1940s and 1950s, eight thousand federal workers were purged from government because of their political associations and views, with thousands more in all walks of life witchhunted out of their careers; the Neutrality Act was used to impose an embargo on the Spanish Republic that worked in favor of Franco’s fascist legions; homicidal counterinsurgency programs were initiated in various Third World countries; and the Vietnam War was pursued and escalated. And for the better part of a century, the Congressional leadership of the Democratic Party protected racial segregation and stymied all anti-lynching and fair employment bills. Yet all these crimes, bringing ruination and death to many, have not moved the liberals, the social democrats, and the “democratic socialist” anticommunists to insist repeatedly that we issue blanket condemnations of either the Democratic Party or the political system that produced it, certainly not with the intolerant fervor that has been directed against existing communism.

Whoops. Of course, Chomsky is perfectly happy to criticise the Democratic Party provided these criticisms do not undermine his audience’s willingness to vote for them again and again and again. He points out in his BBC interview that, despite the campaign rhetoric in which people were swept up in 2008, “there was no hope and there was no change” under the Obama regime. “The Democrats,” he observes, “gave up on the working class forty years ago. The working class is not their constituency. No one in the political system [represents the working class].” Yet despite this apparently damning indictment of American democracy (a representative system in which the majority of people are not represented is obviously not democratic), Chomsky frames this as an internal problem that the Democratic Party must address by itself.

His assessment of the situation in the UK is identical: the Labour Party, like the Democratic Party in the US, “did not represent the working class” through the neoliberal years, and is currently “split between the constituency and the parliamentary party” (in other words, the working class are not represented by their bourgeois representatives in parliament). Despite explaining in plain language that the UK’s political system is fundamentally and necessarily undemocratic, Chomsky simply declares that “the Labour Party has internal problems it has to deal with,” encouraging viewers to internalise the logic of the political spectacle, identify with their oppressors, and understand this lack of representation as a failure of the Labour Party to market itself successfully and not as an inevitable symptom of a capitalist society. “These are internal problems to these decaying centrist institutions,” he concludes.

I am aware, of course, that Noam Chomsky knows a thing or two about how the media manufactures consent by filtering out critical voices. I think it is fair to argue, however, that if in exchange for being permitted to periodically remind people that class is important Chomsky is obliged to promote the Democratic Party (and by implication America’s sham democracy) and insist that communism is evil and revolution impossible, he is not compromising but collaborating.

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Before becoming a global celebrity, Žižek was the chief ideologist of the anti-communist, pseudo-left, ethnic separatist Liberal Democratic Party of Slovenia, but over the 1990s he transformed himself for the Anglophone market into a vaudeville Communist. This he accomplished by simply declaring himself a “Stalinist” and then proceeding to recycle Hitlerian anti-communist propaganda and vent Hitlerian complaints about liberalism to the already confused audiences of the imperial core university circuit.

A few days after Chomsky’s BBC appearance, Slavoj Žižek was invited to give a similarly enlightening interview for Channel 4 News. Like Chomsky, Žižek appears to have been briefed on the most essential Tory talking points before being allowed on air (Jeremy Corbyn is too “chaotic,” has no chance of winning, no clear vision, and so on and so on). He proceeds to extol the wisdom of inept empire theory (“President Obama, he did many stupid things…”), lament the EU referendum result when in fact it should be celebrated, and, channelling the “erratic Marxism” of Yanis Varoufakis, issue a few of his patented meaningless-but-“provocative” statements[5] (“I’m here a good Marxist—by this I mean…I have a deep admiration for capitalism. Let’s face it, capitalism is a wonder…”).

But the most striking thing about Žižek’s election interview is his obvious and craven policing of the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. “I’m not a Leninist, don’t be afraid,” he remarks early on, before repeating himself later: “we need…a stronger alternative—and don’t be afraid, I’m not talking about some new Leninist party or something.” At no point does he offer any explanation as to why “some new Leninist party or something” would be a bad thing, nor does his interviewer (Cathy Newman, another cardboard Oxford graduate) ask him to elaborate; successful socialist revolutions are simply forbidden territory for these “subversive” academics (unless it is to dismiss them out of hand). Fascism, on the other hand, is apparently a proposition that we must now consider thoroughly, weighing its merits as well as its unfortunate drawbacks…

“The left…doesn’t have an answer,” Žižek continues, embracing the impotent and diversionary hand-wringing that has become a defining characteristic of the celebrity left pundit. “We do not yet have the formula of what to do.” That we do in fact have a tried and tested formula of what to do is something that will never be discussed on national television, either in the UK or in the US, and to say this is not to put forward some sort of fringe conspiracy theory. I have already written about the American press and its troubling relationship with the CIA, but a similar arrangement exists here in the United Kingdom. Defence of the status quo and a rigid anti-communist stance have been fundamental components of the BBC’s ethos since its creation. In 1933, following a Lunch with the Controller of Programmes, Brigadier Oswald ‘Jasper’ Harker, then head of MI5’s counter-espionage and counter-subversion branch, wrote approvingly of the BBC that its

general line is the one which we ourselves try to follow; that is to say that any political views which look upon the ballot box as the proper solution of their problems are reasonable politics; anything that goes outside the ballot box—such as communism or fascism[6]—is considered to be subversive if not seditious.

As Tom Mills explains in his recent book on the history of the Corporation, the BBC secretly and systematically vetted its staff, rooting out suspected communists and pacifists over a period of fifty years and abandoning the practice in 1985 only after a team of investigative journalists exposed what was happening. Of course, political vetting did not cease (the system was “revised and radically changed”), and senior BBC employees maintain close contact with MI5 and MI6, publishing and broadcasting whatever feckless propaganda is deemed expedient by the state.

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It is sometimes imagined that the ‘death of deference’ in the 1960s, and the impact this had on journalistic culture, led to the combative style of political interviewing exemplified at the BBC by figures like Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys. While not entirely erroneous, this is something of a misreading. The social change of that era no doubt opened up space for this type of journalism; but the irreverent style stems less from the egalitarian spirit of the 1960s and ‘70s, and more from the bumptious posturing of the public school and Oxbridge debating societies, or the ‘moots’ at which would-be barristers pit their wits against one another.

Since the election was called, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has been caught passing off a Tory campaign slogan for political analysis and regularly uses her Twitter account to assist the Tories and smear Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier this month, BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier, the daughter of Tory MP Edward Garnier, was sent to question Theresa May. You get the idea.

Faced with a critical and restless public increasingly uninclined to take for granted the credibility and authority of establishment journalism (the European Broadcasting Union has found the UK press the least trusted in Europe), the BBC has resorted to the same sort of desperate appeal we’ve seen from other decaying legacy media, casting itself as “the most trusted brand in news” in a recent advert. There is, of course, quite an important distinction between being trusted and being trustworthy, but I imagine the marketing geniuses at the BBC are very proud of themselves for this clever sleight of hand that will no doubt keep the proles fooled.

It’s not just the big transnational newspapers and broadcasters that find themselves edging towards the precipice, either. Regional newspapers across the UK have invented something called “trusted news day,” a perfectly natural event that you’d expect to see in any free society with a robust and healthy press. My own local newspaper, the Hastings Obscurer, recently published a series of very convincing features assuring its readers that it really is a very credible paper interested in facts and truth and things like that.

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It is helpful, in my opinion, to view the election in this context—not as part of a supposed proliferation of “populist” movements in which Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, and Marine Le Pen are all lumped together and cast as “anti-establishment” (not one of them is), but as part of a battle between the working class and their oppressors. The “unexpected” and “undesirable” results we’ve seen in recent months signify a weakening of the capitalist news media’s hegemony, and this is a welcome development. The Guardian, for example, is currently haemorrhaging money as its readers become increasingly perplexed and frustrated by its hollow claims of conducting “independent, investigative journalism” while simultaneously publishing articles in praise of George Bush and Tony Blair. With any luck a Labour victory will finish it off.

What the 2012 dunk contest sought to do (among other things) was establish in the minds of its audience, through procedural rhetoric, the legitimacy of these sham democracies. Dunk contests, along with other kinds of interactive reality television, reinforce the logic of representative democracies in which voters collectively exercise only a limited control over superficial issues and are prohibited from addressing fundamental problems. The dunk contest will be sponsored by Sprite, whether we like it or not, just as the next prime minister of the United Kingdom will be sponsored by BAE Systems.

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Thank you for listening.

[1] Obviously, I would be happier with a Labour victory than a Tory victory (the Tories will kill countless people both here and abroad); the point is that we are never presented with an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist choice, and thus are condemned to suffer in one way or another under the current bourgeois dictatorship.

[2] Incidentally, this was the first French election in my lifetime during which I could actually name more than two of the candidates—and this is not because I have recently taken a special interest in French politics. Even here in the UK, it was common for BBC news bulletins to lead with stories about Marine Le Pen, as though she were the most important person in Europe, her election inevitable.

[3] I disagree. Rather than erroneously referring to them as populists, we should call our political leaders what they are: fascists. The Tory Party is indeed a fascist party. They have rendered UKIP, formerly the UK’s burgeoning outsider fascist threat, utterly irrelevant politically by adopting all of their worst policies. The Tories adhere to any definition of fascism you might care to use. Thus, here in the UK, we are faced with precisely the same dilemma as in France: a fascist or a faux-outsider.

[4] For all of Žižek’s faults (and there are many), at least he didn’t fall for this one during his Channel 4 interview.

[5] Some more of Žižek’s greatest hits, from The Fragile Absolute, a few pages of which I occasionally read when on the toilet: “…it is multicultural tolerance and permissiveness which induce real boredom”; “Marx’s fundamental mistake was to conclude…that a new, higher social order (Communism) is possible”; “…the critics of Communism were right when they claimed that Marxian Communism is an impossible fantasy”; “…’actually existing Socialism’ failed because it was ultimately a subspecies of capitalism, an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient.”

[6] This apparently anti-fascist orientation was never sincere, however (or, if it was, it was quickly abandoned). As Mills writes of the BBC’s arrangements in anticipation for the outbreak of war: “Speakers hostile to fascism were barred from broadcasting and Winston Churchill, who was unusual among his class for his antipathy to Nazism if not fascism per se, complained in 1938 that he had been ‘muzzled by the BBC’ following his last broadcast on German rearmament four years earlier.”

If you have noticed something unusual about the 2012 dunk contest or have ever felt as though the NBA were trying to manipulate you in some way, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Pigs and Fishes. This is Auspicious.

Basketball, Alchemy, and Mantic Insight into the Workings of the Universe

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An interest in the [I Ching] has become more widespread, and as its popularity as a text for translation has grown, it has sometimes been considered as a philosophical gem suspended in a historical and cultural void, removed from its ancient Chinese context. Without this context, some translators and writers on the [I Ching] have dressed it in clothes of their own choosing, often inappropriately.

I first became interested in applying religious theory to basketball practice in 2007. I had just picked up a book about Zen, and, naïvely believing that it might fulfil its promise of “hard-won insights” rather than “second-hand slogans,” began reading with the expectation that I would soon learn how to hit targets in pitch darkness (a skill that Glen Rice claims to have mastered).

Of course, as I explained in a previous entry, Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery is a dubious sort of book, and certainly not one that I would recommend to anybody interested in reading an accurate account of Zen as it is practiced in Japan. But this initial disappointment did not deter me. I turned next to Daoist alchemy, which, according to one practitioner, could be used to transmogrify the body into a “shining, adamantine substance, weightless yet hard as jade.” This sounded as though it would be useful for taking charges and finishing through contact.

Xian (immortals or genies, roughly translated) were those who had successfully conquered mortality and acquired magical powers by performing certain exercises or consuming the correct elixirs. These elixirs were made using either vegetable, mineral, or animal elements (or a combination), though the first two were generally favoured. Ingredients like gold and jade were considered superior to herbs since they do not decay when buried or turn to ashes when burnt, and it was understood that such properties could be transferred to one who consumes an elixir created from such materials. One recipe guarantees that “having eaten the medicine for three years a man attains buoyancy in movement and is able to travel great distances; stepping over fire, he is not scorched; dropped into water, he does not get wet. He is able to appear and disappear at will. He will be happy for ever.”

Unfortunately, owing to the deliberately esoteric nature of alchemy, instructions and recipes were not made available to the general public or the merely curious[1], so most of the methods of concocting these elixirs are not known today. Even in those few cases in which exact ingredients[2] are given, the proportions are withheld. Nevertheless, a few quick and easy tricks have survived: juniper sap, for example, will enable one to walk on water if spread on the soles of the feet (I haven’t yet tried this, so I can’t confirm). Similar prescriptions abound in western alchemy: dog piss, mouse blood, and stones found in a crab’s head (?) were said to cure heart trouble, while baldness could be eliminated by the application of bees burnt to ashes (this last one actually works, by the way).

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To those rational sceptics out there who foolishly believe that such pursuits are a waste of time, I invite you to consider the words of the renowned alchemist Ge Hong (283-343 CE): “Although the deaf could not hear thunder or appreciate music, and the sun and the splendour of the Emperor’s robes were invisible to the blind, it did not mean that these things did not exist.” Indeed, although statistical studies have yet to detect it, this does not mean that the hot hand is a myth! Alchemical elixirs are basically PEDs, anyway, making athletes the natural inheritors of the alchemical tradition[3].

Elixirs may not be the most affordable or reliable way to get ahead in basketball, but there is one method for success that we can all make use of relatively easily: consulting the I Ching[4]. The I Ching (well, this translation at any rate) promises “mantic insight into the workings of the universe and into the dynamic of a situation.” The applications for basketball should be obvious; from foreseeing the specific set plays your opponent will run during a game to predicting the winners of NBA championships. I have used this method myself for several years now, betting successfully on NBA games and accumulating such an enormous fortune that I now enjoy the luxury of blogging full-time from a solid gold laptop.

Since I don’t have any yarrow stalks[5] lying around, I’ll be using coins to make my divinations. I’ll try to keep each entry short, selecting only the most relevant fragments and passages. To avoid confusion, I will be asking each question from the perspective of the team with home court advantage (i.e., “will the Warriors defeat the Blazers?”). This is all very scientific, you understand. And so, without further ado, let’s play.

[As a result of changing lines, most of the readings below include two hexagrams, but in each case I’ve only included the image of the first for reasons of aesthetics and not wanting to do any more scanning.]

Round 1

Warriors vs Blazers

round 1 warriors v blazers 1

Be steadfast to the very end. None can hinder you.

Pretty straightforward.

Forecast: Warriors in 4.

 

Clippers vs Jazz

round 1 clippers v jazz

The True Gentleman Has a Destination.

Forecast: Clippers in 6.

 

Rockets vs Thunder

round 1 rockets v thunder

Slight fortune for a traveller.

A Wanderer moves on, writes Magister Liu. He does not linger in one place. […]. This is the Tao of the Wanderer. He passes through and does not linger; he is not attached to any country.

A soft style of leadership should be adopted when operating away from home, writes Professor Mun.

Forecast: Rockets in 4.

 

Spurs vs Grizzlies

round 1 spurs v grizz 1

There’s quite a lot of talk here about danger and peril.

He is caught in a thicket of thorns. For three years there is no success. Misfortune.

One has lost the means to escape from peril. This thicket of thorns, writes Magister Liu, [consists of] bad habits of Heart-and-Mind, vanity, and self-destruction.

A leader who has misjudged his direction, writes Professor Mun, now has to pay the price. He has fallen into a deep pit. 

Forecast: Grizzlies in 5.

 

Cavs vs Pacers

round 1 cavs v bulls 1

Calamitous advance, nothing profits.

This hexagram is generally seen as inauspicious.

When pleasure is the sole goal, writes Magister Liu, when desire and emotions dominate, the union will be inauspicious. The True Gentleman perceives these flaws; he sees that the union is not harmonious and well founded at the outset.

No fruit. An empty basket.

The marriage is broken. It is void. […]. The sacrifice is without effect. It bodes ill. This is a selfish union which will fail, writes Magister Liu. There can be no profit.

Great matters are abandoned.

Forecast: Pacers in 6.

 

Wizards vs Hawks

round 1 wizards v hawks 1

Supreme fortune. It profits.

The True Gentleman cultivates inner strength. He rouses the folk.

The Son sets right the blight of the Father in its early stages, before the corruption is too deep and advanced. In the end, the Father will be seen as having caused no lasting harm. […]. If an executive, writes Professor Mun, can carefully clear up the mistakes made by his predecessor, things will turn out well in the end. The decay is at an early stage.

The Leader’s resources accumulate: his knowledge, his experience, friends, special abilities.

Forecast: Wizards in 6.

 

Raptors vs Bucks

round 1 raptors v bucks 1

The hexagram name has traditionally been taken to mean “wounding of the bright,” and the individual lines contain frequent references to wounding and injury, and to the repression of all that is good and bright. […]. In human affairs, there is a Dark Lord above, and a Bright Minister below, one who cannot show his Light. It is a time of great Darkness. One cannot go along with the general trend, which is impure. […]. In such times the True Gentleman should find a way to preserve his integrity amid Darkness. A loyal minister is steadfast, and serves his country, even in hard times under a weak and unsympathetic sovereign.

Darkness. The left thigh is wounded.

The wound is not fatal or disabling. There is still a way to save oneself, and maintain Aspiration.

In this case, the second hexagram is actually quite auspicious and suggests that aspiration was indeed maintained. This will be a very close series, but the Raptors will overcome injuries and advance.

Forecast: Raptors in 7.

 

Celtics vs Bulls

round 1 celtics v pacers 1

Good faith. Luminous fortune. This is auspicious. For the steadfast, it profits.

The True Gentleman takes his ease; He feasts joyfully.

Respect and caution stave off defeat.

This is the very brink of the abyss. Advance has provoked resistance, which may result in injury. Mud is dangerous, writes Professor Mun. People can be trapped in it. A leader needs to be particularly cautious.

The True Gentleman calibrates.

The ruling idea of this hexagram is…the maintenance of a well-regulated cadence or rhythm, a fine sense of timing. It is essential to be in tune with Time, to be at one with the rhythms of the seasons and the equilibrium of society.

If one does not adapt to change, if one is too rigid, writes Magister Liu, this can create danger.

Forecast: Celtics in 7.

 

Round 2

Warriors vs Clippers

round 2 warriors v clippers 1

This is auspicious. To be steadfast profits. […]. There is success.

The work is of long duration, writes Magister Liu. It requires order, and gradual progress. This is not a contrived union…the marriage is not for the sake of a moment’s pleasure. […]. This union grows stronger with time, until finally the work is completed and the effort becomes effortless spontaneity.

Nothing can stand in her way. Her aspirations are fulfilled.

Difficulties will eventually be resolved, writes Professor Mun.

It is auspicious to be steadfast.

Forecast: Warriors in 7.

 

Rockets vs Grizzlies

round 2 rockets v grizz 1

There is no profit in making war. […]. That which one most esteems is exhausted.

Corrupt and powerful influences must be put out of the way. […]. He must be generous and not isolate himself in the pride of self-cultivation. […]. The Heart-and-Mind is mired in delusions.

Ultimately there is misfortune. Ultimately one will not prevail.

In this dark extremity, Small Men prevail.

Today’s revolving movement [gives way] to an identical movement tomorrow.

Forecast: Grizzlies in 6.

 

Wizards vs Pacers

round 2 wizards v bulls 1

Pigs and Fishes. This is Auspicious.

The leader’s good faith is such, writes Professor Mun, that the members of his organisation respond to him, like the chicks to their mother crane. […]. Relationships among people made on the basis of good faith will be deep and lasting.

The joy of the folk knows no bounds.

This indicates a good relationship among the respective units of an organisation at the upper level and below, writes Professor Mun. This creates a sense of cohesion and cooperation within the whole organisation. Helping others can be a mutually beneficial act.

Forecast: Wizards in 4.

 

Celtics vs Raptors

round 2 celtics v raptors 1

Stepping on the tiger’s tail. Not bitten. Fortune.

There is no failure, there is bright light.

Step forward in harmony and joy, with caution, writes Magister Liu. Then the tiger will not bite.

Calamity is avoided. What has been gained is not lost. Guard against overconfidence, writes Professor Mun.

This is auspicious.

Forecast: Celtics in 5.

 

Round 3

Warriors vs Grizzlies

round 3 warriors v grizz 1

Good faith. Luminous fortune. This is auspicious. For the steadfast, it profits.

The True Gentleman takes his ease; He feasts joyfully.

It profits to persevere.

Ultimately, all is auspicious.

This is a celebration of triumph. With steadfastness, one will go from strength to strength.

Fortune. The True Gentleman has a conclusion.

The humble, writes Magister Liu, possess but do not depend on, are not attached to, that which they possess. They have talent but do not presume on their talent. […]. All pride is gone. The Heart-and-Mind is level.

Forecast: Warriors in 4.

 

Celtics vs Wizards

round 3 celtics v wizards 1

Friends depart.

The city wall crumbles into the moat. The army is not deployed. In the hometown, orders are not issued.

Grandeur has run its course. It will be followed by stagnation. […]. The ruler may issue orders, but distress cannot be averted altogether. […]. It is too late for regret, writes Magister Liu. There is no point in resisting natural change, writes Professor Mun. The leader must accept the end of grandeur. He can do nothing to stop it. He must make preparations for the bad times to come.

It is dry. It is turtles, crabs, snails, mussels. Of trees, it is the hollow, rotten at the top.

Forecast: Wizards in 6.

 

Finals

Warriors vs Wizards

round 4 warriors v wizards 1

round 4 warriors v wizards 2

round 4 warriors v wizards 3

round 4 warriors v wizards 4

round 4 warriors v wizards 5

round 4 warriors v wizards 6

round 4 warriors v wizards 7

round 4 warriors v wizards 8

Interpret for yourself!

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[1] To the merely curious among my readers, I’ve got you covered. Here are the ingredients for the Empyrean-Roaming Elixir: cinnabar, realgar, malachite, laminar, amorphous sulphur, and quicksilver. Give it a go if you’re feeling brave. Alternatively, here is a different, somewhat more precise, recipe: “Prepare three pounds of the skin and fat from the back of a hog and one quart of strong vinegar. Place five ounces of yellow gold in a container and cook in an earthen stove. Dip the gold in and out of the fat one hundred times; likewise in the vinegar. Take a pound of this and you will outlast all nature; half a pound and you will live two thousand years.”

[2] Of ingredients are actually accessible and safe, we do know that asparagus was very highly regarded: it could “strengthen people and cause them to walk twice as fast as would thistle or knot-grass if taken for one hundred days.” The power of asparagus was most famously harnessed by Tzu-wei, who ate so much of it that “he had eighty concubines, sired a hundred and thirty sons, and walked three hundred miles a day.” Pine needles and peaches are good, too.

[3] Clear evidence exists of alchemical abuses at the highest levels of basketball. In his main remaining work, He Who Embraces Simplicity, Ge Hong describes how special diets can be used to improve one’s health and extend one’s life, and how elixirs may bestow magical qualities such as being in several places at once, becoming invisible, and flying in the air.

[4] Sticking with the Wade-Giles spelling here for the sake of familiarity. I’m using John Minford’s recent translation of the I Ching, which was written and arranged with lay idiots like me in mind. It’s pretty good; I’d recommend it.

[5] The yarrow is a plant botanically related to chamomile and tarragon, and it was traditionally used for divination in England as well (being placed under the pillow to induce dreams). Arthur Waley and his Bloomsbury friends used to use matchsticks instead of yarrow stalks. Waley’s translation of Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book is worth a read, incidentally (not because it’s accurate, but because it’s funny—he was a really good writer).

Breaking the Press (Part 2): The Axis of BBall

Basketball, Imperialism, and the Third Universal Theory

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But it is in the logic of myths, like dreams, exactly to welcome radical antitheses. For a myth does not analyse or solve problems. It represents them as already analysed and solved; that is, it presents them as already assembled images, in the way a scarecrow is assembled from bric-a-brac and then made to stand for a man. — Mu’ammar Qaddafi

On Friday the 27th of January, Donald Trump declared a “Muslim ban,” a measure that could (but definitely won’t) affect Thon Maker and Luol Deng, both of whom were born in Sudan, one of the seven countries affected. The silently but faithfully observed separation of sports and politics has thus once again been thrown into question: several NBA personalities—mostly marginal—authored stern tweets of admonishment in response to Trump’s ludicrous executive order, and the NBA has sought assurances that their players will be above this particular law as well.

By Wednesday the 8th of February, however, reigning MVP and politically disinterested coward Stephen Curry decided that even he could not stand idly by while Trump went to town. Curry decided it was time to get political, courageously calling Donald Trump an “ass” when asked what he thought about his new president. The gloves were finally off! Yet this remark was not made in response to the Muslim ban, or to any of Trump’s various other crimes; Curry was merely concerned that his corporate sponsor Kevin Plank had brought him into personal disrepute (he has a brand to maintain, yet Republicans buy shoes too—a difficult bind!). In fairness, it is quite hard to condemn Donald Trump for, say, authorising a dramatic increase in drone murders when you publicly boast about playing golf with the original drone king himself.

Sadly, it becomes ever clearer with each passing day that the NBA has successfully purged all of its radical elements (“I don’t get in people’s faces and out in the streets with a bullhorn doing it that way,” explained Curry, cravenly). Nowadays, to pledge support for the very establishment media that fostered the Islamophobia in which we are currently marinating is considered a defiant act of resistance.

“People still have the right to be an ass, you know?”

This was Bill Maher’s response[1] following the NBA’s decision to ban racist slumlord and serial sexual harasser Donald Sterling (formally the majority owner of the LA Clippers) from any association with the league. Yet Maher may as well have been addressing Curry’s recent remarks: both Donalds are vulgar racists and misogynists who enjoy—and profit from—ruining people’s lives, but if they’re simply being asses then what’s the problem? There’s no law against that, is there? Lighten up! Curry’s indictment of Trump is so toothless, so superficial, that even a cretin like Bill Maher can sweep it into the dustbin.

I mention Maher because he and his sidekick Sam Harris deserve almost as much blame as the New York Times and the Washington Post for fostering an environment in which a “Muslim ban” is even conceivable. Maher and Harris are ostensibly critical of Trump and posit themselves as enlightened and progressive liberals, and it is for precisely this reason that their brand of ignorant and hateful rhetoric is so poisonous.

The pair recently held a discussion on their popular HBO show (A Safe Space for White Guys, I believe it’s called) during which they pondered how they might “win a war of ideas with the Muslim world” and castigated “the left” for “[allying] themselves with Islamists.” The full episode contains far too much thinly-veiled imperialism to unpack here; the essential point that I would like to focus on is the fact that these two blockheads sat down opposite one another in front of a studio audience in 2017 and announced their intention to “defeat terrorism” by “reforming Islam.”

“We are not going to reform Islam,” Maher declared, “if we can’t talk about it.” Harris—whose entire “career” has essentially been one ceaseless, uninformed rant about Islam—naturally agreed, adding that “we” also need to “encourage, empower, and oblige Muslims to talk honestly about this” by “[empowering] the actual reformers in the Muslim world.”

Harris and Maher thus demonstrate that they are little more than textbook orientalists, for discussions such as these are an essential component of what Edward Said described as “the corporate institution for…dealing with [the Orient] by making statements about it, authorising views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short…for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” The only thing distinguishing these two from their ignoble European forerunners is that the latter at least had the aptitude to learn Arabic and pick up a fucking book once in a while.

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The European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of any ambiguity; he is a natural logician, albeit he may not have studied logic; he is by nature sceptical and requires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition; his trained intelligence works like a piece of mechanism. The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description. Although the ancient Arabs acquired in a somewhat higher degree the science of dialectics, their descendants are singularly deficient in the logical faculty. — Sam Harris

For Harris—a bumbling fraud who bought himself a PhD in neuroscience so that his orientalist babbling might have a veneer of credibility—Islam is some kind of fossilised relic resistant to “modernity” and the superior cultures of America and Israel. It is what Edward Tylor—a Victorian anthropologist concerned with (in his words) “the religions of the lower races”—called a “survival.” That is, “processes, customs, opinions and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home.” Survivals were thus “proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out of which a newer has been evolved.” They “allow the ethnographer to reconstruct earlier cultural patterns and ultimately define the evolution of [superior, Western] culture.”

It is in this way that, by observing (representations of) the “Muslim world,” Harris is able to peer back through the mists of time and gaze paternalistically upon the swarthy hordes, seeing them for what they really are (“the enemies of our civilisation,” in the words of Andrew Neil). Islam must be reformed because it is incompatible with modernity and with liberal democracy (and with any number of other things). This, sadly, is not an uncommon view. As Aziz Azmeh explains,

Islam…has been represented as a cohesive, homogeneous and invariant force, indeed an otherness so radical that it is possible to speak of it as a historical enemy, much in the same way as communism was addressed in some circles. It is represented as a repellent exoticism by mass psychological mechanisms very like those involved in anti-Semitism. Yet the median discourse on Islam in [the West] is not predominantly or always overtly racist or quasi-racist. What we have is a cultural differentialism; we are presented with supposed differences of ‘culture’ within a discourse which can either be xenophile or xenophobic: both are premised on irreducible and impermeable difference.

But Islamophobia is a “propaganda term,” according to Harris. “Islam is not a race,” he insists later in the show; “Islam is a set of ideas…and we have to be able to criticise bad ideas.” Of course, in the real world, there is no single, monolithic, or essentialist Islam to which one can refer. When discussing the various problems that abound in the “Muslim world,” one cannot ignore both the colonial past—as Nazih Ayubi argues, Muslim regimes were built on the remnants of the authoritarian empires they conquered, and this inheritance, rather than “Islam,” accounts for the type of political orders that have emerged in much of the Middle East—and the colonial present, in which the United States sponsors the most oppressive (and profitable!) regimes and overthrows progressive and benevolent leaders[2]. As Bronwyn Winter writes,

If women are poor or illiterate it is seen as the fault of religion rather than, for example, ante-Islamic tradition, the class system, or the continuing effects of colonialism, for the relationships of economic dependence of former colonies on their former colonisers continue to this day. Islam did not create these economic conditions, although Islamist movements have clearly been able to take advantage of them.

For a truly incisive critique of these Islamist movements, we must turn away from the likes of Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and their braying studio audience of crypto-fascist liberals, and turn instead to anti-imperialist revolutionary and international fashion icon Mu’ammar Qaddafi[3] (whose brutal and entirely unjustified murder Maher evidently found hilarious).

If it should come as a surprise to you to learn that Qaddafi actually had interesting and intelligent things to say, and wasn’t an insane despot, this is completely understandable: in keeping with a long tradition of ignorant and unflattering representations of Arabs in popular media, Qaddafi himself was often ridiculed and demonised—sometimes simultaneously.  Yet Qaddafi, unlike the decadent and uncultured politicians of Europe and the United States, actually wrote fairly extensively on a variety of subjects, from religion and politics to sport (more on that later).

Unlike Harris and other new atheist charlatans, Qaddafi was firmly grounded in Arab Islamic culture and traditional, religious-based thought. The Quran and Islam were among the basic sources of inspiration for much of what he wrote, and he was therefore in a position to critique Islamist movements in a way that was both informed and relevant to a Muslim audience. Take for example the following passage from his essay Prayer on the Last Friday:

Begin teaching your children the books of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Return to God and Liberation Party. Print them and reprint them and shut yourselves up in mosques and at home studying them till Judgement Day. Their titles show you clearly how effective they are: Religious Statutes on Growing Beards and Smoking; Decisions of the Sunna on Using Shampoo and Henna; Fundamentals of Entering Heaven for Free. There are also the books of Ibn Taymiyya, which explain the wisdom of eating with three fingers, eating while in a reclining position, or eating from wooden and metal plates. And do not forget the prayer mentioned above [a prayer that would “make the Jews unable to see their vital targets in the Arab world” and stop Americans from bombing Libyan factories]: it is especially for the military wing of the Democratic Brotherhood Islamic Party, and concerns counter-strategies. It is also related to a prayer for the economy, a simple invocation that you only need to recite a mere one hundred times per second. It has been thoroughly tested, and is effective against prices rising without justification, and against exploitation that takes place without support from a revolutionary theory, or even a revolutionary party.

Qaddafi relentlessly mocks “modern Islamist parties” for encouraging people to read “reactionary, I mean traditional, books” and promoting divisions in society: “May God guide Muslims to the right path, lead them to fight one another, call each other unbelievers, be disunited so that they can…[unite] under the banners of Washington and Tel Aviv.” His is an effective critique because it addresses legitimate and existing grievances (the aforementioned Islamist movements), and suggests practical solutions (don’t vote for them; pick apart their ideology). It is also funny. This, my friends, is how it is done.

Very interesting, I’m sure. But what does any of this have to do with basketball? I’m so glad you asked!

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I begin to see dimly what the civilisation of a great Eastern city means, how they live, what they think; and I have got on to terms with them. I believe the fact of my being American is a great help. — Alex Owumi

The complete destruction of Libya by NATO imperialists (which began six years ago this month[4]) may already be quite familiar to enthusiastic basketball connoisseurs thanks to a peculiar book by Alex Owumi, an obscure journeyman who, as it happens, currently plays professionally here in the UK. Qaddafi’s Point Guard is ostensibly a book about Owumi’s first-hand experience of the 2011 Libyan “revolution”—just two months after signing a contract with Al-Nasr Benghazi (the team he alleges belonged to “the infamous dictator Mu’ammar Qaddafi”) in December 2010, Owumi finds himself caught in the middle of the Arab Spring, and hijinks ensue.

Owumi adopts a more traditional, hands-on approach in his orientalism than does Sam Harris or Bill Maher. Like the colonial agents of the British and French empires, Owumi daringly travels to a remote and exotic land (Libya, Owumi recounts, is “this desert land”; “literally just desert”; “no fast food chains and no cinemas”) and, after having quickly become an expert on local life, returns with hair-raising tales of brutality and depravity. There are a few inconsistencies in his story, however. For example, the accommodation he is provided by Qaddafi’s son (who is perfectly polite and apparently very generous) is both a “beautiful apartment” with gold-trim couches, fine china, and “flat-screens everywhere,” but also a cockroach-infested dump, since that’s what he claimed to live on for two full weeks while a civil war raged outside his windows in the streets of Benghazi.

What is most striking about Owumi’s account, however, is his treatment of Mu’ammar Qaddafi himself (whom he never actually meets). Qaddafi is depicted as an eccentric tyrant who is so determined that his basketball team win all of its games that he will have his players beaten if they fail him. Guards armed with AK-47s loiter about the Al-Nasr Benghazi practice facility, and Owumi’s Libyan teammates are covered in scars from the abuse they receive whenever they lose. As Said remarked of Arab Muslims, “[f]or no other ethnic or religious group is it true that virtually anything can be written or said about it, without challenge or demurral.” Owumi’s account is far-fetched, and, as we shall see shortly, makes no sense whatsoever, yet it has been accepted uncritically because it conforms with the images of Qaddafi that are typically familiar to most Westerners.

Owumi’s book, it turns out, is not really about Qaddafi at all; rather, it is a self-aggrandising tale of resilience and determination, the kind of thing that makes for a great TED talk or an edgy Vice article. To the extent that it discusses the lived experiences of Libyans at all, it simply repeats the US State Department’s narrative: they lived in constant fear under a ruthlessly oppressive, basketball-obsessed tyrant. In what way was Qaddafi oppressive? Owumi doesn’t say. The fact that Colonel Qaddafi[5] is a bad guy is taken for granted; simply invoking his name is enough to terrorise Owumi’s TED audience: “the Qaddafi family—yes, that Qaddafi family.”

The United States was consistently hostile towards Qaddafi from day one. Officially this was because of his supposedly close ties with the Soviet Union[6] which led to concerns over the spread of communism (though Qaddafi was not a communist[7]). Later, the Lockerbie bombing (which was nothing to do with Qaddafi or Libya) supplied a pretext to frame Qaddafi as a terrorist threat and ultimately justify the “humanitarian intervention” that resulted in his gruesome death (much to the delight and amusement of Hillary Clinton). There is much about Qaddafi that is rarely mentioned in Western corporate media, however.

King Idriss, whom Qaddafi overthrew in 1969, had previously secured Libya’s borders by hosting British and American military bases like a good colonial puppet. Upon seizing power, Qaddafi immediately had these bases removed and set about transforming Libya into a Jamahiriya (State of the Masses), as outlined in his Green Book, which ensured “direct popular democracy” without the constraints of a national constitution, parliament, or political parties. Before the US began imposing economic sanctions on Libya during the 1980s, it was a peaceful and prosperous country: In 1978, Libya had the highest per capita income of any African country ($6,800 US dollars), and Qaddafi had used Libya’s oil riches to build a generous welfare state in which every citizen was guaranteed food, housing, and clothing. How fortunate they are to have been liberated by NATO.

Of course, Qaddafi, like so many of America’s “enemies,” never posed any genuine military threat. Even the UK government admits that there was no justification for attacking Libya. The nature of the threat was, rather, ideological: Qaddafi’s Libya represented an alternative and competing social order that was superior to capitalism and liberal parliamentary democracy, and that therefore served as a dangerous example to people throughout the world, many of whom might begin to get big ideas of their own. This was the “threat” that Libya posed to America, which, as people are increasingly becoming aware, is not actually a democracy in any meaningful sense.

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[T]he real issue is whether indeed there can be a true representation of anything, or whether any and all representations, because they are representations, are embedded first in the language and then in the culture, institutions, and political ambience of the representer. If the latter alternative is the correct one (as I believe it is), then we must be prepared to accept the fact that a representation is eo ipso implicated, intertwined, embedded, interwoven with a great many other things besides the “truth,” which itself is a representation. — Kim Jong-Un

Similar attempts have been made to demonise other insubordinate figures, such as Fidel Castro[8] and Kim Jong-Un, both of whom likewise pose(d) no actual military threat but have been relentlessly harassed and intimidated for their failure to bend to America’s will. Yet there is something else that unites all of these revolutionary figures: basketball.

Fidel Castro correctly identified basketball’s potential for training young revolutionaries by honing the skills—speed, agility, stamina, teamwork, and strategic thinking—that they would require as guerrilla fighters. Kim Jong-Un has begun to harness basketball’s potential to improve diplomatic relations and foster international solidarity. The Soviet Union itself was a basketball superpower, supplanting the United States as the greatest in the world at the 1972 Olympics with a convincing and emphatic gold medal win that still gives jingoistic Cold Warrior Doug Collins nightmares.

So what of Qaddafi? According to Alex Owumi, he was like any current NBA star—indeed, any capitalist: obsessed with winning at all costs. Owumi is clearly projecting, imposing his own ideology of competitive individualism onto the figure of Qaddafi. In fact, Qaddafi had quite different ideas about sports, explaining in his Green Book that “Bedouin people…don’t watch players playing a game; they practice their own games collectively and hold their own festivals, because they feel the spontaneous, inexplicable need for it.” Qaddafi regarded privately owned teams as “rapacious social instruments, not unlike the dictatorial political instruments which monopolise power to the exclusion of the people” because “no one person, or group of persons, can play a game of sports on behalf of the people.” Owumi’s book is pure slander.

Qaddafi goes on to outline the importance of sports in the revolutionary process:

The era of the masses that destroys the monopolising instruments of wealth, power, and weapons, shall inevitably destroy the instruments that monopolise social activities such as sports and horsemanship. The masses line up to support a candidate to act as their representative in determining their destiny on the impossible assumption that this candidate shall represent them and uphold their dignity and sovereignty and all related considerations, and are eventually alienated, as they watch a person doing what they should naturally be doing themselves. These same masses are like the crowds that do not play sports themselves, due to their inability to do so or because of their ignorance and because they are scorned by the monopolising instruments that are bent on distracting these numbed crowds that laugh and applause instead of practicing the sport monopolised by these rapacious instruments.

Sport, like power, should be for the masses, and just as wealth and weapons should be for the people, sport as a social activity should also be for the people.

Many observers believe that Mark Cuban, by maintaining affordable ticket prices for Mavericks games, is some kind of benevolent man of the people. In fact, the opposite is true. As Qaddafi explains, the seats in a basketball arena are in fact intended as a barrier, a partition that prevents the masses from taking their rightful place on the court. Mark Cuban wants to keep his rapacious instruments and will do anything to stop you from crossing that threshold and claiming what is yours. Qaddafi continues,

The multitude which crowds the stadium to watch a game, laugh and applaud, is a multitude of fools who are incapable of practicing sports themselves; they crowd the grandstands practicing lethargy and applaud those heroes who took the initiative, and who dominated the field and the sporting activities, and exploited all the offered means of support sustained by the masses. The grandstands of public athletic fields are actually constructed to obstruct access to the fields. These grandstands shall one day be vacated and abolished when the masses march into athletic fields to practice sports in crowds, as they realise that sports are activities to be practiced not watched.

Mu’ammar Qaddafi may no longer be with us, but his spirit lives on. Comrades, it falls to us to put his ideas into practice. The next time you are at an NBA game, do not be a fool practicing lethargy, but instead leap with vigour over the bleachers that imprison you: they are instruments of class oppression and must be annihilated. Of the Axis members mentioned above, only Kim Jong-Un remains. We must therefore stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the DPRK against the capitalist dogs who, aware of basketball’s power as a subversive and revolutionary weapon, seek to keep the world’s athletic fields and arenas in private hands. I will see you on the court. Always remember the words of Mao Zedong:

The superior man’s deportment is cultivated and agreeable, but one cannot say this about exercise. Exercise should be savage and rude. To be able to leap on horseback and to shoot at the same time; to go from battle to battle; to shake the mountains by one’s cries, and the colours of the sky by one’s roars of anger; to have the strength to uproot mountains like Hsiang Yu and the audacity to pierce the mark like Yu Chi—all this is savage and rude and has nothing to do with delicacy. In order to progress in exercise, one must be savage. If one is savage, one will have great vigour and strong muscles and bones. The method of exercise should be rude; then one can apply oneself seriously and it will be easy to exercise. These two things are especially important for beginners.

There are three things to which we must pay attention in exercise: (1) perseverance, (2) concentration of all our strength, and (3) that it be savage and rude.

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[1] Maher naturally goes on in this interview to warn against the dangers of political correctness, a favourite topic of his, really doing his best to take the heat off Sterling (perhaps aware that if similar standards were applied to him, his career would be over in an instant).

[2] It is interesting that Glen Greenwald at once acknowledges that the invasion of Libya was a crudely disguised imperial crime while still referring to Qaddafi in the approved manner: “a heinous dictator.” So firmly embedded is this idea.

[3] Qaddafi’s name has been spelled a variety of different ways over the years: Gaddafi (The Times), Gadaffy (Sunday Times), Gadafy (The Guardian), Kaddafi (Newsweek), Qadaffi (The Economist), and Khadafy (Associated Press). As far as I’m able to tell, his full name should be rendered Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi.

[4] March also marks the fourteenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and the eighteenth anniversary of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (in which Britain dropped 531 cluster bombs, many of which fell on civilian areas).

[5] The nominating process is supposed to be neutral, but it is in fact subtly evaluative. To identify a political leader with a formal political role is usually legitimating, while to identify him or her with a previous non-political role is often delegitimating. The US media spoke of President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, President Reagan, President Bush, not of General Eisenhower, the millionaire Kennedy, the movie actor Reagan, the CIA head Bush. There is a strong tendency, however, to reserve the use of legitimating labels for pro-Western heads of state or government and delegitimating labels for anti-Western heads of state or government. Familiar references to “Colonel Qaddafi” in Western news media are a textbook example of this (in that I literally copied this example out of a textbook).

[6] Qaddafi bought most of Libya’s military arsenal from the Soviet Union and paid them a state visit in 1981, but theirs wasn’t a particularly close relationship: Qaddafi wasn’t hugely popular in North Africa and the Soviet Union didn’t want to compromise its own image in the region by supporting his military adventures.

[7] Italian Marxist theorist Franco Berardi remarked in 2015 that the European Union cannot survive because such a thing as a European Union never existed to begin with. Qaddafi offers a similar assessment of communism: “We cannot, however, say that communism has died, for it was never born!”

[8] Castro once referred to Qaddafi as a “reckless adventurer.”

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Breaking the Press (Part 1): Escape To Hell

Basketball, Hegemony, and the Central Intelligence Agency

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The vast majority of professionals in the field of journalism share similar ideals of empiricism, objectivity, and neutrality. The problem is that these ideals as such, while most certainly worthwhile, can never be fully attained. One might even say that repeated and overconfident claims about their being easily attained every day does in certain respects do more harm than good, because they hide the contingent, socio-historically embedded nature of these truth-claims from critical scrutiny and invite excessive confidence in their universal validity. Is it possible to look well at anything at all if one does not choose a vantage point and maybe use some aids, such as binoculars or glasses, a telescopic lens or a microscope? These refract the light, place some things in the centre of our field of vision, and temporarily exclude others from it. I claim that it is not possible to maintain complete objectivity; only a certain degree of intersubjectivity is possible, but this intersubjectivity is always situated and shaped socio-historically. — Kyrie Irving

What is real, and whom can we trust?

When Kyrie Irving announced on a podcast earlier this month his belief that the earth is flat, he was widely ridiculed. John Chick speculated that Irving—like so many credulous Trump and “Brexit” voters—had fallen prey to the post-truth zeitgeist: seduced and corrupted by the myriad Kremlin-backed conspiracy blogs that saturate and pollute the web like venture capitalists have Oracle Arena. Such websites eschew journalistic orthodoxy, which is sober and rigorous, in favour of sensational and incredible claims backed with little to no compelling evidence, thus enabling one to effectively believe whatever one wishes.

The plot then thickened somewhat over All-Star Weekend, however, as Irving subsequently implied that he was just fooling around in order to make a point about the absurdity of the news media, what audiences are prepared to believe of celebrities, and what journalists are prepared to report as meaningful news. This narrative was cemented when arch reptile Adam Silver stepped in and confirmed that (at least officially) Irving was indeed offering a critique of fake news.

Whether a discussion about so-called fake news was Irving’s sincere intention (it is after all perfectly plausible that he does believe in a flat Earth; thousands of people do, and their videos are, frankly, fascinating) or merely Adam Silver’s attempt at damage control is really not important. What is interesting is that this was not the only public statement against the supposed threat of fake news to issue from the NBA community this month.

On the first of February, Steve Kerr, Zach Lowe, and JJ Redick (among others) bragged to their Twitter followers that they had courageously paid for subscriptions to establishment garbage rags like the Washington Post and the New York Times, “because,” according to Kerr, “facts matter.” This was part of a campaign called #PressOn, a sort of synthesis of conspicuous consumption and online activism that requires participants to spend money on prestige news products (and post screenshots to prove it) in order to combat the apparent scourge of dubious alternative media outlets that supposedly swept Donald Trump to power. Now more than ever, these concerned citizens claim, we need to cultivate and support a robust free press capable of holding power to account just like they did during the Obama administration.

But is this really an effective means of #resistance, or just more vacuous cultural capitalism masquerading as transformative praxis? In other words, does pledging support for the New York Times differ in any meaningful way from vowing to buy more Starbucks coffee after the company cynically announced its intention to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years? Like ethical consumerism, the #PressOn campaign encourages its participants to conceive of themselves not as active and engaged citizens, but primarily as consumers who affect change in the world simply by purchasing goods and services. Buying more Starbucks coffee merely perpetuates capitalism and all of its concomitant horrors; it serves as a sanitised substitute for useful actions like smashing the windows of a Starbucks or stringing Howard Schultz up from a lamp post.

But this is far from the only problem with #PressOn. Let us consider the papers in question, the New York Times and the Washington Post. These publications, according to obsequious liberal coward John Oliver, perform “actual journalism” and are desperately in need of your financial support! This is grossly inaccurate (more on that below), and the willingness of somebody like Zach Lowe (a journalist, technically) to endorse such a view suggests, at best, ignorance and naiveté.

To promote America’s corporate press in this way is not a defiant political statement, a breaching of the comfortable sports media bubble, as the lightweights of American sports journalism would have you and I believe. On the contrary, it betrays a desire to reconstruct that very bubble, to return to a world in which the horrific crimes of empire are not absent, but merely softened, made sufficiently palatable, by a charismatic and handsome president, and mediated by a credible paper of record.

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News is a form of collective therapy. Possible threats to our world order and our world-views are evoked, identified, labelled, categorised, dealt with and dispatched again. For this purpose, journalists summon a daily parade of authorities and experts. They put our minds at rest, so that we can go to bed reassured. — Wilson Chandler

A charitable reading of this sudden compulsion to address the perceived rupture in America’s status quo (which is not really a rupture but an amplification/acceleration of existing patterns) would see it as a craven desire to retreat back into the cocoon of privilege, a longing for the freedom to disengage from political struggle—which is difficult, time-consuming, and seemingly futile—and inhabit once more the orderly and reassuring world sold by the Times and the Post. But this urge must be resisted. Those who only now see the US government for what it is, when its leader is the grotesque personification of bourgeois America’s most vulgar excesses, must not turn back, but instead press on! Having finally arrived in reality, they must acquaint themselves with its permanent inhabitants, those who cannot afford to escape, who are offered no refuge in the parallel dimensions of the corporate media. All are welcome here, and we must work together towards something better.

Yet there is a further possibility lurking behind Lowe’s call to support the establishment press; something entirely more sinister. In order to understand what this is we must consider the sordid history of American news media and its relationship with US intelligence agencies.

Before that, however, I’d like to address the evangelical liberal faith that the New York Times and the Washington Post conduct “actual journalism,” that they are concerned with objective “facts,” and that they have a monopoly on “the truth.” To imply that any American news organisation—let alone ones as thoroughly compromised as the Times and the Post—will produce neutral reporting free of ideological baggage is laughable. Having monitored the fake news narrative for some months now, it has become apparent that there exists a great deal of confusion regarding what news is and how it is produced, so let’s get some things straight.

News—all news—is not what has happened. It is what someone says has happened (or will happen). Reporters are seldom in a position to witness events first-hand. They have to rely on the accounts of others. Readers, whether they are ESPN columnists or NBA coaches, tend to lose sight of the fact that news is not—is never—reality, but a sampling of sources’ portrayals of reality, mediated by news organisations1. To coordinate the activities of their staffs with a modicum of efficiency, newspapers can do little more than establish some standard operating procedures for sampling potential sources. Whatever procedure they adopt unavoidably biases their selection of content2.

The professional insistence that objective journalism is desirable, and that objective determinations of newsworthiness are possible, arose during the nineteenth century, albeit fitfully, as part of the sweeping intellectual movement towards scientific detachment and the culture-wide separation of fact from value. As an abstract ideal towards which one might strive, objectivity is useful. But to actually believe that such an ideal is realisable, within one’s grasp, is the signature of bad journalism.

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Many people think that the political mainstream of the West has no ideological views but only scientific ones, that only right-wing and left-wing ‘extremists’ in the First World have ideologies, as well as all those extremists in the Second and Third Worlds. This is the very hallmark of an effective ideology: that it is not recognised as an ideology at all, but is naturalised as common sense. It is impossible not to have an ideology: without it one could never find one’s place in the nation and society. — Draymond Green

These days, most Western media and news-gathering organisations are primarily run as businesses. That is to say, the owners expect a return on their investment. They want income up and costs down. They want advertisers pleased, major sources available, no libel suits from powerful individuals or institutions, no bothersome controversies. As a result, it is the public official who is the most frequently cited source of news: they are available, cooperative, and they invest reports with an air of authority and professionalism.

In his 1973 study Reporters and Officials: The Organization and Politics of Newsmaking, Lion Sigal analysed a representative sample of 2,850 domestic and foreign news stories that appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post over a twenty-five year period. He discovered that public officials were the source of 78 per cent of those stories. According to Sigal,

[A]s a consequence of reporters’ social location, newsgathering routines, and journalistic conventions, nearly half of the sources for all national and foreign news stories on page one of the New York Times and the Washington Post were officials in the United States government. Most transmitted information through routine newsgathering channels—press releases, conferences and official proceedings.

It should therefore come as no surprise to hear that the New York Times has supported every single US war for the past thirty years, and that Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung described her paper as “inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.” Indeed, the media elite want to honour the current political-economic system as a whole since their very power and prestige deeply presuppose that system. They are committed, like members of any other corporate elite, to their own particular economic and political advantage. As Todd Gitlin writes,

The news routines are skewed toward representing demands, individuals, and frames which do not fundamentally contradict the dominant hegemonic3 principles: the legitimacy of private control of commodity production; the legitimacy of the national security State; the legitimacy of technocratic experts; the right and ability of authorized agencies to manage conflict and make the necessary reforms; the legitimacy of the social order secured and defined by the dominant elites; and the value of individualism as the measure of social existence. The news routines do not easily represent demands, movements, and frames which are inchoate, subtle, and most deeply subversive of these core principles. Political news is treated as if it were crime news—what went wrong today, not what goes wrong every day. A demonstration is treated as a potential or actual disruption of legitimate order, not as a statement about the world. The assumptions automatically divert coverage away from critical treatment of the institutional, systemic, and everyday workings of property and the state.

Thus, every month, thousands upon thousands of people around the globe die unnecessarily due to poverty, but the major media do not paint this as an acute disaster which warrants immediate foregrounding. It is a chronic situation which remains in the background. Preventable deaths from malnutrition and poverty are generally depicted as a fact of life, which is the fault or responsibility of no one in particular—not even those who could have done something about it. If these same poor people stage an armed rebellion, however, they are held responsible for the ensuing bloodshed. Of course, this view might well be defended; that is not the point. The point is that it is a view which is unnoticeably woven into the “neutral presentation” of “objective facts” in the world of news.

It is for this reason that so much of the current coverage regarding Tump is incoherent and facile. Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere: the material, cultural, and political conditions that enabled him to become president were left to fester for decades beyond journalistic scrutiny because they were both outside the scope of what papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post regard as newsworthy, and, moreover, because they cohere with the ideological stance of both editorial boards anyway. Looking to these papers for guidance and assistance now is nothing short of madness.

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The first article of the Bill of Rights was placed there as a pledge of safety to the people, and therefore the primary obligation of the newspaper in general and of the reporter in particular is to the people. He does not owe that primary allegiance to his managing editor, or to his government, or to the sources of his information; he owes it to the people. — Steve Kerr

For proof of this we need only consider the recent output of these two papers. The Washington Post continues to assiduously promote the New Cold War narrative, while the New York Times, when it isn’t smearing millennials, is busy raising awareness about the very serious problems facing America’s billionaire class. In a recent op-ed, neoliberal pundit and partially preserved bog mummy David Brooks laments the death of the entrepreneurial spirit among millennials:

Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.

Since the 1980s, you say? I wonder what could account for this. Brooks concludes by implying that nobody has offered any alternative to neoliberal capitalism, that there is no social movement with a compelling plan. “If Trump is not the answer,” he demands, “what is?” Indeed, maybe we just need to give Trump a chance!

In an article reminiscent of Catholic Vote’s infamous Not Alone advert, which tastelessly subverted the language of aggrieved victims in order to elicit sympathy for bigots, nonentity Sabrina Tavernise asks whether mean “liberals” are helping Trump. Tavernise relates a series of chilling case studies, including a man struggling to get dates and a couple of old people who no longer want to watch Meryl Streep films. It certainly makes you think: who are the real fascists?

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

Towards the end of the Vietnam War, US congressional committees launched several investigations into suspicions of repeated media manipulation by the CIA and the FBI. The official reports were censored (at the insistence of former CIA directors William Colby and George H. W. Bush, among others), but investigative journalists were nevertheless able to reconstruct the suppressed information.

The former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein wrote in Rolling Stone magazine (20 October 1977: 55–67) that “more than 400 American journalists” had “in the previous 25 years secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” This included only those who were specifically “tasked”—still more journalists “occasionally traded favours” with the agency. Media which knowingly cooperated, he said, included all major news agencies AP, UPI, and Reuters; major daily newspapers such as the New York Times, the major Hearst and Scripps-Howard newspaper groups; both major news weeklies, Time and Newsweek; and all major broadcasting networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. Assignments ranged from spying to “planting subtly concocted pieces of misinformation.” After this publication, two reporters from the New York Times itself delved into the issue (New York Times, 25–27 December, 1977):

The CIA has at various times owned or subsidized more than 50 newspapers, news services, radio stations, periodicals and other communication entities … Another dozen foreign-based news organizations, while not financed by the CIA, were infiltrated by paid CIA agents. Nearly a dozen American publishing houses, including some of the most prominent names of the industry, have printed at least a score of more than 250 English-language books financed or produced by the CIA … Since the closing days of World War II, more than 30 and perhaps as many as 100 American journalists employed by a score of American news organizations have worked as salaried intelligence operatives while performing their reportorial duties … At one time, according to agency sources, there were as many as 800 such ‘propaganda assets’, mostly foreign journalists. Asked in an interview last year whether the CIA had ever told such agents what to write, William E. Colby, the former CIA director, replied: ‘Oh, sure, all the time’… Almost at the push of a button, or so Mr. Wisner [the first chief of the agency’s covert action staff] liked to think, the ‘Wurlitzer’ became the means of orchestrating, in almost any language anywhere in the world, whatever tune the CIA was in the mood to hear.

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A journalist who is a leading expert on the Internet Research Agency claimed that some social media accounts that appear to be tied to Russia’s professional trolls—because they previously were devoted to supporting Russian actions in Ukraine—started to advocate for President-elect Trump as early as December 2015. The likely financier of the so-called Internet Research Agency of professional trolls located in Saint Petersburg is a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence. — Zach Lowe

In the wake of these publications, official promises were made that such anti-democratic tampering would never be allowed to happen again (at least in America; media manipulation would of course have to continue abroad). However, during the Reagan and Bush presidencies (1980–92) the practice flourished once again. Successive American interventions in Cuba, Chile, Grenada, Nicaragua, and Panama were all preceded, accompanied, and followed by massive campaigns of media manipulation, as well as the allied intervention in the Gulf.

Are the CIA directly controlling the New York Times and the Washington Post today? Probably not. We have no way of knowing for sure. It is extremely unlikely that they do not exert at least some control, however.

Last month I borrowed John Amaechi’s argument that sports can serve as platforms for social change. This isn’t a particularly sophisticated idea, and the CIA—currently involved in a global culture war—is almost certainly aware of the potential power and reach of sports. Could they have infiltrated ESPN? I think the answer is obvious.

When he isn’t promoting the Washington Post, Zach Lowe busies himself as a vocal advocate of advanced stats and SportVU cameras, which, as I have demonstrated, are dangerous tools of capitalist oppression. I asked Lowe about his alleged CIA affiliation, but he did not return my tweet. This is very suspicious behaviour to say the least, and I do not think it unreasonable to speculate that Lowe has indeed been hired as a kind of basketball Peter Pomerantsev, a friendly and relatable young face with credibility among educated millennials who can, by subtle means, help the CIA to promote the goals of empire through yet another channel.

To be continued.

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1 Now, this is not to say that all news is entirely worthless, or that everything you read is a lie, or that people who read the New York Times and the Washington Post have been brainwashed. It is simply a reminder to be cautious and critical at all times.  “The press is significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion,” wrote Bernard Cohen in his 1963 study The Press and Foreign Policy. “It may not be successful in telling its readers what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”

2 According to Johan Galtung and Mari Holmboe Ruge’s 1965 study The Structure of Foreign News, this unfolds in the following way: 1. The more events satisfy the arbitrary criteria for newsworthiness, the more likely that they will be registered as news (selection); 2. Once a news item has been selected what makes it newsworthy according to the arbitrary criteria will be accentuated (distortion); 3. Both the process of selection and the process of distortion will take place at all steps in the chain of news production, from event to reader (replication).

3 Gramsci’s concept can be defined this way: hegemony is a ruling class’s (or alliance’s) domination of subordinate classes and groups through the elaboration and penetration of ideology (ideas and assumptions) into their common sense and everyday practice; it is the systematic (but not necessarily or even usually deliberate) engineering of mass consent to the established order. No hard and fast line can be drawn between the mechanisms of hegemony and the mechanisms of coercion; the hold of hegemony rests on elements of coercion, just as the force of coercion over the dominated both presupposes and reinforces elements of hegemony. In any given society, hegemony and coercion are interwoven. […]. Further, hegemony is, in the end, a process that is entered into by both dominators and dominated. Both rulers and ruled derive psychological and material rewards in the course of confirming and reconfirming their inequality. The hegemonic sense of the world seeps into popular ‘common sense’ and gets reproduced there; it may even appear to be generated by that common sense.

While you’re here, please consider supporting “real journalism” by giving me your money. Donate generously and begin exerting editorial control today. It’s the only way to fight back against the deceivers and snakes of the capitalist press.

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The Baggy Shorted Philanthropists

Basketball, Terror, and Universal Basic Income

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In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend. From the moment when basketball can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes. You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of basketball teams. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible. — James Harden

They call it the National Basketball Association, but is it really? It isn’t national in the sense of a National Health Service or a National Trust. The NBA is not a public asset; it is a profiteering enterprise, a means for private parties to accumulate and hoard wealth. But neither is it national in the sense of a national anthem or a national security threat: included among the NBA’s 30 teams is a franchise based in Canada, and its commissioner regularly threatens to establish expansion teams in Europe and elsewhere. Already the NBA stages preseason and even regular season games in cities throughout the world. Just this month, a contest between the Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers took place in London, though of course, living outside the capital, I can scarcely afford to navigate the UK’s dystopian rail system in order to reach the arena, let alone afford a seat inside.

So, having established the gross and scandalous inaccuracy of the NBA’s brand name, I would like to consider the following questions: what might a Nationalised Basketball Association look like? What would be its effect on society? Can a sports league serve as a vehicle for revolutionary social change? Should Richard Spencer be punched in the face over and over again until he’s unrecognisable? If you would like to know the answers to these questions (and to many additional and unrelated questions of dubious value), then read on.

On the first day of 2017, Finland’s government commenced a two-year basic income pilot scheme, and similar projects are set to take place in, among other places, Canada, India, and the United States. This has led to renewed media interest in the notion of a universal basic income (UBI), a thoroughly sensible and humane scheme that would alleviate much of the suffering we see all around us presently, and which continues to proliferate in the face of unflagging political indifference.

While Finland’s proposed scheme is, in my view, undermined somewhat by a stipulation that the money be given only to unemployed people, and with the object of increasing employment (more on that later), it is nevertheless a positive sign that such projects are being undertaken at all. Indeed, from the ghoulish parasites of Silicon Valley, to the rapacious vampires of Davos, to the bloodsucking austerity mongers of the European Union, it seems as though everybody is, at the very least, ready to entertain the possibility of a universal basic income in the not-too-distant future, and while the motives of some of these newer advocates may be dubious, I’d rather these conversations be occurring than not at all.

The fashionable justification for the present interest in moving quickly towards UBI is the supposed threat of automation. This spectre has loomed over the working classes since the industrial revolution: as Marx and Engels observed in 1848, “[t]he unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” It’s worth noting that this narrative is contested, but whether or not the robots really are coming for our jobs1 (and for the record I believe they are), the impetus for UBI should not in my view stem from a panicked reaction to technological advances. Rather, it should arise from a basic sense of empathy and a desire to live in a society in which everybody is free, comfortable, and secure. Basic income is a matter of social justice.

The history of UBI is well-documented, dating back to the sixteenth century in Europe, but the generosity and empathy that underpins it is older and more universal. My favourite example of this spirit is captured in the following passage from a short essay in Yoshida Kenkō’s Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness). Writing from his Kyoto cottage in the early fourteenth century, Kenkō was by no means a left-wing revolutionary2. Yet his insight was such that he recognised the importance of security and basic living standards for a just and cohesive society (as well as the futility and cruelty or prisons, a view echoed more recently by the likes of Angela Davis):

It is wrong for anyone who has abandoned the world and is without attachments to despise other men burdened with many encumbrances for their deep-seated greed and constant fawning on others. If he could put himself in the place of the men he despises, he would see that, for the sake of their parents, wives, and children, whom they truly love, they forget all sense of shame and even steal. I believe therefore that it would be better, instead of imprisoning thieves and concerning ourselves only with punishing crimes, to run the country in such a way that no man would ever be hungry or cold. […]. As long as the country is not properly governed and people suffer from cold and hunger, there will never be an end to crime. It is pitiful to make people suffer, to force them to break the law, and then to punish them. How then may we help the people? If those at the top would give up their luxury and wastefulness, protect the people, and encourage agriculture, those below would unquestionably benefit greatly. The real criminal is the man who commits a crime even though he has a normal share of food and clothing.

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So what does any of this have to do with the NBA? Currently, roughly half of “basketball related income” (BRI) is set aside for the actual players whose labour generates the bulk of the money (and let’s not forget the staff who work in and around the arenas as well as the sweatshop labourers who produce the merchandise). The other half is handed straight to the team owners—parasitic rentier capitalists who built their fortunes through good honest work like inheritance, mortgage fraud, pyramid schemes, union busting, and pushing innocent men to the ground.

Basic income is often framed derisively as a proposal that involves giving people “money for nothing” (what a ludicrous thought!), but it’s worth considering who really is receiving money for nothing. While it might be tempting to point disapprovingly at the multi-million dollar contracts routinely handed to NBA players just for playing a game, and regardless of whether or not they’re any good3, the real crime here is that half of BRI goes straight into the pockets of an ownership class who—as players’ union executive director Michele Roberts correctly observes—are so worthless that they could disappear tomorrow and nobody would notice or care. Worse still, these shameless vultures refuse to conduct themselves with the compunction that such an arrangement ought to warrant, demanding instead a larger and larger share of revenue with every passing round of collective bargaining, brazenly painting themselves as victims who could not possibly afford to keep their teams afloat otherwise. What keen business acumen they must possess!

Mark Cuban - Dallas Mavericks Owner

[I]t must be admitted that the workman scores over both the horse and the slave, inasmuch as he enjoys the priceless blessing of Freedom. If he does not like the hirer’s conditions he need not accept them. He can refuse to work, and he can go and starve. There are no ropes on him. He is a Free man. He is the Heir of all the Ages. He enjoys perfect Liberty. He has the right to choose freely which he will do—Submit or Starve. Eat dirt, or eat nothing. […]. This beautiful System is the only one possible, and the best that human wisdom can devise. May the System live forever! Cursed be those who seek to destroy the system! — Mark Cuban

But what if there were another way? What if, instead of handing 50% of BRI over to a loafer class of gormless parasites, this money were channelled towards a basic income for the populations of the cities in which each franchise is based? NBA teams would cease to look like symptoms of corruption (publicly subsidised NBA arenas are crimes against humanity) and instead become sources of local pride and shared prosperity.

Not only would this provide obvious benefits for the communities receiving these dividends, it would boost the morale and the esteem of players, and thus increase the overall quality of basketball (which is what really matters). No longer would NBA players have to suffer at the hands of incompetent and meddlesome ownership and endure the dishonour of personally helping to fatten their pockets; instead, they would enjoy the satisfaction of assisting the very people who cheer them on. Who would you rather work for: a corpulent millionaire who uses his inherited wealth to pose as a blues musician, or the poverty-stricken and homeless people of New York City?

The spectacle of the average NBA game is so saturated with advertising that even the camera angles are sponsored. Uniforms now have sleeves to make room for incoming corporate logos, and commentators are obliged to regularly blurt out slogans while calling games. Since advertising so obviously degrades the quality of the “product” (as the NBA likes to refer to basketball), viewers should either be allowed to watch for free or receive some manner of compensation for having their time wasted and their sensibilities insulted. Currently, NBA games are paid for (at least) twice—by the advertisers and by the audience. This is fundamentally unjust, and it’s time to liberate this advertising revenue and distribute it to those who’ve earned it.

But this would only be the beginning. A Nationalised Basketball Association could provide the blueprint—and galvanise support—for broader and more inclusive basic income schemes throughout the United States and the wider world. UK basketball luminary John Amaechi recently argued that addressing homophobia in high profile sports leagues is an effective means of combating such bigotry elsewhere in society, remarking that sport is “one of the most influential social learning environments.” While we may wish to bemoan the fact that professional athletes wield such transformative power, as Amaechi correctly notes, “managing what is takes primacy over what should be.” By the same token, while it may be both galling and terrifying that the United States sets the agenda for the rest of the world, we cannot currently alter the reality that America has successfully constructed a ruthlessly oppressive global empire for itself, and so affecting revolutionary change in the corrupt heart of global hypercapitalism should be deemed a priority, something that will ultimately make train tickets affordable for me everybody.

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Sport can reach with alacrity those parts of society in which theoretical and applied socialism are viewed with scepticism. So to readily influence sport’s leadership is one route we can take to help us achieve some useful shifts in society, in terms of basic income, and beyond. — John Amaechi

This is all well and good, you are no doubt thinking, but how do we get there? Numerous studies and pilot schemes have already been conducted, and the necessity of UBI is obvious to anybody with a human heart who has spent more than ten minutes thinking about it. Yet the same familiar objections are voiced every time such a scheme is seriously proposed. How are we going to pay for it?, demands the same venal political class that advocates conjuring money out of thin airquantitative easing” and setting aside billions of pounds for malfunctioning nuclear submarines that could potentially destroy the planet. Receiving money for free will disincentivise work and foster laziness and dependence, snort the very pigs that live on inherited fortunes and still refuse to pay taxes.

Indeed, the surging popularity of Benoît Hamon and his campaign for le revenue universel in the primaries for leadership of the Socialist Party have forced the French political establishment to confront and respond to the growing demand for UBI. Former prime minister Manuel Valls dismisses basic income on the grounds that it is contrary to his vision of France as a “society of work,” while François de Rugy of the “Left Radicals” (HA!) complained that talk of UBI interferes with the crucial debate over how to create new jobs! Truly, the reasons behind the rise of so-called “populism” in Europe remain a mystery.

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It is not a wild dream of Superhuman Unselfishness. No one will be asked to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others or to love his neighbours better than himself as is the case under the present system, which demands that the majority shall unselfishly be content to labour and live in wretchedness for the benefit of a few. — Benoît Hamon

The views expressed by Valls and de Rugy could have come straight from the pages of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, a brilliant but unsubtle novel by Robert Tressell in which Dickensian villains with name like Sir Graball D’Encloseland antagonise the poor and collude with one another to appropriate and profit from public assets. Though first published over a century ago, it’s clear that very little has changed in politics since Tressell’s time:

The walls were covered with huge Liberal and Tory posters, which showed in every line the contempt of those who published them for the intelligence of the working men to whom they were addressed. There was one Tory poster that represented the interior of a public house; in front of the bar, with a quart pot in his hand, a clay pipe in his mouth, and a load of tools on his back, stood a degraded-looking brute who represented the Tory ideal of what an Englishman should be; the letterpress on the poster said it was a man! This is the ideal of manhood that they hold up to the majority of their fellow countrymen, but privately—amongst themselves—the Tory aristocrats regarded such ‘men’ with far less respect than they do the lower animals. Horses or dogs, for instance.

The novel’s fictional setting—Mugsborough—is based on the town of Hastings where Tressell lived and worked. It’s also the town where I currently live and work, and I can attest that the locals here are treated to precisely the same rhetoric today as Tressell and his peers endured a hundred years earlier. Just last week, Tory MP Amber Rudd profaned the letterboxes of her long-suffering constituents with the following article of feckless propaganda:

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Most of the writers of these Liberal and Tory papers seemed to think that all that was necessary was to find ‘Work’ for the ‘working’ class! That was their conception of a civilised nation in the twentieth century! For the majority of people to work like brutes in order to obtain a ‘living wage’ for themselves and to create luxuries for a small minority of persons too lazy to work at all!

Yes, that’s what’s needed in 2017! More mindless, meaningless toil to occupy the serfs! Poverty wages for the poverty stricken! Rudd exhibits the primordial Tory obsession with unemployment statistics, figures which can be manipulated in a variety of ingenious ways to give the appearance of a fair and prosperous society where no such thing exists. People who are “economically inactive,” for instance, are excluded from unemployment statistics. Likewise, the permanent underclass that sleeps rough on benches and in doorways cannot spoil pristine Tory unemployment figures with their odious presence—they are simply ignored!

Never mind that the wealth of people in their thirties has halved in a decade; never mind that millions of people have no savings; never mind that thousands of people are being hospitalised with malnutrition; none of this matters because unemployment is down, and the Dow Jones is up! Let them eat stocks! The economy is recovering, write the hired scribes of the capitalist press, and the so-called “informed public” believe them! “But it must be remembered,” wrote Tressell, “that most of the defenders of the existing system are so constituted that they can believe anything provided it is not true and sufficiently silly.”

Alright, alright, but something as ambitious as UBI will undoubtedly take time; it’s complicated, and we need more studies, more pilots. There is nothing so distasteful in contemporary politics as this flaccid, incrementalist view, wielded to great effect by Hillary Clinton every time she betrayed her utter contempt for young and idealistic people desperately in need of significant change. Politics, according to Clinton (and other craven swine enamoured with the status quo and the lobbying money it brings), is essentially a labour of Sisyphus: one toils away for years on end, failing to bring about any tangible improvements in the lives of the poor and marginalised (though touching the lives of the poor outside the US proves quite easy), and in the end, exhausted from having fought so hard, all one has to show for it are lucrative Goldman Sachs speaking engagements and mountains of Saudi money. These entitled millennials don’t understand how hard and how thankless politics really is!

This attitude, conveniently popular within the American political and media establishment, was echoed recently in yet another noxious and tone-deaf New York Times op-ed in which one of a seemingly endless parade of white, middle-aged windbags sought once more to explain the Trump phenomenon to his thoroughly lobotomised audience. The author, Kevin Baker, marvels at the wonderful American tradition of civil rights struggles being ignored for decades before finally—all resistance having been exhausted—minor concessions are made (only to be revoked later):

The first wave of feminists fought for more than 70 years to win their biggest demand; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead by the time women got the vote. African-Americans battled ceaselessly, in every way they could, against their enslavement and Jim Crow, training their own lawyers to take their cases to the Supreme Court. The struggles for labor rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, civil liberties, religious toleration, women’s control over their own bodies — all these battles and more took decades to win. They are the glory of our civilization.

To celebrate political inertia and romanticise oppression while shrugging off the hundreds of thousands of lives ruined and wasted by a callous and stubborn political establishment is simply intolerable. This is the glory of American civilisation? If civil rights struggles were about reasonable, evidence-based arguments and a willingness to work patiently within the existing political system, we’d have long since adopted UBI—and a great many other things—across the globe. Unfortunately, in a world where advocating basic income can get you killed, asking nicely isn’t going to cut it. The time has come for practical measures. No more theory. Don’t talk about it; be about it.

Dirk Nowitzki

As for what we should do to such individuals…I can assure you that we would not treat them as you treat them now. We would not dress them up in silk and satin and broadcloth and fine linen: we would not embellish them, as you do, with jewels of gold and jewels of silver and with precious stones; neither should we allow them to fare sumptuously every day. Our method of dealing with them would be quite different from yours. In the Nationalised Basketball Association there will be no place for loafers; whether they call themselves owners or shareholders, those who are too lazy to work shall have no share in the things that are produced by the labour of others. — Dirk Nowitzki

For the solution to this problem, let us turn once more to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. “There was only one hope,” Tressell wrote. “It was possible that the monopolists, encouraged by the extraordinary…apathy of the people, would proceed to lay upon them even greater burdens, until at last, goaded by suffering…these miserable wretches would turn upon their oppressors and drown both them and their System in a sea of blood.”

This is the path that I recommend NBA players take.

Led by chief brigand Adam Silver, the loafer class of the NBA has for too long oppressed the players and the people. Silver made clear in 2015 his Machiavellian plot to divide and thus to conquer the player base, to cultivate in the league’s stars a voracious appetite for capital, and to exploit this avarice to secure in collective bargaining negotiations favourable terms for the NBA’s rentier class. I propose, therefore, that the majority of these players4 do away with this parasitic cabal. They produce nothing but consume everything! Drag them from their luxury suites and—to paraphrase Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois—make these inhuman monstrosities disappear from the soil of America.

Wait, isn’t that going a little far? A debate concerning the legitimacy of political violence has emerged recently following the punching of media darling and literal Nazi Richard Spencer, and it has become clear that there remains a great deal of confusion regarding the correct way to deal with fascists. In a cowardly Vice article that sought to determine whether it was right or wrong to punch Richard Spencer in the face, “an ethicist” conflated a literal white supremacist with somebody “you really, really don’t like” whose “ideas are odious” and who “has politics different from yours,” urging readers to take the moral high ground and refrain from any punching.

It’s easy (and common) for white liberals to wring their hands over the sanctity of free speech and pat themselves on the back for their willingness to tolerate Nazis, but those who feel we should respect the “rights” of white supremacists to organise conferences in Washington DC would do well to remind themselves that the United States is a mere generation removed from its last public lynching and consider that perhaps there’s more at stake here than their own desire to remain morally consistent (a privilege few can afford).

Of course, it’s just as easy to say all of this—easier to type about punching fascists as an ideal than to actually punch real people. To acknowledge the need for political violence is not something that I take lightly. But, as Walter Benjamin—a German Jew who died fleeing the Gestapo in 1940—wrote in his Critique of Violence, the commandment Thou shalt not kill “exists not as a criterion of judgement, but as a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it.” In other words, if you see a Nazi,

And if you think that political violence is just a polite euphemism for terrorism, it’s worth noting when and from where that term originates. As Sophie Wahnich explains,

‘Terrorism’ and ‘terrorists’ are words that originated with Thermidor. Those who sought to found a new and egalitarian political and symbolic space were defeated by history. The terrorists meant Robespierre and Saint-Just, but also all who fought for ‘liberty or death’—the Jacobins whose club was closed, the citizens reduced to political passivity by the establishment of a property-based suffrage and the abolition of the right of resistance to an oppression which refused them any active citizenship. 

“The people have the right,” Jean-Paul Marat declared, “to take up the sword of justice when the judges are concerned only to protect the guilty and oppress the innocent.” Maximilien Robespierre: “Those who wage war on a people, in order to halt the progress of liberty and destroy the rights of man, must be pursued everywhere not as ordinary enemies, but as assassins and brigands.” If these men were terrorists, then so was John “Father of Liberalism” Locke, who decreed that all those who were harmful to humanity must be destroyed:

In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him. Which being a trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature, every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief.

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There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’ if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; … our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with life-long death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? … A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us have been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves. — Baron Davis

Of course, with any luck, no such unpleasantness will be necessary. After all, dismantling the current system and replacing it with something more equitable won’t just benefit those who are currently poor. Indeed, even an unrepentant capitalist like Adam Smith agrees with Kenkō, if inadvertently (shout out Mark Blyth):

Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions. It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years5, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security. He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate continually held up to chastise it.

Were wealth to be distributed in a more equitable manner—if every member of every community had access to what Robert Tressell called “the benefits of civilisation”—society as a whole would prosper. The rentier capitalists themselves—though they may not grasp this now—would benefit enormously from participating in a society in which they are not universally loathed, and where their peers actually have the time and the energy to produce art, play basketball, write novels, and so on; a world of limitless entertainment and creativity. As Tressell wrote, “the interests of masters and men are identical, for it is to the interest of all, both rich and poor, to help to destroy a system that inflicts suffering upon the many and allows true happiness to none. It is to the interest of all to try and find a better way.”

quite frankly

1 What jobs?

2 Kenkō considered the consumption of alcohol “a scandalous way to spend a day of celebration,” complaining that it might cause a woman to “brush the hair away from her forehead and brazenly lift up her face with a roar of laughter,” or, if “badly bred,” to “push appetisers into the mouth of her companion, or her own, a disgraceful sight.”

3 Timofey Mozgov deserves every penny.

4 “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

5 I take the phrase “many years” to be an error, a misspelling of “others.”

 

Quotes accompanying pictures:

James Harden = Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (altered)

Mark Cuban = Robert Tressell

John Amaechi = John Amaechi (altered)

Benoît Hamon = Robert Tressell

Dirk Nowitzki = Robert Tressell (altered)

Baron Davis = Mark Twain

Check out the bibliography for further reading.

The Glass Backboard

Basketball, Apartheid, and Scientific Sexism

nneka-ogwumike

Battling racism and battling heterosexism and battling basketball apartheid share the same urgency inside me as battling cancer. None of these struggles is ever easy, and even the smallest victories must be applauded, because it is so easy not to battle at all, to just accept, and to call that acceptance inevitable. — Nneka Ogwumike

A few years ago, Dallas Mavericks owner and exploitative parasite Mark Cuban made headlines in the sports world by suggesting that he might draft Brittney Griner, or at least invite her to play in the NBA’s Summer League to see whether or not she could earn a place on the Mavericks’ roster and thus become the first woman to play in the NBA. Predictably, Cuban’s (cynical and self-serving) remarks elicited derision from the usual parade of talking heads, and while it may briefly have generated a little extra interest in the Mavericks, it also placed Griner under considerable scrutiny and thrust upon her unreasonable expectations that evidently continue to haunt her.

One episode that sticks in my memory (and which has since been deleted from YouTube because the NBA fastidiously deletes any and all videos that might be construed as remotely controversial) involved Brent Barry—or perhaps Wally Szczerbiak; I don’t remember or particularly care—and a couple of other pundits laughing through bared teeth like the chauvinistic jackals they are at the very notion that a woman could compete in sport alongside men. “How is she going to guard Shaq?” they asked one another to considerable merriment. Shaq, it’s worth noting, had already retired by this time.

Such responses will be familiar to women, who are routinely met with condescension and scepticism even when competing against one another, let alone when challenging men. At the 1988 US Olympic trials, Florence Griffith Joyner ran 100 metres in 10.49 seconds, taking an incredible 0.27 seconds off the existing world record. “No woman can run 10.49 legit,” declared Linford Christie, the men’s 100-metre winner at the 1992 Olympics. “I know what it feels like to run 10.49,” he continued, “and it’s hard.” For what it’s worth, Griffith Joyner never failed a drug test and her record has yet to be beaten.

All of this may appear reasonable enough to some readers. After all, it’s a scientific fact that men are, on average, bigger and stronger than women, and that they therefore make better athletes. It’s biology! But the female body is not just a collection of 60 billion cells organised into muscle and tissue, flesh and bone; it is also—and has been for centuries—the subject of a variety of discourses that are specific to particular periods and cultures and that, thankfully, are ever shifting. The way that Linford Christie et al. view women’s bodies is not in reality a matter of natural and immutable scientific fact; rather, it echoes a kind of scientific sexism that has been practised for centuries and that we must endeavour to put to rest once and for all.

In the seventeenth century, women were placed at a severe disadvantage educationally. For example, in their political development they were hindered through their lack of formal education in political rhetoric, their official exclusion from citizenship and government, the perception that women ought not to be involved in political affairs, and the view that it was immodest for a woman to write at all. Yet despite such—to contemporary eyes—obvious impediments to women’s intellectual development, they were widely assumed to be naturally inferior to men.

While in retrospect it ought to go without saying that men’s apparently superior intellect and achievements might lie in sources other than natural neural endowments, at the time it did need saying. After all, the objective and rational disciplines of science were on hand to explain and justify the gender status quo. In the seventeenth century, French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche declared women “incapable of penetrating to truths that are slightly difficult to discover,” claiming that “[e]verything abstract is incomprehensible to them.” The neurological explanation for this, he proposed, lay in “the delicacy of the brain fibres.”

Over the intervening centuries, the neurological explanations behind the different roles, occupations and achievements experienced by women and men have been overhauled again and again as neuroscientific methods and modes of understanding have become ever more sophisticated. Early brain scientists, using the cutting-edge techniques of the time, busily filled empty skulls with pearl barley, carefully categorised head shapes using tape measures, and devoted careers to the obsessive weighing of brains. Infamously, they proposed that women’s intellectual inferiority must stem from their smaller and lighter brains, a phenomenon that came to be known among the Victorian public as “the missing five ounces of the female brain.”

Only when it became inescapably clear that brain weight did not correlate with intelligence did brain scientists acknowledge that men’s larger brains might merely reflect their larger bodies. Yet rather than abandon this avenue of inquiry, scientists instead undertook the search for a measure of relative—rather than absolute—brain weight that would leave the absolutely bigger-brained sex ahead.

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Many ratios were tried—of brain weight to height, to body weight, to muscular mass, to the size of the heart, even (one begins to sense desperation) to some one bone, such as the humerus or radius. — Breanna Stewart

Most people these days would, one hopes, acknowledge that men and women are intellectual equals, and regard the above examples as amusing and primitive pseudo-science undertaken by the kind of rational and enlightened inquirer who begins by drawing a conclusion—i.e. that women are stupid—and proceeds to work backwards in order to “prove” why this is so. Thank goodness we’ve moved beyond such dubious “scientific” justifications for sexism, right?

Yet when we consider the history of women’s involvement in sport, the parallels between discourses concerning women’s bodies and discourses concerning women’s minds quickly become apparent. Pierre de Coubertin1, founder of the International Olympic Committee and “father of the modern Olympic Games,” urged the prohibition of women’s participation in sport, arguing that the sight of the “body of a woman being smashed” was “indecent.” The Olympics, he declared, were to be dedicated to the “solemn and periodic exultation of male athleticism…with female applause as reward,” since “[n]o matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks.”

Despite these fears, women were cautiously admitted to the more demanding track events in the early days of the Olympics, though the sight of exhausted female athletes fighting for their breath as they crossed the line of the 800 metres in 1928 was so repugnant to Olympic organisers that they removed the event from women’s schedules. Not until 1960 was the distance reinstated for women.

Pierre de Coubertin’s views were perfectly in line with those of his contemporaries. According to Victorian attitudes, sports that were appropriate for women were those that involved the projection of the body through space in aesthetically pleasing patterns, or those that required only light implements. Golf, for example, was ideal: it made minimal physical demands and could be played in full dress, and the languid elegance of the swing made the sight of female players pleasing to men’s eyes. It was a convention of Victorian society that women should appear decorative at all times, and so those who could afford to play tennis were expected to wear full skirts, tight corsets, high-necked, long-sleeved blouses, and boaters.

It was also believed by men that the kinds of physical changes brought on by regular exercise were liable to make women unsightly; strength was beautiful in men but ugly in women. Though wealthy and privileged women were permitted to compete at Wimbledon in the early 1920s, to actually train was considered vulgar, if not outright cheating.

The justification for all of this, as is usually the case with any form of discrimination, was a patronising—but scientifically objective!—concern for women’s wellbeing: it was for their own good. Menstruation—the eternal wound—was seen as a form of invalidity, and its beginning meant that young women would need to be careful in conserving energy. Disabled by menstruation, women were often prohibited from competing against one another, let alone against men: if they tried to emulate their physically superior male counterparts, they would risk damaging their delicate selves.

Some schools of thought held that the enfeebling effects of menstruation could be offset by cold baths, deep breathing, and mild exercising, such as beanbag-throwing, hoops, or golf. Especially appropriate, according to Alice Tweedy, writing in Popular Science Monthly in 1892, were “homely gymnastics,” i.e. housework. Around this time, cycling was becoming a popular pastime in North America and Europe, and though women were permitted to cycle, there were suspicions about whether women’s bodies were up to the task. Many doctors believed that the peddling motion involved in operating a sewing machine would, conveniently enough, afford women sufficient exercise without any unnecessary risk or unsightly sweating.

wally

The science of legislation, of jurisprudence, of political economy; the conduct of government in all its executive functions; the abstruse researches of erudition…the knowledge indispensable in the wide field of commercial enterprise…these, and other studies, pursuits, and occupations, assigned chiefly or entirely to men, demand the efforts of a mind endued with the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intense and continued application. — Wally Szczerbiak

These attitudes were—and continue to be—dangerous precisely because they feel intuitive, natural, inevitable. But is it really a scientific fact that men are inherently better at sport? Is it possible that there are factors other than average size and strength contributing to the disparity we see today between male and female athletic performance?

Consider Samuel Johnson’s famous quip: “much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.” The United Kingdom has produced up to (depending on how generous you want to be) eleven NBA players, only one of whom was actually any good2. Roughly 3,000 NBA players have come and gone over the last 50 years, so this isn’t a terribly impressive contribution from a country whose population is about 20% that of the United States. Few would argue that male citizens of the United Kingdom are in fact inherently, biologically bad at basketball, yet their collective achievements are, frankly, pathetic. The idea that the UK could compete with the USA in basketball is ludicrous: maybe, maybe, the very best player the UK could produce would manage to cut it as a bench player in the NBA. Then again, maybe not.

Ask any Scotchman and they can tell you precisely what the problem is: the UK’s total lack of investment in sports, education, and culture (and indeed anything other than weapons and finance). Ever since Thatcher closed all of the basketball courts in the 1980s, we’ve had to struggle just to find somewhere to play. Absent are the facilities, the encouragement, the prestige that are available to young athletes in the United States. As long as these obstacles remain, the UK will never produce a Kristaps Porzingis or a Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It is true that, over the years, women have not achieved as much as men in sport; yet the conclusion that women cannot achieve the same levels does not follow logically from the original premise that they are biologically different. In fact, one could argue that, were we to regarded women as equally capable as men physically, they would perform at similar standards, and that the only reason they do not is because they have been perceived as biologically incapable for so long. To say this is not to deny that there are physical differences between women and men, but rather to acknowledge that striking physical differences exist between individual NBA players as well, and that these differences can be overcome and even put to great use. Biological differences between women and men are, in other words, of significantly less importance than our conceptions about them.

Women’s bodies—and, indeed, men’s bodies—are, in part, the products of discourses as well as of biological factors. Human bodies have been perceived, interpreted, and represented differently in different epochs, lived differently, brought into being within widely dissimilar cultures, subjected to various technologies and means of control, and incorporated into various different rhythms of production and consumption, pleasure and pain. Women were prescribed the role of delicate and decorative object in Victorian Europe, but Victorian values are hardly universal. In ancient Sparta and Crete, for example, athletic contests were part of young women’s education. In ancient Greek and Roman cultures, women would hunt, ride, swim, and run, though not (usually) engage in combat. By the time of the emergence in the nineteenth century of the organised, rule-bound activities we now recognise as sports, women were effectively pushed out of the picture and assigned roles as spectators, but this was merely a matter of convention, not an inevitability.

While much has, of course, changed since the nineteenth century, these changes can be overstated, and it is crucial to acknowledge that female athletes still face innumerable—and unnecessary—obstacles. The obscene disparity in pay between WNBA players and their NBA counterparts, for example, is not a result of the natural and immutable forces of the glorious American free market. Under their current TV deal, WNBA teams each receive $1 million per year, but, according to Colin Davenport, they would be entitled to $4.3 million per year were they to be given the same percentage of revenue NBA teams receive. This would eliminate the need for women to play in Europe, China, and Australia during the offseason while their male peers enjoy a three-month holiday at the conclusion of their schedule.

For WNBA players, the basketball season rarely ends when the W schedule is complete, the WNBA’s official site proclaims cheerily. This need to play overseas during the offseason simply in order to receive a decent income isn’t just a nuisance and an indignity—it can cut legendary careers short. At a time when NBA players routinely receive rest days during their regular season in order to preserve their health, the fact that WNBA players are forced to play ceaselessly all year round in spite of the damage this is known to cause is simply disgraceful.

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[T]he body is a process, not a thing: it is constantly changing physically and culturally. Sporting performance promotes changes in terms of muscular strength and oxygen uptake; changes in diet and climactic conditions induce bodily changes too, of course. In our particular culture and this stage in history we understand women and their association with men in one way; in another place and at another time, this relationship may be understood quite differently. It is a matter of convention that we organise sports into women’s and men’s events. It seems contradictory then to itemise the differences in adipose tissue, respiratory volumes, activity of sweat glands, etc. To do so would be to fall into the same trap as those who went to so much trouble to “prove” that women were simply not capable of sporting endeavour. — Lauren Jackson

Despite the recent addition of women’s boxing, which finally signalled the opening of all Olympic events to participation by both female and male athletes, there remain some important differences in the ways in which men and women are expected to compete. Women’s sports are generally played in shorter periods of time, or with smaller equipment, but in an event like athletics the difference is stark: men take part in six disciplines (floor, vault, pommel horse, high bar, parallel bars, and rings) while women do only four (floor, vault, uneven parallel bars, and balance beam). The resulting difference in demands produces strikingly different bodies compared with other sports: women gymnasts tend to be very small and thin in the upper body compared to the men. Thus, bodies are not strictly the products of blind and immutable biological factors but are the products of specific cultural and discursive inputs.

It is a matter of convention that sports like basketball prize strength and size, areas in which men generally possess an advantage over women. But what if more were done to conceive of sports that emphasise the physical traits from which women derive an advantage? There is evidence, for example, that women are actually able to outperform men in endurance and stamina events that last longer than two hours: women’s smaller bodies radiate heat more efficiently, and they tend to more effectively convert body fat into energy. Indeed, since official records for women’s marathon times began in 1964, the best women’s times have been improving at a faster rate than men’s times. By 1979, Greta Waitz had surpassed the fastest male marathon runner from 1925, Al Michaelson. Had women been permitted to compete in marathons alongside men since their inception in 1896, it is not unreasonable to assume that today’s top marathon runners would be women3.

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Cashmore, Ellis (2000) Making Sense of Sports. London: Routledge.

Women’s experience has historically been one of denial: they simply have not been allowed to enter sports on the basis of mistaken beliefs regarding their natural predisposition. Because of this, the encouragement, facilities, and, importantly, competition available to male athletes from an early age has not been extended to them. In the very few areas where the gates have recently been opened—the marathon being the obvious example—women’s progress has been extraordinary. Given open competition, women could achieve parity with men in virtually all events, apart from those very few that require the rawest of muscle power (while men will likely lag behind in events that require endless stamina). But more important than this is the fact that the vast majority of events require, above all, fineness of judgement, quickness of reaction, balance, and anticipation, and women have no disadvantages in these respects. Their only disadvantage is what men believe about them.

As Angela Davis once observed, sexism is an obstacle to socialist development and the eventual advent of communism. It is therefore imperative that we do away with it in all its forms. There can be only one course of action:

1 Incidentally, there is also a medal named after Pierre de Coubertin, a sportsmanship award. Since its inauguration in 1964 it has been awarded to 18 men and one woman. Women, evidently, are lacking in sportsmanship as well as sporting prowess.

2 Ben Gordon doesn’t count since he grew up in America: he was caught young.

3 I therefore propose that men’s and women’s basketball be merged and that games be extended from 48 minutes to four hours.

quite frankly

How to Read Donald Trump

Basketball, Identitarianism, and the New Cold War

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Postmodernism lives. Legions of detractors and years of intellectual debate have done nothing to arrest its expansion or reduce its impact, and scores of usurpers have failed miserably in stultifying its scope. Despite or because of being profanely ambivalent and ambiguous, rejoicing in consumption and celebrating obsessions, ignoring consistency and avoiding stability, favouring illusions and pleasure, postmodernism is the only possible contemporary answer to a century worn out by the rise and fall of modern ideologies, the pervasion of capitalism, and an unprecedented sense of personal responsibility and individual impotence. — Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker is having a great year. Following the best season of his young career in 2015–16, Walker is currently well on his way to establishing himself as the best point guard in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Though he was unfairly excluded from the NBA All-Star game last February, overlooked in favour of the pestiferous and undeserving Kyrie Irving, Walker appeared destined—with this season’s game initially scheduled to take place in Charlotte—to make his All-Star debut in front of a familiar crowd of long-suffering Hornets fans. Walker is, by all accounts, a genuinely good person, and I was pleased that that one of the hardest working and most entertaining players around would finally get to enjoy a special moment amidst the unending misery of playing for Michael Jordan’s vanity project.

But Kemba’s triumph was not to be. On the 23rd of March, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (also known as HB2, or the “bathroom bill”), requiring bathrooms in government facilities to be used by people based on the gender listed on their birth certificate, and prohibiting local governments from enacting non-discrimination laws. On the 21st of July, the NBA, in response to this new legislation, pulled the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte. It will now be played in New Orleans.

“Why are you guys obsessed with bathrooms?”

This is a question that economist and renowned Trump-predictor Mark Blyth is frequently asked by his European colleagues. Speaking to students during a Trump-themed talk at Brown University on the 9th of November, Blyth explained that, while it actually is an important civil rights issue, a dispute over whether states should be able to decide who persons are, such bathroom controversies nevertheless appear “ridiculous” to those on the periphery of the debate.

For many pundits, the NBA’s boycott of Charlotte is yet another manifestation of an alarming spectre haunting the contemporary left. Universities, we are told, are rife with petulant and sheltered “millennials” who cannot stand to be challenged by new ideas, retreating instead into vigorously policed echo-chambers where they delight in disinviting and no-platforming respectable intellectuals while demanding trigger warnings and safe spaces to protect their fragile minds.

Yet this is merely a resurrection and rebranding of the long-discredited and rightly-ridiculed notion that political correctness has gone mad. The University of Chicago recently made headlines for a thinly-veiled publicity stunt in which it appealed to the growing sentiment among affluent white kids (their target demographic) that their brave and iconoclastic voices are being stifled by a Stalinesque left which currently exerts a stranglehold over academia.

The resurgence of this narrative has been underway for several years, but the “victory” of Donald Trump earlier this month has breathed new life into its wretched, shambling carcass. In the days that followed, mountains of pre-written articles about “campus culture” were hurriedly tweaked and redeployed in order to explain Trump’s election as CEO of the American Empire.

What I find particularly troubling about this theory is that, while traditionally a refrain of the right, it has in its new form gained considerable currency with the left. In the wake of the revolting spectacle of America’s presidential election, supposedly prescient and thoughtful characters like Jonathan Pie and Slavoj Žižek have offered precisely the same explanation—in precisely the same language—as “edgy,” Arab-hating cretins like Bill Maher and Sam Harris. It’s time to take a step back1.

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[L]et us remind ourselves of a phenomenon quite usual in popular television shows or serials: ‘canned laughter’. After some supposedly funny or witty remark, you can hear the laughter and applause included in the soundtrack of the show itself — here we have the exact counterpart of the Chorus in classical tragedy; it is here that we have to look for ‘living Antiquity’. That is to say, why this laughter? The first possible answer — that it serves to remind us when to laugh — is interesting enough, because it implies the paradox that laughter is a matter of duty and not of some spontaneous feeling; but this answer is not sufficient because we do not usually laugh. The only correct answer would be that the Other — embodied in the television set — is relieving us even of our duty to laugh — is laughing instead of us. So even if, tired from a hard day’s stupid work, all evening we did nothing but gaze drowsily into the television screen, we can say afterwards that objectively, through the medium of the other, we had a really good time. — Bill Maher

Bill Maher has had an axe to grind with the radical left for some time now. After being invited to give a commencement speech at UC Berkeley in 2014, students who objected to Maher’s general bigotry and bland humour had lobbied enthusiastically to deny him the platform. While they were ultimately unsuccessful, Maher had only narrowly avoided being “silenced” according to the critics of political correctness, as though a rich white dude who hosts a weekly show on HBO about his own opinions could in any way be construed as a marginal or oppressed figure.

The students of UC Berkeley, a once illustrious hive of communism and left wing militancy, were dishonoured by the decision to allow this flaccid, faux-left reprobate to blather on about the dangers of political correctness and urge young people to join the rat race: “It doesn’t make you a rat! This is America.” UC Berkeley counts among its alumni the founding members of the SLA, and Maher’s tedious, self-celebratory bloviating is an insult to the memory of these beloved heroes of freedom and justice.

Thus, in order to honour the struggle of UC Berkley students, we at 66th Take invited notorious UC Berkeley alum Patty Hearst to give an alternative commencement speech more befitting the occasion. This is what she had to say:

Amen.

On the 18th of November the New York Times published an opinion piece by Harvard-educated humanities professor Mark Lilla titled The End of Identity Liberalism, a fairly typical example of what I’m talking about.

“It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country,” Lilla, a ghoulish, middle-aged white man, begins his article. “It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.” An extraordinary success story; certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. I beg to differ.

After conflating advocates of identity politics with members of the Ku Klux Klan, Lilla arrives at his central thesis: “We need a post-identity liberalism.” But for what? I’m all for strategic essentialism under the right circumstances—it is true that we must “at some point constitute a material threat to power.” But Lilla would deploy such a strategy not to galvanise any kind of radical change; rather, Lilla urges his readers to abandon identity politics in order that they might elect a Hillary Clinton instead of a Donald Trump. Better yet, Lilla’s “post-identity liberal press” would magically circumvent Ronald Reagan’s elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and Bill Clinton’s signing of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 in order to “take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping world politics.” Do they not teach political economy at Harvard?

Lilla concludes his article by offering us a glimpse of what a shared American identity could look like. If you suspect it might look like a white, male establishment figure of dubious moral character, congratulations! Franklin D. Roosevelt, the man responsible for the gratuitous firebombing of Tokyo that resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians, is Lilla’s unsurprising choice for a post-identity totem that will help Americans of all backgrounds focus on what they share (presumably an unrelenting hunger for war and death).

Lilla is fairly typical of political correctness detractors within academia: an unremarkable bore who speaks with improper authority on subjects beyond his field, and who, like Tory MP Charles Walker, whines that he no longer understands the rules with a nauseating mix of confusion and entitlement that only one thoroughly accustomed to determining and perpetuating “the rules” could muster. Lilla genuinely appears to believe that Rust Belt voters cared—or had even heard—about the obscurantist bickering of a few student unions, and that it was the threat of this PC tyranny that had informed their decisions on election day. Lilla believes this because he, like the rest of America’s liberal establishment, lives in a parallel dimension in which he spends all day counting his money and smelling his own farts.

But opponents of political correctness can be found outside the academy as well. Lionel Shriver, for example, is an unfairly censored internationally syndicated writer who, when she isn’t authoring novels, spends her time castigating hypersensitive millennials for their inability to tolerate her dangerous ideas. After giving an ill-conceived and poorly-received speech at a writers’ festival in Brisbane earlier this year (during which a few bored and annoyed audience members walked out), Shriver did what any rational person would do: complain publicly in the New York Times. Shriver is so staggeringly lacking in self-awareness that she writes of a “race…to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved” in a meltdown that stemmed solely from her own inability to accept polite criticism. Shriver is evidently so accustomed to being universally praised that an audience member publicly critiquing her speech feels to her like “real censorship” imposed by the “shrill tyranny of the left.”

After warning that the “weaponized sensitivity” of the left will “push [voters] toward Donald Trump,” Shriver brags about her willingness to “defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street,” as though to tolerate Nazi ideology is virtuous. It’s an easy boast to make so long as “neo-Nazis” remain an abstract and unthreatening rhetorical device, but now that they’re actually starting to crawl out of the woodwork one wonders whether Shriver really would in fact be willing to defend the right of neo-Nazis to, say, organise conferences in Washington. As long as they’re not identitarian millennials, I suppose.

It is in fact the likes of Shriver and Lilla who cannot handle robust debate and who retreat into their own echo chambers when challenged by the earnest and engaged students of today. Is it really the responsibility of hard-working and engaged students familiar with contemporary discourses to indulge pseudo-intellectual pundits, to invite them into their universities and listen attentively as they drivel on, taking care not to ask questions or offer criticisms out of concern for the visiting speaker’s fragile ego?

Ultimately, this notion that identity politics and/or political correctness (the two are apparently interchangeable) has gone too far and pushed the American electorate to nominate Donald Trump is simply the means by which America’s faux-progressive liberal establishment has attempted to admonish the radical left for its own pathetic failures. Sam Harris may try to pin the blame on out-of-control identitarianism, but it is he, the archetypal liberal interventionist and staunch guardian of the status quo, who has been exposed as a fraud. Harris endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders (his main criticism of Clinton being that that she is not Islamophobic enough!) because he simply cannot imagine a future divorced from neoliberal capitalism and American imperialism. Speaking of which…

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The leaders of the West must recognize that our current strategy towards Russia is failing. Our policies have failed to contribute to the democratic Russia we wished for and the people of this great country deserve after all the suffering they have endured. It is time for us to rethink how and to what extent we engage with Putin’s Russia and to put ourselves unambiguously on the side of democratic forces in Russia. At this critical time in history when the West is pushing for democratic change around the world, including in the broader Middle East, it is imperative that we do not look the other way in assessing Moscow’s behaviour or create a double standard for democracy in the countries which lie to Europe’s East. — Adam Curtis

An additional and perhaps even more poisonous narrative that has gained traction in recent months concerns alleged Russian interference in US politics. The Kremlin has apparently harnessed new and powerful political technology to fuck the minds not only of its Russian subjects but also of innocent Americans! Adam Curtis’ new film Hypernormalisation has taken this narrative and run with it. Curtis (who, it should be noted, does not identify as a “leftist” and is “very suspicious of the left”) cites Peter Pomerantsev as his source on the nature of Putin’s postmodern dictatorship.

Unfortunately, Pomerantsev is an opportunistic lobbyist and covert neocon with close ties to the dubious Washington-based think tank the Foreign Policy Initiative (formerly the Project for the New American Century, the coalition of loathsome, bloated warmongers responsible for George W. Bush’s foreign policy). Pomerantsev’s sole job is to produce propaganda that portrays Putin’s Russia as a uniquely dangerous threat to the West, and to do so as pretentiously as possible so as to entice the discerning liberal intellectual. Yet Adam Curtis, a self-styled “journalist” concerned with “real life,” ate it all up while narrating—presumably with a straight face—his latest film about false narratives. Great job, you imbecile.

In addition to being guilty of the very charge he levels at the Kremlin, Pomerantsev’s media analysis could do with some work. By postulating a hypodermic model of media effects (in which ideological messages are “injected” into the audience simply by virtue of being disseminated), Pomerantsev reveals himself to be out of step with the very field in which he claims expertise. In the 1960s, British cultural studies swept aside the Frankfurt School’s notion of a passive and manipulated audience, conceiving instead of an active audience that creates meaning and the popular. In other words, Pomerantsev’s account of the media and its effects is decades out of date.

This New Cold War narrative, in which Russia manipulated the 2016 American presidential election with its avant-garde propaganda machinery, is yet another red herring intended to deflect criticisms of the Democratic Party establishment and its unending parade of corruption scandals while furthering the interests of the FPI for good measure. The American political establishment does not require the Kremlin’s assistance to derail democracy.

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The Democrats are, plainly, co-conspirators in the destruction of American life, “history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party” — the willing executioners for free-market zealots, warmongers, and Wall Street. A career engaged in such politics is a morally undesirable career, no matter your gender. Especially so when you are the type of politician Hillary Clinton was born to be: an ignorant hawk with no conception of how her feckless adventurism might destroy entire societies; a greedlord, in love with the accumulation of wealth; and, most vividly, a lying hack who couldn’t sound sincere with the Sword of Damocles hanging over her. — John Amaechi

Donald Trump is obviously not an ideal president, but his opponent, the uniquely qualified corrupt Hillary Clinton, a war-obsessed, incoherent, corporate-sponsored monster hated by all but the richest Americans, was not a real alternative. As Žižek has pointed out several times, as bad as Trump’s presidency will no doubt be, a Clinton presidency would have been worse still because it would have resulted in political inertia. The post-election protests we’ve seen would not have approached this scale had Clinton won; America would instead have breathed a sigh of relief and carried on as though nothing had happened. If “the true loser is the liberal elite,” then some sort of victory can surely be salvaged from this mess.

I don’t care for any theories about global Trumpism, not because I’m blind to the effects of neoliberal capitalism, but because they presume a popularity that Donald Trump simply doesn’t possess. He was the most loathed presidential candidate in recorded history according to Gallup, and he lost the popular vote in a year when nearly half of American voters abstained, failing to attract the millions of voters who couldn’t bring themselves to endorse Clinton. He has been awarded the presidency not because America’s flyover states are irredeemable hotbeds of racism and misogyny (and to say this is not to romanticise the American working class), but because America’s distinctly undemocratic Electoral College intervened to deliver this festering toilet bowl of a country the president it so richly deserves: a vulgar game show host.

Until next time, keep your ass down and be bad.

1 This was an unintentional Kemba Walker reference that I didn’t even notice until proofreading.

quite frankly