Sun City

Little Steve van Zandt talks to Dave Marsh about Sun City, Paul Simon and the fight against Apartheid, on the eve of Bruce Springsteen’s first tour of South Africa:

And I met with AZAPO, who had a very frank conversation — I was talking to the translator — about whether they should kill me for even being there. That’s how serious they were about violating the boycott. I eventually talked them out of that and then talked them into maybe going kinda with my thing.

They showed me that they have an assassination list, and Paul Simon was at the top of it. [NOTE: In 1986, Paul Simon recorded tracks for his Graceland album in South Africa, in direct violation of the cultural boycott.] And in spite of my feelings about Paul Simon, who we can talk about in a minute if you want to, I said to them, “Listen, I understand your feelings about this; I might even share them, but…”

What strikes me almost thirty years later is how modern the Artist United Against Apartheid project was, especially compared to the other Big Cause projects (We Are the World, Live Aid). Much of that is of course because Little Steve was smart enough to bring hip-hop artists into project, not just pop and rock musicians. Also how much more and much more explicitly political. The famines in Ethiopia were presented as natural disasters, but Little Steve and co from the start made clear not only that the South African government was to blame for Apartheid and its evils, but also how much western support it received over the years. “Why are we always on the wrong side” indeed.

Boycotting Ender’s Game

Nick Mamatas reminds people that boycotting something really is an alternative to violence:

But if you were in favor of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement and the bus boycott, even though a lot of other people got hurt, then there should be no issue with the much milder boycott of Ender’s Game. Tor Books is being left untouched. The studio’s other films are being left untouched. The movie theaters showing the film are being left untouched. This boycott is the caress of a pudgy little newborn baby hand against the cheek of hatred.

That’s part of why boycotts are necessarily collective. It’s a way of saying, “Look how many people you have annoyed. Would you really like to annoy us further?” Just think of all the pudgy little baby hands, reaching for your eyes…

The quality of the movie doesn’t matter. Nor does whether or not it would hurt other people if you boycott the movie. The latter is a confusion that also crops up with strikes a lot, as you always get the handwringing that innocent bystanders are disadvantaged by e.g. a railway strike. That’s the whole point. Strikes or boycotts should hurt or they’re pointless. The only thing that should matter is whether or not hurt Orson Scott Card’s ability to wage war on gay people by hurting him finacially.

Bring on the Jubilee

Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.


For every $1 donated, we are able to buy and abolish $20 worth of debt.

The Rolling Jubilee project is one of the cleverest, simplest direct action ideas I’ve ever seen, a way to short circuit the toxic relationships between debt and poverty that the economic crisis has made worse (and made worse the economic crisis). I’ve blogged about idea of a Jubilee before, but never thought of doing it like this.

There are some caveats of course; buying up debt like this does help, in the long run, to prop up the whole rotten banking and lending system, but in my opinion this is cancelled out by the good it does now. Besides, the system is propped up already by the tax payer and the working classes anyway and this way we actually receive some benefit from it.

Trouble in atheist paradise

What, a social movement inspired by the excesses of Anglo-American Protestantism and promoted by middle-aged blowhards is not terribly inclusive, caring, or supportive itself?

I came by my atheism the honest way, by getting doubts about the religion I’d grown up in, reading about all the miracles and wonders of the universe we live in, getting into rows with my very religious and constantly worrying grandmother. Granted, my church was not the most oppressive or backwards church in the world and nobody actually much cared about what you did or didn’t believe. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve always been a bit wary about the militant atheist movement that has started up in the last five years or so. Atheism alone is not a broad enough base for a political/ideological movement.

It doesn’t help that its two most prominent public figures — Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitches — are both professional arseholes. The latter was a not very intelligent leftwinger when leftwing politics were in fashion, became an even dumber rightwinger when fashions changed and helped cheerlead the War on Iraq. The former, though no doubt a good biologist and science writer, always had a nasty streak in him. I don’t think he’s ever written a book without putting in a dig at somebody.

But the real problem with militant atheism is that it operates in an ideological vacuum. Atheism, though it has been historically associated with the left, with socialism, is not a left nor rightwing thing anymore. Which means that in the professional atheist movement you have people who agree with each other on nothing but the idea that god doesn’t exist. And since it’s largely an internet movement, it is taken its shape from the biggest loudmouths on the web, which more often than not are rightwing/libertarian blowhards.

It’s no wonder that sexism, rape jokes and assorted bad behaviour is rampant in the “community”.


Aging Norwegian folkie leads 40,000 people singing the Norwegian version of Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Race, in a giant fuck you against Breivik and all he stands for

The news can seem unending grim day in day out, then something like this comes along and restores some of your faith in humanity. A reminder that despite all the Breiviks out there, there has been progress in the past seven decades since WWII, that the belief in the equality and worth of all people, no matter their race, creed, faith, orientation or gender, is utterly mainstream. The fascists and nazis have lost, they may still be dangerous but they cannot win.

Charlie Brooker takes on the scummy invisible Children campaign

That whole Invisible Children/Kony 2012 campaign is the worst case of “what these people need is a honky” style of activism. It’s overtly simplistic, revolves more about the activists’ egos than about the supposed cause they’re supporting and it all looks a lot like a scam to get money out of idealistic but gullible people. That the director of the video is an Evangelical Christian fits with the m.o.; Evangelical Christians are masters of the fake charity.

See also.

If the ballot can’t change anything all that remains is the bullet

Even the arch-technocratic Crooked Timber is a bit distraught at the European Central Bank’s policies:

I’ve spoken to people at the European Central Bank – they are very smart, and very sincerely believe that the best path to long term prosperity is through enforced austerity. They are also – by design – nearly completely insulated from democratic pressure. And despite claiming that they are apolitical, they are in fact playing a profoundly political role, dictating the kinds of domestic institutional reforms that states need to implement if they want to continue getting ECB support.

This means that ECB decision makers are under no very great obligation to think about why they might be wrong, up to the point where complete disaster occurs. And disaster is very likely, if the lessons of the gold standard in pre-World War II Europe tell us anything at all. Enforced austerity does not produce economic growth. What it does produce is political instability.

The people at the ECB may very well be smart — or at least middleclass and polite– but you will never convince them of any facts their paychecks depend on denying. They cannot be reasoned with, they can only be forced to abandon their neoliberal economic orthodoxies and since they cannot be forced through the ballot, it will have to be by the bullet. The radical austerity policies the ECB, IMF, EU and all the other parts of the alphabet soup are enforcing on Europe are pushed through not to benefit the voters, but the banks. Simplistic? Yes, but closer through the truth than what you read in respectable newspapers or hear explained on the news.

Politics and the mainstream media together form a closed system, where only limited deviancy from the orthodoxy is accepted and which has been carefully designed to give the impression of democratic control while making sure to limit any influence ordinary voters might have. Anybody who paid attention could see this in the runup to the War on Iraq: on a single day two million people marched in London alone, millions more across the world but it didn’t stop the war, didn’t even slow it down. It wasn’t an election year and therefore it was easy to ignore the voters: let them march, let them write letter to the editor that won’t be published, let them vent their outrage on Question Time or Any Questions, the smart people know it won’t matter. Give it a month or a year and the smart people can all pretend everybody was in favour of the war; well everybody who counted anyway.

Yeah, sure, Blair had to give up being prime minister a couple of years later, when the smart money was already shifting towards the Tories anyway, but he’s got millions in the banks thanks to cushy jobs given to him by his grateful friends in the private sector and all the respectable newspapers and televion newsshows still take him seriously as peace envoy to the Middle East. Some people might spit on him in the streets, but when was the last time Tony walked anywhere anyway?

Democracy has been made safe for capitalism again; voting won’t change anything important. And if voting doesn’t work, if the ballot is powerless, then the bullet remains…


Via Metafiler comes a story that restores some of your faith in humanity. In America there’s a tradition of layaways, setting aside something you want to buy but don’t have the money for just yet and pay for it in installments, after which you can pick it up. It’s old enough that the Isley Brothers could make it into a metaphor for delayed love and thanks to the crisis it’s gotten a new lease on life. Layaways are popular, especially this time of year, to pay for Christmas presents.

But of course, if you’re poor enough to need to pay for Christmas this way, you may end up never quite getting all the money you need to pay off your layaways. Which is where an army of secrets santas has come in, as all over America anonymous people have paid off layaway tabs for complete strangers:

— Indiana. “An anonymous woman made a special trip to the Indianapolis Super Kmart and paid off the outstanding layaway balances of several customers, according to ABC affiliate station WRTV-TV6.”

— South Carolina. ” ‘Probably two weeks ago, we started seeing people coming in asking to randomly pay off strangers’ layaways,’ Terry Northcutt, manager of the Mount Pleasant Kmart, told Mount Pleasant Patch. It adds that “so far, eight shoppers have come in to pay off stranger’s layaways, and as similar stories across the country are reported, Northcutt expects to see more.”

— Nebraska. “Dona Bremser, an Omaha nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her that someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son,” the AP says. “I was speechless,” Bremser told the wire service. “It made me believe in Christmas again.”

What makes this so good is not so much that this solves anybody’s problems, as that it brings some cheer to people who can use it the most. I’ve never been really poor myself, though I’ve been skint sometimes, but I imagine that one of the most awful bits of being poor is having that feeling that you’re not allowed to have nice things, a feeling that must be even worse at Christmas time. Having some stranger pay for your presents this way, without expecting anything in return or wanting publicity for it, in short without having any of the trappings of charity.

It was seventyfive years ago yesterday

On the fourth of October, 1936, a coalition of Jews, unionists, Labour Party members and communists of various kinds, not to mention ordinary stopped the fascists under Oswald Mosley marching through the East End of London. In the Battle of Cable Street they stopped him and his blackshirts cold, despite a heavy police presence there to protect the fascists. It was a huge victory, hugely symbolic in that it was the victims who stood up to the fascists and their police escort; it would inspire antifascists decades later, even though there are always some who’d belittle these achievements.

See also: seventy years after Cable Street: nothing changes.