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”.