Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

WORLD PEACE AT LAST! THANK YOU MCDONALD’S!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Over the years I’ve wondered deeply if there is truly any way to achieve world peace, and over the years I’ve concluded: ‘Fat Chance.’ Why? Because most of us have a war going on inside our own heads, and that’s when things are going well. From there it’s all downhill. Families often can’t even avoid screaming at each other over who will do the dishes. Kind people celebrate the person they fall in love with as the greatest human being ever, only to hate them even more than Hitler a few months later. And finally, and less importantly, limited resources. I mean who has enough oil? I sure don’t. And these are often the emotions and actions of people who don’t want war. Then there are those who like war, feed off war, make money off war etc. You know, most lobbyists. So, peace is a difficult proposition.

Alas, it turns out I was unable to see a wider scope, a bigger truth: in short, the insatiable desire of the massive masses. My friends, McDonald’s (Vancouver’s Official Olympic Restaurant, if I can use that word loosely), who I constantly criticize for producing nutritionally vacuous food, negative labour conditions and cruelty to animals via factory farms, can no longer be criticized for anything.

Why?

Because what they do, it turns out, has all along actually been a secret peace plan that means I can only describe such non-violent dreamers as Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy and Dr. Phil as complete morons. Or at least naive and idealistic. “All for the good of humanity” should be McDonald’s new slogan. Yes, it’s true, for according to two retired American military leaders in a BBC article:

More than a quarter of young Americans are now too fat to fight, they said.

Writing in the Washington Post, the ex-commanders said the fat crisis ruled out more potential military service recruits than any other medical factor [including intelligence].

They want Congress to introduce laws to give US children better nutrition in schools, with less sugar, salt and fat.

John Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, both former chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote: “Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military.”

“We consider this problem so serious from a national security perspective that we have joined more than 130 other retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders in calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation,” the commanders added.

Legislation! They’re socialists to boot!

So Ronald McDonald understood all along that kids are our ultimate hope for peace, and it’s easier to fatten them up like Christmas turkeys and make them unable to walk (thus unable to fight except for launching drone missiles from Arizona) than it is to change the way they think about violence and strangers—and, anyway, why get in the way of video game sales?

In short, my lame, depressive response of ‘Fat chance’, it turns out ironically, is the closest I’ve yet been to remotely grasping absolute truth; the closest I’ve ever been to hope, to peace, to all-you-can-eat smorgasbords.

I say now: “Pig out for peace!” Gandhi would have been a fatty had he truly stood for non-violence. Put another way, who, with his matchstick legs, was Gandhi really working for?

‘Peace in our time,’ Neville Chamberlain once promised the world after a meeting with Hitler beneath the coming clouds of World War II, but he was unable to fatten up Hitler, wasn’t he? Look what happened. Yes, I’m seeing the connection as clear as a trans-fatty acid; as sure as I’m the bastard son of Julia Childs and David Icke.

My only uncertainty now is with sumo wrestlers, who can be pretty aggressive yet difficult to describe as skinny. How can this be? Surely they’re an anomaly. After all, jolly Santa is nothing but fun! And at least sumo wrestling is basically hand-to-hand combat. Don’t get me wrong, those guys are truly tough and mean and strong, but there’s something disarming about the large diapers—at least from afar.

Anyway, I’m relieved. Thank you McDonald’s. Thank you Burger King. Thank you spineless policy makers! Thank you endless advertisements pushing for the addiction of precious little children to food that causes obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, depression due to chronic illness and, of course, motionless little peaceniks to fat to fire.

The desperate commanders also added:

“We must act, as we did after World War II, to ensure that our children can one day defend our country, if need be.”

It’s too late, my commander friends, we the insatiable population have chosen peace. In fact, wey’re lining up for it in unprecedented numbers and at unprecedented weights. At ease, men. You deserve a break today.

I am going to sleep well tonight, full belly, and plans for a cook-out tomorrow, Sunday and every day. And to think I’d recently given up excess sugar! Why was I choosing violence? Eat ’til you swell if you love humanity.

Wait. What if I’ve said the wrong thing? What if being unable to defend the country due to excessive weight gain becomes a treasonous act? Damn. Now I don’t know who to defend. McDonald’s or the military? Maybe it’s back to my salads and vegetarian meals and, of course, the side of war that goes with it. You can’t win. And there goes my ‘Porkers for Peace’ button.

Wishing you health, laughter, and lots of self-love, whatever your body image—you’re beautiful. Undoubtedly. Undeniably.

Pete xo

ACADEMY AWARDS Shortlist Named—Facing Ali on the list

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

My friends, a little good news. Facing Ali had the good fortune of being shortlisted (final 15) for the Academy Award nominations. Surreal—but congratulations to everybody involved. I feel profoundly fortunate to have directed this film, to have met all those legendary fighters, and to have worked with such a great team. And congratulations to all the other films that were shortlisted.

Pete

FACING ALI IN VARIETY

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

The first review in a major publication for Facing Ali, July 15, 2009 in Variety, which is an important Hollywood Industry magazine. A few appreciated phrases below:


“…first-rate…” “…so compelling…” “…impeccably researched…” “…excruciatingly moving…” “…top-notch production values…” “…nuanced insights…” “…extraordinary tales…”

The full review is here.

As the review intimates, the ten boxers really were terrific. I have such affection, compassion and respect for their stories, and their candor. I hope putting a good review on line doesn’t seem full blown. Samantha said it was cool. Heck, these things are fleeting, opinions, but I really would like the film, and these guys’ stories, to be seen and heard—and Lord knows I’ve posted bad reviews, too.

Pete

FACING ALI Academy Release July 10-16 in New York and Los Angeles

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Hope all is well. This is a blog for all those wonderful folks who have written or called or wondered where and when they can see Facing Ali. First off, I’d love you to see it! I’m not the only one. Check out this photo of ‘The Greatest.’

I’ve been lucky enough to be at full screenings in Seattle, Washington DC and Los Angeles, and I cannot say enough about how generous and enthusiastic the crowds have been. It was like family—families who really love each other. It’s also been shown in Nantucket and Maui.

For now, though, FACING ALI is opening June 10th for a limited one week engagement in LA and New York in what is called an Academy Release. This allows the film to have a shot at an Academy Award nomination. Wouldn’t that be something? That happens, and you’ll all see it.

If you happen to be near either of these two theatres, I’m so happy. If you know anyone near those places, please send an email or make a phone call.

New York:
New Coliseum Theatre
703 West 181st Street
New York, NY 10033

Los Angeles:
Laemmle Claremont 5
450 West Second Street
Claremont, CA 91711

If not, damn I’m sorry. Either way, spread the word if you’ve seen the film, or spread the word if you want to see it. You will love these ten guys who fought Ali, had their lives changed forever, and were a huge part of Muhammad Ali’s evolution. I loved ‘em.

The TRAILER is here.

And check this out for three online reviews.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

SEATTLE and the FACING ALI PREMIERE: TONIGHT!

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Well, my friends, today’s the day. FACING ALI is having its first ever public screening at the Seattle International Film Festival tonight, 7:00 (and tomorrow at the Egyptian Theatre). I’m driving down there, leaving in a few minutes, down the 99 to the I-5. Here’s to hoping the border’s clear, people come, and they have a great experience!

And may it look good…

Ali (don’t) bomaye!

Ali (don’t) kill him! We’re all in this together, after all. Here’s to joy.

Lots of love to you—armed with yoga, stand and fight!

Pete

MUHAMMAD ALI at SILVERDOCS for FACING ALI

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world.
—Muhammad Ali

I just heard the coolest news. Muhammad Ali has confirmed to be in attendance for the screening of FACING ALI at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival in Washington DC in the middle of June (I think the 16th).

That’s a wonderful thing for a kid (now 44) who directed Facing Ali and who, as a younger kid in elementary school, used to hand in spontaneous essays on Ali because…well, d-uh, he was the greatest. It was about the only work I did, if I remember correctly. No, there was the 50-page report on sharks, too—I loved sharks—and the five-foot papier-maché replicate hammerhead.

I didn’t have any gray paint, so I painted the poor creature beige. No one said a word. The underbelly was still white. Then my sister took ‘ol hammerhead to school for her grade eight project, never brought it back, and it ended up getting incinerated by some janitor who obviously didn’t get the lumpy and beige yet sublime skill of my artistic endeavor. But that, my friends, really was pretty much all the work I did.

I loved the Montreal Canadiens, as well, but that had very little to do with school. Au contraire.

Either way, after a couple of years of fanatical research, countless hours of archive-diving, interviewing some of his greatest (and forceful) opponents and all else required, collaboratively with a great team, I really look forward to meeting him (Muhammad Ali, that is—not the hammerheads).

Lots of love to you,

Pete

FACING ALI in SEATTLE (May 29, June 1)

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

For those in Seattle and area, FACING ALI is at the Seattle International Film Festival. I think it should be a great time.

These are the two dates (maybe double check at the SIFF site to make sure I got it right).

Pacific Place Cinema 600 Pine Street, 4th floor
Friday 7:00 pm

The Egyptian Theater 801 East Pine Street
Saturday 1:45 pm

Oh, and I will be in attendance. Whether there will be a Q&A afterwards, I don’t know, but hopefully, because they’re always a lot of fun.

The trailer:

Lots of love to you,
Pete

KICKING IT: The Homeless World Cup

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Conn Smythe once said about hockey: “If you can’t beat them in the alley, you can’t beat them on the ice.” Well in this film about soccer, most of the players live in the alley, or the street, or the slum.

Kicking It is a film about thousands of homeless soccer—football!—players from around the world competing to represent their country (there’s irony in that), and then competing for their country at the Homeless World Cup.

All I can say is I thought the Colin Farrell introduction and ending was a little cheesy, it wasn’t shot overwhelmingly well, the ESPN sportscaster announcer did not sound live, but an overdub (it may have been live) and, with all that, I loved every second of the film. I smiled virtually the whole time, sometimes with tears—and felt a few tragedies. Being human is not easy.

Thank god for grace, gratitude, love.

It reminded me that, no matter what we are doing, there’s always tomorrow, or at least tonight. It reminded me that whenever you’re so happy because you won, there’s always someone so hurt they lost, and vice-versa. There is something bigger than those feelings. Much bigger. And finally, it taught me that there’s always—and it’s just as beautiful and important—a consolation round, a B-group, a silver medal, a participation ribbon, a win after too many losses—that still feels like a World Cup win.

Ah yeah—and it reminded me that so much about Nation-states should be questioned, ignored, etc. We are sisters and brothers. So many boundaries, borders, are our own.

Life, it seems to me wonce in awhile, is this moment. Celebrate it, maximize it, observe it, be thankful for it, let it go, cause as little harm as possible, smile if you can, put your self in someone else’s football cleats, ask who you are, what you stand for—be who you are. Life will go on. Love more.

I recommend the film with great joy.

Lots of love,

Pete

MOBUTU, LUMUMBA and the RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Once in awhile, I get some unfortunate youtube comments regarding two video pieces that I posted some time back. I’m not sure exactly what motivates their posting, or even the angle—but, hey, something motivated colonialism and resedential schools and countless other brutal yet largely praised endeavours, so no surprise.

As humans, of course, we follow our natures to a large degree, and our natures are nurtured by environment, in some mysterious alchemy, resulting in us.

I, of course, have no answers, but, as the Beach Boys once sang…

“Wouldn’t it be nice…” if things were more loving.

CONGO/ZAIRE/DRC

For the historical aspects of the Ali film I’m working on, the Congo/Zaire/the DRC may be noted in two different areas.

One is from the early 1960s. That connection, or at least perceived connection, between Black nationalist groups in America, in this case the Nation of Islam and, more specifically, Malcolm X. Specifically, his support for the eventually assassinated, democratically elected leader Patrice Lumumba.

From Mike Marqusee’s book Redemption Song, pg 117:

Malcolm [X] was overwhelmed by Lumumba, whom he called “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent.” It was not an accident that he referred to Lumumba in his response to the JFK assassination, nor that he would invoke his name again and again during his own final months.

Lumumba, it is said, was captured and murdered by domestic military forces with support from Western Intelligence agencies. The imposed leader was brutal strongman and thief extraordinaire Mobutu Sese Seko.

The second area is with Mobutu. In 1974, it turns out, he put up (surely not his own) big money for the Rumble in the Jungle—Muhammad Ali versus the invincible George Foreman for five million a piece. For Mobutu, the point of the event was to highlight the greatness of the country he was actually bleeding to death, in all senses of the word.

As Mobutu continued his pathological reign of terror (indeed, prison and terror continued unabated beneath the Stadium while the fight was on, according to Norman Mailer in When We Were Kings), the boxing match was dubbed a back-to-Africa spectacle of solidarity, led by that champion of solidarity and human rights, the inimitable and twice-charged-with-murder or near murder, Don King.

Ah, the material experience. Is this not a fascinating world?

This fight was King’s first really big splash in boxing, as the fight game moved from the Frankie Carbo mafia tranglehold to the Don King (and a few others) stranglehold.

Talk of pensions and unions remain largely non-existant, which can only encourage boxers to fight too long.

PIRATES AND EMPERORS

It has been estimated that Mobutu took 4 billion dollars from the country (in loans payable, no doubt, many via the IMF etc). This was undeniably known by the CIA well into the 1990s, as Mobutu remained the celebrated guest of, among others, Ronald Reagan and former CIA head George Walker Bush.

Anyway, things are still more than difficult in the Congo, unsurprisingly yet ironically exacerbated by rich resources in the country.

This is a quick piece on Mobuto.

This is a piece from Hope In the Time of AIDS. The young girl in the film, Safi, lives in the DRC.

And this is a very brief overview of Colonialism—or, more specifically, the so-called Scramble for Africa.

Life is never as clear as any of these pieces, of course, but they can still be instructive.

Love more!

SIR HENRY COOPER AND CASSIUS CLAY AKA MUHAMMAD ALI: The Legend Lives On

Monday, April 14th, 2008

For those interested in the curiously named Sweet Science, I am off to interview Sir Henry Cooper, who was British Champion for over ten years.

When I was a kid (born in 1965), like so many I was a massive fan of Muhammad Ali. In school, I would hand in assignments on him that weren’t assigned, and so on. But I knew of him in the 1970s. The ‘Fight of the Century’ against Joe Frazier in 1971 (the same year I also fell in love with the Montreal Canadiens) was a dim memory, but I would read about it and hope to see glimpses of it on Wide World of Sports.

And then there was the loss to Ken Norton (the broken jaw) and the revenge victory against Smokin’ Joe, when Tony Perez stopped the second round early (with Joe slightly staggered) thinking he had heard the bell.

Ali’s massive upset of George Foreman coincided with my full awareness of Ali, and of course the Thrilla in Manila with Smokin’ Joe Frazier—one of the most brutal fights in heavyweight history—was the stuff of mythology (unfortunately, for the boxers, it was very real, physically).

Then there were the difficult years. Watching Ali against Norton in 1976 was unbearable for me, waiting for the magic that perhaps was no longer there. It’s funny how much pain you can feel for the one you adore, and forget that Ken is getting hit too!

But back to Henry Cooper. I was born in England, and before I was born, 1963, was the fight against Henry Cooper, that my dad always told me about. Both my dad (b. 1929) and Henry (b. 1934) were from East London (well, Henry actually grew up in South East London but his family was from East London, Bethnal Green, as were mine). They experienced similar upbringings; poverty, the war and so on.

Henry and his twin brother George were evacuated during the German blitz. My dad was in a school for boys about 11 miles outside of London, and remembers the entire sky being lit up orange, and thinking it was amazing.

Incidentally, my father’s father died of TB the year Henry was born.

WEMBLEY, 1963

But, in short—for I must hurry—my dad always told me of the Cassius Clay—Henry Cooper fight at Wembley in 1963, when Sir Henry, with his patented left hook (‘Enery’s Hammer’), caught young Cassius right on the button, flooring the rising star right at the bell ending the fourth round.

It wasn’t enough, but Cassius was definitely in a little trouble and the crowd was in a frenzy. In England the moment is legendary (and wonderfully exaggerated in terms of the delay between rounds—more on that later).

Clay came back and hammered away at Henry’s cut left eye—a terrible cut—and the fight was stopped in the next round. One fight later, Cassius Clay “shook up the world” by defeating the invincible Sonny Liston.

As champion of the world, Clay told the world of his conversion to the nation of Islam (which also shook up the world), and a week or so later had his named changed by Elijah Muhammad to Muhammad Ali. This was also the end of Clay’s relationship with Malcolm X.

The rest, as they do indeed say, is history.

But for those who want to see the punch my old pops described, here it is. If you want to see the famous fourth round, start watching at about the five minute mark—but it’s nostalgic to watch the whole fight. You can really hear the cockney crowd, and see poor Henry’s gushing orbit.

In the fourth you’ll hear the famous British commentator Harry Carpenter presciently saying that Clay is only half there, half trying, but he better watch it because it will only take on left hook by Henry for Clay to know he’s in a fight—and boom!

Lots of love to you, and may your life be fight-free (physically, anyway—everybody needs to be stretched mentally).

Could we all really be souls having human experiences? The thought just crossed my mind, in a much gentler way then a Henry Cooper left hook.

Pete xox

CHEERIO!

Friday, April 11th, 2008

I’m off to England in about twelve hours to start filming the Facing Ali documentary. I have the pleasure of interviewing the long-adored Sir Henry “Our ‘Enry” Cooper in Kent (who fought Ali (Clay) in ’63 and ’66) and American-born legendary slugger Earnie “The Acorn” Shavers in Liverpool (who fought Ali in 1977).

It’s going to be a great experience.

Baseball legend Reggie Jackson once said this of Muhammad Ali:

As a young black man, at times I was ashamed of my colour; I was ashamed of my hair. And Ali made me proud…Ali was part of that growing process…Ali helped raise black people in this country out of mental slavery. The entire experience of being black changed for millions of people because of Ali.

And now, with the help of some legendary former champions and contenders, I’ve got to try and tell that story and their incredible stories. What a great opportunity.

I’m back in a little over a week. Lots of love to you—love more whenever you can,

Pete xox

INTELLECTUAL SELF-DEFENSE AND THE CURIOUS ART OF SANITIZATION: The LEGACIES of MARTIN LUTHER KING and MUHAMMAD ALI

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

“So often in America we have socialism for the rich and ragged free enterprise capitalism for the poor.”
—Martin Luther King

Through research I have come to see just how deeply hated Muhammad Ali was by the vast majority of Americans in the mid-1960s (for instance he was loudly booed in his 1965 rematch, as Champion of the World, when he fought Sonny Liston a second time), and how we have forgotten that fact.

It is therefore with interest that I read today Mike Marqusee‘s piece for the Guardian on Martin Luther King’s legacy, where he points out the same effect of historical eradication.

It seems if we sanitize the right aspects of a “hero’s” past, citizens slowly forget just how much ‘Power’—whatever that is exactly—and the media loathe and will counter freedom of speech, non-violence, racial and economic equality and so on, when they are outside the acceptable boundaries of certain ideological and economic interests.

An excerpt:

It’s testimony to the awkward power of Martin Luther King’s life and work that so much effort has gone into sanitising his memory. Today he’s commemorated as an apostle of social harmony, a hero in the triumphant march of American progress. But at the time of his death 40 years ago today, his increasingly radical challenge to war and poverty had made him deeply controversial, spied on and harassed by his government, feared and loathed by millions of Americans…

I use the word Power advisedly, to be sure. I could not believe what big-name sportswriters wrote about Ali, too, in the mid-sixties. In Nat Fleischer’s Ring Magazine, Ali was still being called Cassius Clay in 1972.

In 1966 Ali was not named Fighter of the Year because of his negative influence on American youth. At the same time, I have read so many times how Ali’s words made a black person literally feel beautiful for the first time in their life—but that is not the influence sought, evidently.

Ali may have effected the willingness of some young kid (many with limited freedom in their own town) to be drafted and contribute his body, mind and machine gun fire to the invasion and all-encompassing demolition of a country he knew nothing about. Or as Ali himself summed up with profound if accidental concision in early 1966:

“I ain’t got no quarrel with no Vietcong.”

Black soldiers on the front lines in Vietnam largely opposed Ali’s and Martin Luther King’s anti-war stance in 1967, and they largely agreed with them by 1969. And so goes life, when enough is just too damn much, at least for those in the line of fire.

Or to quote George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

My point is how strangely anti-Establishment dissidents (and I use the word Establishment advisedly, too) in the past are glorified in the present by that same Establishment—leading us all, by not knowing the history, unable to recall why and how they were despised in the first place.

And if you think ‘Power’, under pressure, has changed, well, yes, Barbara Lee again.

In Acts in the New Testament, one could conclude many early Christians (or perhaps radical Jews) lived communally, and shared everything!—those socialist freaks.

Put another way, as David Rovics sings, Who Would Jesus Bomb? (I felt tears well up as I listened).

I feel the same head shake (but in the opposite direction), as I have written lately, with the legacies of Tiger Beat teen T-shirt pin-up Che Guevara and others amongst certain counter-culture folk.

But hey, that’s just moi.

Another excerpt from Marqusee:

In 1967, [King's] opposition to the war in Vietnam had been denounced by mainstream civil rights leaders and liberal opinion-makers, including The New York Times. While he agreed with the militants that the [Civil Rights] movement had to enter a new, more ambitious phase, he continued to advocate both non-violence and inter-racial alliances.

“We don’t enlist races in the movement. We enlist consciences. And anybody who wants to be free, and to make somebody else free, that’s what we want.

Marqusee’s article is here.

Expand, my friends, expand…it’s such a big world out there, with billions of others similarly-confined by their human nature (and then all that follows). Lots of love to you and yours, in joy and solidarity,

Pete

And here’s Wide Open, you beautiful sisters and brothers, here and gone.

BOBBY KENNEDY (JFK, MLK, MALCOLM X) and the turbulent 1960s—and ongoing…

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

“What happened was, I think, this series of assassinations destroyed the fabric of this country’s belief in itself…”
—Harry Belafonte

In preparing for the Ali documentary and his remarkably fascinating 1960s and life (I leave for England next week to film and interview Sir Henry Cooper and Earnie Shavers) I’ve been watching a few films that mix archive footage with present day interviews—or in the case of films, actors.

I just watched the film Bobby, which received mixed reviews. It also garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. I thought it was challenging and interesting—and, when panned, unfairly.

There were of course several brutal and well-known assassinations during the sixties, John F Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965—with whom, for a time, Muhammad Ali was very close), Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy (both 1968). There was also Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers (I think with backing by the FBI—his image is in the video of the song What’s Going Down—51 seconds), and more, to be sure (depending on how one defines the term assassination).

Researching a little farther, I found this list of US assassinations, which is quite startling. The first on the list, by name, is Charles Bent, Governor of the Territory of New Mexico who was actually killed by arrows and scalping, by Pueblo Indians and Mexican Rebels. Geezuz.

Not uplifting (the list!—although the film has many uplifting moments), but revealing and historically interesting.

American involvement in assassination and assassination attempts of foreign leaders is also quite extensive.

As for Canada, there have been only a couple of political assassinations. Irish-born father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868, who was against the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States that was pushing for a takeover of Canada. Shot in a doorway by a Fenian sympathiser Patrick Whelan, McGee was the first person murdered in the recently established Dominion of Canada.

Quebec Liberal (and Minister of Labour) Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and murdered during the intensely Québec-separatist FLQ (Québec Liberation Front) reign of terrorist activities in the early 1970s, when Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister.

Interestingly, it was before the murder that Trudeau imposed martial law (with great popular support in both Quebec and the rest of Canada, it turns out). I don’t think America, during all the riots, Kent State, the Chicago convention, and all the assassinations, ever called for martial law.

Louis Riel, the Canadia who was hung, is a whole other conversation.

Never forget, I tell myself, we are all tied by our human nature, yet within that human nature there is a wide-spectrum of belief of how certain outcomes should be achieved…

In the meantime and the mystery, of course, try to love more…

Pete x

MUHAMMAD ALI AND UNCLE SAM GO TOE TO TOE—and thank God Ali had some money for the fight

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

“The Heavyweight Champion of the world turns my stomach…the heavyweight champion has been a total disgrace. I urge the citizens of the nation to boycott any of his performances…”
—Congressman Frank Clark of Pennsylvania

The virtual cross-the-board hatred spat upon Muhammad Ali when he refused induction into the US army in early 1966 verbally/1967 officially, remains frightening and instructive.

For the record, according to Wallace Terry’s war coverage for Time Magazine, by 1967 still only 35% of blacks and 20% of whites opposed the war.

Of 641 draft board members in Kentucky (Ali’s home state), one was black—and in the US, 31% of eligible black men were drafted compared to 18% of eligible white men, for an assortment of reasons.

Of 380 combat battalions in Vietnam, two had a black man in charge.

But the offical stripping of his title in the Spring of 1967 for what he had done is even more fascinating—and more instructive (the always integrous World Boxing Association had already stripped his title in 1964 when he declared himself to be with the Nation of Islam).

What Ali did, they said, shamed boxing (of all things!), and was a disgrace and a bad example to children and everybody else and left Ali, according to the commissions, unworthy of keeping the title he had earned.

Nearly all of the popular press agreed in spades, with giants like Jimmy Cannon leading the verbal lynching. This is referring to Ali joining the Nation of Islam:

“The fight racket, since its rotten beginnings, has been the red-light district of sports. But this is the first time it had been turned into an instrument of mass hate [Jack Johnson must have slipped Cannon's mind—of course that was the other way around—institutionalised hate]

…In the years of hunger during the depression, the Communists used famous people the way the Black Muslims are exploiting Clay. This is a sect that deforms the beautiful purpose of religion.”

I’ve come to think that religion deforms that beautiful purpose of religion, but maybe I’m a pessimist.

What is revealing is the fact that so many of these writers of the free press hit Ali in a way that they’d never hit the Establishment for all the brutality, segregation and injustice to blacks (over centuries, let alone with the Civil Rights Movement in full motion).

By 1969, opinion on the Vietnam Invasion had started to at least shift in America towards Ali’s favour (as Bertrand Russell, of all people, said it would). But the boxing commissions still refused to give Ali his license back (or drop the pending five year prison sentence or give the man his passport).

But Ali’s legal team had hired a young defense lawyer by the name of Ann Wagner.

What she uncovered was a revelation and a shock to Ali’s team, and instructive to any observer about race, power, the justice system, and knowing one’s place (see the labour movement from the 30s).

In the wonderfully laid-out Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay versus the United States of America, Bingham and Wallace write, pg 230:

“In the course of [Wagner's] research, she discovered 225 convicted felons who had been granted boxing licenses by the commission in the past. Of these, ninety had committed murder, armed robbery, sodomy and rape.

And, since Ali had been charged with a military offense, Wagner produced fifteen cases of men convicted of military crimes, such as desertion or assaulting an officer, who had also been granted licenses.”

After over three years, with the likes of even Walter Cronkite admitting Vietnam was bound to be a stalemate (“and that’s the way it is”), and thousands of American soldiers dead, and millions of Vietnamese dead, Ali’s license to be a boxer was reinstated.

“That draft dodger will never fight in my state, period, [but kill all the Indochinese you want, exclamation mark].”
—Ronald Reagan

What a fascinating world, and what a word freedom is. Wishing you great freedom, inside and out.

Pete xo

I Went To A Fight The Other Night, And A Hockey Game Broke Out: Patrick Roy, his son, Human Nature, ‘Pulling a Gandhi’ and the Military Industrial Complex

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

That ol’ gag.

I tried to write this blog but it just got out of control. This is what came out. I have no idea if it’s clear, but it’s 2:20 am…

“It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.”
—Muhammad Ali

I’m not sure where directing a documentary on boxing places me in terms of glorifying sports violence, but I thought I’d make a comment about fighting in hockey anyway.

This comes after the recent brawl in a junior hockey game, that may not even have reached the rest of the world as news—which is good. Goaltending legend Patrick Roy’s son Jonathan skated across the ice and pounded the opposition goalie. The opposition goalie had ‘turtled’—which means he was unwilling to fight.

Frankly, I commend the choice to not fight, and I think the derogatory use of the term ‘to turtle’ should be replaced with, say, ‘he pulled a Gandhi’ or ‘he did the Martin Luther King.’

It should also be noted that when I played junior hockey, I was no fighter and barely a scorer, which surely accounts for a career of staggering brevity and anonymity. I also disliked showering with a bunch of men, but that has nothing to do with this article.

CODE OF HONOUR

What’s interesting about Patrick’s son’s behaviour—though hardly shocking or even surprising, given hockey—is that it’s not vilified because it was violent, it’s vilified because it was outside the acceptable code for fighting on the ice.

Given that fighting of any nature is allowed in hockey, that’s a bit of a curious comment—but it’s true. But the only fighting that is ‘acceptable’ in hockey—indeed encouraged, celebrated and even honoured—is the fight between two voluntary participants.

No head-butting. No biting. No kicking. And no fighting someone who refuses to fight. Hey, it’s not a free-for-all! This isn’t Iran, you know, it’s smack in the middle of modern civilization!

IN THIS CORNER, WEARING WHITE HOCKEY PANTS WITH A BLACK STRIPE…

The only fighting that’s allowed in hockey is straight ahead bare-knuckle punches to the face, by two willing participants for as long and as hard as they can keeping going without the linesmen having a safe way to break it up. If children are watching, so be it. If they’re cheering (from an economics point of view), all the better.

Suspensions, however, happen to those who commit infractions outside of this code—like Jonathan Roy, in this relatively insignificant outbreak. Whether what happened was excessively dangerous or caused injury is ultimately, but not completely, beside the point.

REAL ENFORCERS

This is instructive, and also disconcerting, because pro hockey players who actually fight for a living, generally within the ‘code’, are incredibly tough, aggressive, powerful and dangerous athletes: they can weigh 240-odd pounds, be adept in martial arts and pumped to the max on steroids—at least during their summer training regime. And the toughest junior players aren’t far behind.

Hell is bound to break loose during the season.

COMING INFRACTIONS

I would not be at all surprised if one day somebody is killed in a hockey game, not by actions outside of the ‘code’ where a loose canon pounds away on a turtling goalie, although something brutal could happen there, but by a clean punch or combination of punches in a fight that is considered acceptable.

Many hockey players more than willing to fight, with a maximum penalty of five minutes for their actions, have had their careers finished from being walloped.

Adam Deadmarsh, for example, was concussed by one punch, and never really fully recovered, putting an end to a promising career. A brutal punch and then falling face-first onto the ice, unconscious, also convinced Nick Kypreos to pack it in.

It’s not pretty, it has nothing to due with the stick or the puck, and it’s after the whistle—but people defend its place in the sport.

UNAVOIDABLE

With regards to what happened in Quebec the other night, my point is simple and two-fold.

One, who cares? It’s only hockey and the importance of sport is ridiculously overblown. I don’t even think anyone was hurt, and we live in a world where sanctioned mass killing goes on day and night.

Not to mention we have endless video war games, a war culture, ultimate fighting as entertainment, films of deep violence without redemption winning Academy Awards, and factory-farm food fed to our children and ourselves nearly 24-7. One can only pray there is a lot of love at home.

LAWS OF NATURE

Two, as long as bare-fisted, unlimited pummeling is an encouraged part of the game of hockey, greater mayhem has to occasionally spill over—including bench-clearing brawls, rude words and even the occasional fashion faux-pas. This is science as much as morality, if not more.

Anyone who can’t accept this truism just doesn’t understand the law of association, the law of thermodynamics, the law of the jungle or the law of being an idiot—heck, just ask any parent. If the zeitgeist created is full of violence, violence will erupt.

To be overly affected by its daily news flashes is to be hopelessly vulnerable. The appalling acts going on all over the globe have very little to do with a scrappy night in a Quebec ice rink. As it says in the Baghavad Gita, “Armed with yoga, stand and fight.”

In other words, understand, in varying degrees, these unfoldings are part of the world. From there, breathe deeply and act according to your nature, as best you can. If love can be increased, or hate decreased, how beautiful is that?

And if one of your goals in life is to have fighting in hockey banned, good luck to you.

LETHAL WEAPON

But the effects of association, of energy, are evident everywhere, and are perhaps even more important to try and understand. Indeed, this is the stuff of life. Take the weapons industry, for example. If trillions of dollars are spent on their production, there is a force behind such ventures—even an energetic force. By design, it seems to me, they will eventually be used.

Is weapons being used the problem, or is weapons being built the problem—or is maximizing profits in any way possible—fighting, drugs, weapons—the problem? And what are the unseen emotional effects of the weapons industry being a major part of, say, the American economy?

It’s the law of association—it’s the allowable parameters within a system. It’s seeing where a question begins, and the question that is allowed to be asked.

Corporations exploit humans and the environment because in this curious world they’re sanctioned and applauded and rewarded for doing so. Discouragement is trivial.

So it goes, in a microcosmic way, for fighting in hockey.

THE SECRET

Being surprised or appalled at what happened in that junior game is like being surprised when Mike Tyson’s nature and profession spilled over into his love life. Tragic? Yes. Surprising? Not so much. Okay, the ear was a bit of a shocker. Okay, the second bite.

Again, way outside the code of allowed violence.

JAILHOUSE ROCK

Take prisons. Is anyone surprised one goes in to those hard, cold, brutal places for a small crime and comes out a hardened criminal? If I had my way, prisons would be (for starters, a lot less full), the meals would be vegetarian, the walls would be a soft colour, and there would be no televisions.

Wait a second, that’s my house.

HUMAN NATURE

Maybe fighting in hockey should be banned, or restrained, or penalized for seven minutes, or maybe it shouldn’t. Either way, is it incomparable to the sickness of sanctioning, endorsing and funding the blowing up of women and children in foreign countries—and obtaining massive wealth for doing so?

What questions aren’t asked in our silly outrage over something like a bench-clearing brawl at a hockey game between boys?

Here’s what I know: if governments and corporations, in some revelatory tandem, stop inflicting their Military Industrial Complexes onto innocent people in other parts of the world, because it’s wrong to do so, I guarantee that fighting in hockey will slowly cease to be.

Indeed, the sport will probably become a sort of figure skating with a stick and a puck. I wouldn’t even be surprised if those one piece sky blue jump suits (with the curious bulge in the middle) cross-over too—maybe even with sequins.

But before we get too honest or too gentle, we should ask ourselves: is that really what we want? Fairly-treated people in light blue jump suits all over the world, eating nutritious salads and unafraid to ‘turtle’? Not ony that, who knows if the Chinese or the Russians will play along.

Maybe I’ve just got to minimize anger and cruelty in my own life—in how I eat, talk, work and play. No, that can’t be the problem!

I love you—garl darn it I love you!

Pete xo

JOURNALISM and MUHAMMAD ALI: and the beat goes on

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

It occurred to me today, in my research, an axiom of sorts:

By default, nearly all journalists work for a corporation
By definition, almost no journalist should work for a corporation

By a corporation’s interests alone—shareholder profits and market share—the term journalist and corporation verges on oxymoronic, or a conflict of interests.

News feels benign, or neutral, in a way—although it can not be. Not even the way we hear it can be neutral. This is the human experience. But it’s instructive to wonder where we get our news from, and how slow the mass media is at trudging towards what is eventually called a progressive direction.

How many people in big media made Barbara Lee out to be the hero she was? Well, none, as far as I know. Who even knows who she is now—hundreds of thousands of American and Iraqi lives in Iraq later?

PAST IMPERFECT/PRESENT TENSE

Muhammad Ali’s most famous line from the tragic Vietnam period turned out to be: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”

Accroding to journalist Robert Lipsyte:

“It was the moment for Ali. For the rest of his life he would be loved and hated for what seemed like a declarative statement, but what was, at the time, a moment of blurted improvisation.”

Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the army resulted in these 1967ish comments by journalists. Note firstly, their refusal to call him Muhammad Ali, a name change that took place in 1964—after his first defeat of the unbeatable Sonny Liston:

From the New York Post’s Milton Gross (May 18, 1966):

“Cassius Clay has been the world’s heavyweight champion for two years…Nobody has ever done less with the time, and destroyed his image more.”

Journalist Red Smith wrote:

“Cassius makes himself as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war.”

After Ali defeated Cleveland Williams in three rounds, and was considered to be at the very pinnacle of his ability as a fighter, Jimmy Murray of the Los Angeles Times called him—hearkening back to, I think Kipling, and colonialism at its most overt: “…the white man’s burden (Novemebrr 19, 1966).”

It’s funny how an “impartial” and “free” press sees things—and says how wronghe was. From Mike Marqusee’s book, Redemption Song, one can see in this moment on whose behalf these people are speaking:

During the entire course of the 1960s, 30 percent of black but only 18 percent of white males of eligible age were drafted. In 1966, black soldiers comprised 22 percent of all US casualties in Vietnam but only 11 percent of all US troops

Eleven percent of all troops is interesting in itself—I’m not sure how they works with the statistic above.

From Marqusee (177):

Congressman Frank Clark of Pennsylvania was among the most outspoken [1966]:

“The heavyweight champion has been a complete and total disgrace. I urge the citizens of the nation as a whole to boycott any of his performances. To leace these theater seats empty would be the finest tribute possible to that boy whose hearse may pass by the open doors of the theater on Main Street, USA.”

Vietnam became the first American war that found the majority of blacks in opposition. Until then, participation in American wars was seen as a means of forcing social equality. But with Vietnam, by 1965 a quarter of all blacks favoured a withdrawal from Vietnam while a half thought a cease-fire was in order.

In contrast, white opinion was 15 percent for withdrawal and 36 percent for a cease fire (and 49 pecent for escalation).

If I understand correctly, by the time of Ali’s “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” line, in February 1966, no “significant figure in the Democratic party had come out aganst the war.” Although the cost and the modes of pushing the war were starting to come into question, no major television station or major newspaper had questioned its “premises” either, let alone its morality.

As I see repeated patterns in my own behaviour—following one’s karma, one might call that, from an eastern point of view—it’s easy (in an utterly complex way) to see the same for the species. Under certain conditions, it seems, relatively predictable percentages of people seem to choose relatively predictable takes on the world.

And either way, the world keeps on turning, and I get to keep reading and researching. What a life.

Love to you,

Pete

MARSHALL LAW and HOW HISTORY (even in black history month) is NEVER BLACK and WHITE: Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Nasser, Mossadeq, Guzmán, Eisenhower, Bush, “Rocket” Richard and, as above, so below.

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.”
—Thurgood Marshall

In my research on the political and controversial (and exuberant and joyful) early years of Muhammad Ali, I have come across Thurgood Marshall a few times.

A WHIFF OF AMERICAN HISTORY

Marshall was the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, appointed to the position by Lyndon B Johnson in 1967. He was also the Chief Counsel for the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Marshall’s most famous case was the 1954 Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka in which he successfully argued against school segregation, saying that that “separate but equal” education could never, in reality, be equal.

AMERICAN HISTORICAL GRAFFITI

Such a fascinating time historically. The Korean War ended in ’53.

It was in December of 1955 that Rosa Parks made her famous refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, setting off the bus boycott and, I believe, catapulting Martin Luther King to national prominence.

QUIET RIOT: A WHISPER OF CANADIAN HISTORY

It was also in that year (1955-56) that the Montreal Canadiens hockey team began their unprecendented five consecutive Stanley Cup wins—my childhood team, for the record.

The dynasty began the season after the Richard Riot (1955), a riot which took place after legendary Montreal Canadiens’ goal-scorer Maurice “Rocket” Richard was suspended for the last three games of the regular season and the entire play-offs.

The verdict was handed down by the English-speaking president of the NHL, Clarence Campbell. Montreal fans did not take the news lightly. When Campbell showed up at the Forum for a game between Montreal and, I think, Detroit, fans literally rioted.

The pelting of Campbell began, and when a stink bomb went off producing large amounts of gas, the crowd of over fifteen thousand were ushered out in a panic. Mayhem in the streets ensued; windows were smashed, cars overturned and Montreal lost.

AND THE ROCKET’S RED GLARE

Richard (pronounced Ri-shar) lost the regular season scoring title to teammate Boom Boom Geoffrion—who was booed by his own fans, so beloved was Richard. Adding to the misery, Montreal would go on to lose in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.

And for what was the Rocket suspended? For sort of punching a referee in the middle of an on ice-battle! Referees can be so infuriating!

Or, as John Cleese once said in a disdainful French accent, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, responding to an annoying Grail-searching Englishman:

“I fart in your general direction! Come back again and I will taunt you a second time!”

Anyway, a barely visible newsclip on the event some 50 years later:

Some say the Richard Riot, inside and outside the Montreal Forum, spoke to the oppressed aspirations of the Québecois, and from there began the the real, so-called Quiet Revolution in Québec—against the unfair treatment of the Québecois in English-biased Canada.

It was either that, or the two hundred years or more of crap jobs, limited opportunities and ongoing prejudice, not to mention religous authoritarianism. The French Catholic Church in Québec, it should be mentioned, also exercised huge control over Québecois citizens.

It’s worth reading about Québec premier Maurice Duplessis (Do-pless-ee), too, and the so-called Duplessis Era—or “The Great Darkness” (La Grande Noirceur) to the Québecois—to understand the oppression and corruption that went on in Québec.

Whether the Quiet Revolution began or not with the Richard Riot, it—like folk music, heavyweight champions and the Separatist movement—got a lot louder in the ’60s and 70s.

Maximum volume for the “revolution” was reached with the kidnapping and eventual murder of politician Pierre Laporte by the Québec separatist terrorist organization the FLQ (Québec Liberation Front).

Just before that murder—but after the kidnapping of a British politician—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau imposed Martial Law. The decree was applauded by a huge and shocking (to me, anyway) percentage of the population both in Québec (~90%) and the rest of Canada (~80%—see June Callwood, A Portrait of Canada).

FURTHER SERIES OF RED HERRINGS: A FLASH OF MIDDLE EASTERN HISTORY

It was also in the 1950s, 1953 to be more precise, that the British and the Americans played vital roles in aiding the overthrow—in a coup d’etat—of the democratically-elected Iranian leader Dr Mohammad Mossadeq.

A nationalist (like Reagan wasn’t?), Mossadeq’s major “crime” was the nationalizing of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), which had been ripping off the country with colonial percentages for decades.

A rather glitzy telling from the History Channel:

Evidently, it was at this time that the CIA first coined the phrase “blowback,” meaning the ‘unforeseen consequences resulting from one’s actions’—and supposedly the first real rise of anti-American feeling in Iran. The prediction, one could now argue, was prescient.

The coup happened under President Eisenhower, who said to an advisor afterwards, according to historian Robert J McMahon (The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction, pg 66):

”An adequate supply of oil to Western Europe ranks almost equal in priority with an adequate supply for ourselves [to maintain superiority over the Soviet Union under the Cold War ideology].

The West must, for self-preservation, retain access to Mid-East oil.”

Thank god they’re not in the area for oil today—or anything else other than democracy-building—or things could get really ugly.

Eisenhower, of course, would later deliver his famous 1961 farewell speech and talk about the tentacles and potential danger of a Military Industrial Complex gone cancerous in terms of growth.

One could pointlessly argue that George Bush’s recent and final budget (in an Orwellian use of that term) is just another unsurprising yet blatant part of said MIC’s devouring manifestation.

What will become of this finite earth—at least finite from a human’s point of view? Gandhi’s line cuts to the marrow:

“The Lord provided enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

An excerpt of Eisenhower’s speech:

UNITED FRUITS of AMERICA: A TASTE OF CENTRAL AMERICAN HISTORY

And in 1954, the Americans again played a key role in ousting democratically-elected Guatemalan leader Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, in general for his “nationalization of the US-owned United Fruit Company (72)” and his tolerance of Guatemala’s “tiny communist party.”

Guzmán received 60% of the vote in 1951, and ushered in Guatemala’s first-ever peaceful transference of power.

Both Mossadeq and Guzmán were replaced by West-supporting, human rights abusing dictators, the Shah in Iran with his dreaded secret police/intelligence, Savak; in Guatemala, head of the military junta, the brutal Colonel Carlos Castillo.

QUOTING MARSHALL: A WORD ON CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY

But what’s fascinating are some of the quotes from this great law man. Marshall (myopically, in my opinion, obviously) described Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests as:

“…rhetorical fluff that produced no permanent change.”

That shows to me a fraction of the complexity of personality it would take to be appointed to the Supreme Court in white-run America, 1967.

This clashing of views of how to face, oppose, improve, integrate and somehow achieve equality etc. in America, found its way into the ferocity of the boxing ring, even between black fighters, with Ali’s labeling of the likes of Ernie Terrell and Joe Frazier as “Uncle Tom’s” for, among other things (and generally unfairly), refusing to acknowledge his new name—Muhammad Ali—which was replacing what he described as his slave name, Cassius Clay.

As for Thurgood Marshall, he labeled Malcolm X’s talk of a separate black nation as:

“…racist craziness in the multi-racial society America had become…”

…and said the Nation of Islam was:

“…run by a bunch of thugs organized from prisons and jails and financed, I am sure, by [Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel] Nasser or some Arab group.”

Upon Marshall’s death in 1993, the “Washington Afro-American Magazine” said about him, in eulogy:

“We make movies about Malcolm X. We get a holiday to honour Martin Luther King Jr., but everyday we live with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

A little history in this crazy world.

I am reminded of a quote I recently read from Frederick Douglass, a man of remarkable courage and insight, who escaped from slavery in 1838—and wrote extensively Actually, we quoted Douglass at the beginning of the documentary Uganda Rising:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

But the quote I just read is:

A man is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.

Isn’t that a humbling beauty? I am reminded of the yogic idea that we become like that with which we associate. We are inside this system, part of this system—yet we can barely feel it.

It makes a beautiful meditation, reminiscent of the Sanskrit, “Yatta pinde, tatta Brahmande”: We are, in mysterious ways, just like the entire existence (Brahman). Although, of course, we weigh a lot less.

Lots of love to you and yours, and may all beings be happy (at least more and more often).

Pete xo

To finish, the very end of Martin Luther King’s chillingly ominous (yet beautiful) final speech:

BARBARA LEE, TRIBALISM and the EVOLUTION of SPORT

Friday, February 1st, 2008

As the Beijing Olympics approach, and as I research boxing, sports and Muhammad Ali at his most political, a few quotes from Mike Marqusee’s Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties, pages 11-14, commenting on the evolution of sport (and the comment on human nature):

At root there is something irrational and arbitrary about sporting partisanship. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed, “People come back from the game yelling, “‘We won! We won!’ No: they won; you watched.”

How is it that passive spectators come to feel they partake in someone else’s victory or defeat?

This leap of imagination, this widening of the definition of the self is a wonderfully human phenomenon, which is why, as Seinfeld realized, it is also a rich vein of comedy…

This phenomenon is clearly inherent in human nature, for is affiliation with a tribe any more rational? Humans generally pick the team closest in proximity—or today, often the team with the most famous player.

Doris Lessing discusses the phenomenon in Group Minds, a chapter from her book, Prisons We Choose To Live Inside:

“…what is dangerous is not the belonging to a group, or groups, but not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us. When we’re in a group we tend to think as that group does: we may even have joined the group to find “like-minded” people. But we also find our thinking changing because we belong too a group.

It is the hardest thing in the world to maintain an individual dissident opinion, as a member of a group.

Think back now to the horrors of 9/11. One person—one person—Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, voted against a resolution (HJ Resolution 64) authorizing the president to use (HJ Res 64):

“…all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks….[my italics].”

The general citizenry of beleaguered and largely illiterate Afghanistan—one of the world’s poorest countries, hammered by ten years of war with the Russian superpower, and then the civil war, and in the grip of a non-elected fundamentalist group—surely did not plan, authorize, commit or aid the terrorist attack in New York City.

And Barbara Lee? She was not even saying no to war. She was saying:

“We need to step back. We’re grieving. We need to step back and think about this so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. We have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”

A rational response, it would seem, under most any circumstances. The vote on this resolution was staggering. It passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Lee’s vote was the only one in opposition. For this she received immediate death threats, and had a bodyguard put on duty to protect her life.

Ted Kennedy might step up and support Obama and this person and that person can sing their own praises to the sky, but can you imagine the courage Barbara Lee’s decision took? Now that’s worth remembering…

I wonder if Barbara will ever be given a place in American history for that one dissenting vote—a Rosa Parks for the early 21st century, except Rosa had the NAACP behind her, I believe. Who did Barbara have?

Here’s a little more from Marqusee on the evolution of the sporting spectacle:

Modern, secular spectator sports—in the forms of boxing, horseracing and cricket—first emerged from the womb of parochial ritual and folk pastime in mid-eighteenth-century England.

[Modern, secular spectator sports'] midwives were rapid urbanization, the spread of market relations and the growth of an ambitious elite with both time and money to squander. The sporting realm preserved and organized the pointlessness, the triviality of play…

The loyalties and identifications [of the spectator] are not inherent in the spectacle; the tie between spectator and competitor is a constructed one, and the meanings it carries for either are generated by the histories—collective, individual—brought to bear on a contest that would otherwise be devoid of significance to all but direct participants.

Precisely because they are universal and transparent, innocent of significance or consequence, sports became charged with meanings; because they meant nothing in themselves, they could come to mean anything.

Noam Chomsky in an interview seen in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter]

I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars]

I mean, they have nothing to do with me, why am I cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any—it doesn’t make sense.

But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements—in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism.

That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.

I’ll finish with a thought-provoking point from Marqusee:

The egalitarian autonomy that is the presupposition of modern supports was overlaid with the prevailing hierarchies [with a society—class, race etc.].

A a result, competitors were to be judged by criteria extraneous to sports…Thus the “role model,” that incubus on the back of so many sporting champions, was born out of a need to tame the democracy of sport. It was a means of neutralizing its sublime indifference to social status.

Interesting, huh? It does not surprise me that boxers—with the raw ferocity it takes to fight—have challenged convention perhaps most aggressively. Jack Johnson was crazily fearless at the turn of the century. And then, of course, Muhammad Ali, whose image in 1964—he was booed before his rematch with Liston, as Champion of the World—was polar opposite to mainstream society than the beloved figure he largely is today.

Well, I guess we haven’t checked a score, but we’re a little more up to date in the world of sports. Lots of love to you and yours, and if you have kids, may your early morning hockey tomorrow not be too early.

Pete

PS For a little comic relief after all that high-brow sports analysis, here’s a live excerpt from Understanding Ken, about a ten-year-old Canadian boy in Spokane, Washington, USA for a hockey weekend, circa 1973.

Sports! Muhammad Ali, Pelé and Team Canada 1972: Ah yes, thanks for the memories and the madness

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

I have the great privilege, excitement and pressure right now of directing a documentary on one of the greatest and most charismatic sports legends of all-time: the inimitable Muhammad Ali.

The challenge, after ten thousand books and three thousand documentaries on the man, is both daunting and and wondrous. An extraordinary talent through extraordinary times, whose intersection with history and with other famous and powerful people both defies and demands encapsulation.

When Ali uttered the famous phrase “I an’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong,” the effect was profound. Even one as unlikely as Noam Chomsky said:

“That rang serious alarm bells because it raised the question of why poor people in the United States were being forced by rich people in the United States to kill poor people in Vietnam. Putting it simply, that’s what it amounted to. And Ali put it very simply in ways that people could understand.”

And sportswriter Mark Kram indeed wrote (as quoted in Thomas Hauser’s The Lost Legacy of Muhammad Ali):

“What was laughable, if you knew anything about Ali at all, was that the literati was certain that he was a serious voice, that he knew what he was doing. He didn’t have a clue. Seldom has a public figure of such superficial depth been more wrongly perceived…”

…but Nelson Mandela said:

“Ali’s refusal to go to Vietnam and the reasons he gave made him an international hero. The news could not be shut out even by prison walls. He became a real legnd to us in prison…”

And legendary play-off slugger Reggie Jackson talked about Ali’s influence on his psyche:

“Do you have any idea what Ali meant to black people? He was the leader of a nation; the leader of black America. As a young black man, at times I was ashamed of my colour; I was ashamed of my hair. And Ali made me proud.

I’m just as happy being black now as somebody else being white, and Ali was part of that growing process.

Think about it! Do you understand what it did for black Americans to know that the most physically gifted, possibly the most handsome, and one of the most charismatic men in the world was black? Ali helped raise black people in this country out of mental slavery.

The entire experience of being black changed for millions of people because of Ali.”

Enough said…

…for now.

NEW YORK COSMOS and the great PELE

In researching the time, I saw the 2006 documentary film Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos the other night, about the hilarious and quite incredible story of the New York Cosmos soccer team—that thanks to the signing of the legendary Pelé (and then other greats), took New York and North America by storm in the late 1970s early 80s .

Their success, incidentally, was interrupted only once, by the unlikely, yes, Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979, while I was dreaming (haplessly) about one day getting out of Bantam (age 14-15) and playing in the NHL.

If the era and the sport of soccer (or, as it should be called, football) interest you—or even if they don’t—I highly recommend the film.

Here’s a little Pelé from his earlier days in Brazil.

THE SUMMIT SERIES

But, being a Canadian, we finish with un peu de hockey—and footage from the most remarkable hockey series in history, an eight game extravaganza between Canada and the (now defunct, like the California Golden Seals) Soviet Union in September, 1972, with the Cold War still exceedingly hot.

With the first four games in Canada and the last four in the Soviet Union, the series was supposed to be a cakewalk, an eight game rout, for the NHL star-studded Canadians against the “amateur” Russians.

Russia shocked all of Canada by winning the opeing game 7-3 in Montreal, with Ken Dryden in net for the Canadians (Ken is the same Ken in the title of my second novel Understanding Ken).

And, as a sort of intermission, a live, Big Bum excerpt from the book here.

After four games in Canada, Russia was shockingly ahead, two wins to one, with one game tied.

With guantlet thrown down after the Game 1 massacre (am I mixing metaphors?), the series turned into a war of pride and ideology—and the Canadian fans had taken to extensively booing the Canadian team.

Team leader Phil Esposito’s post-game-four, on-ice, sweat-drenched, nearly swearing interview in Vancouver shamed and rallied the Canadian public in the same instance, with its passionate innocence.

Check it out here.

Canada lost the first game in Russia, as well. Then won the next two by a goal (both winners from unheralded Paul Henderson—who for good reason became a born again Christian).

Then in the final game eight, Canada fought back from a 5-3 deficit in the third period, to tie the game at 5 on a goal by my hero, Yvan Cournoyer (I was six at the time).

And then, with schools and work-places put on hold all over Canada, Paul Henderson (from Esposito), scored the winning goal (the goal of the century) that won the game for Canada with 34 seconds left in game eight (4 wins to 3 with 1 tied).

Check out J.P. Parise swinging his stick hatchet-style at the referee, the madness ensuing after the Cournoyer goal (with Canadian hockey official Alan Eagleson—who would later be indicted for ripping off the NHL pension fund, and a bunch of players to boot) going slightly beserk, and then Henderson’s legendary goal.

There you have it. You’re up to date in the world of sports/nostalgia/distraction/love and the Cold War.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

NAOMI KLEIN and MILTON FRIEDMAN: The Luxury of Opinion on What Constitutes Freedom

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Here’s a short excerpt from an interview Milton Friedman gave to Nathan Gardels just before Friedman’s death, and just before Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine came out:

NPQ | With globalization, are we seeing the freest world economy we’ve ever seen?

Friedman | Oh no. We had much freer trade in the 19th century. We have much less globalization now than we did then.

Will we go ahead back to this freedom of the 19th century? I don’t know. We have a freer world because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changes in China. Those two have been the main contributors to freedom in our time.

The countries that have risen and separated out as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union are, on the whole, following freer economic policies. Most of these states have freer government and less restrictions on trade.

This free-market base will likely expand from there by example to others not so free. Everyone, everywhere, now understands that the road to success for underdeveloped countries is freer markets and globalization.

NPQ | In the end, your ideas have triumphed over Marx and Keynes.

Is this, then, the end of the road for economic thought? Is there anything more to say than free markets are the most efficient way to organize a society? Is it the “end of history,” as Francis Fukuyama put it?

Friedman | Oh no. “Free markets” is a very general term. There are all sorts of problems that will emerge.

Free markets work best when the transaction between two individuals affects only those individuals.

But that isn’t the fact. The fact is that, most often, a transaction between you and me affects a third party. That is the source of all problems for government. That is the source of all pollution problems, of the inequality problem.

There are some good economists like Gary Becker and Bob Lucas who are working on these issues.

This reality ensures that the end of history will never come.

The full interview is here.

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

Below the interview is a long excerpt from an (audio and video) interview Naomi Klein gave to Mark Molaro describing the thesis of her book The Shock Doctrine, which deeply implicates Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School of Economics.

From Klein (with Mark Molaro) describing the thesis of her book The Shock Doctrine:

What I’m doing with the book [the Shock Doctrine] is providing an alternative history of our contemporary economic era—the chapter we’ve been living in the US since Reagan, in Latin America since the 70s. This revolution stared in different parts of the world in different moments. In Eastern Europe it was after the Berlin Wall fell, and so the timing is different in different parts of the world.

It did begin 35 years ago in Latin America. There’s a broad agreement on this, that we have been living a new chapter, and that Milton Friedman is—was—the guru of this chapter of history—what’s often described as “the triumphs of the free markets.”

I think we’ve been living with a fairy tale version of how this economic model spread throughout the world and there have been what I call the official stories. One of them is a PBS series called Commanding Heights, which was a three part series on the great battle between [Friedrich] Hayek and [Milton] Friedman and [John Maynard] Keynes.

So what I’m doing with the Shock Doctrine is I’m covering the same ground, but I’m telling the story differently, because in the official version you don’t hear about the importance of shocks and crises.

You hear that free markets and free people go hand in hand. That this ideology spread throughout the world because people wanted it, because they wanted their Reaganomics with their Big Macs after the Berlin Wall fell.

This is the official story.

When Milton Friedman died in 2006, there was a retelling of that official history. The merging of the idea of this radical vision of free markets with democracy, the two-for-one deal that has been sold to us by people like Francis Fukuyama.

So I’m telling the same history, the same chapter, but I emphasize different key dates.

Many people when they tell the story they begin with Thatcher and Reagan. I begin with Pinochet—because that’s really when it began. It is a victor’s history, the one that we get. It has been cleansed of the unflattering details like the fact that it started under a military dictatorship…

The idea of what was called the Chile Project—the idea of bringing Latin American students, their tuition paid for by the US government and later by the Ford Foundation, is that by training this group of students, under these very radical Right Wing economists [the Chicago School of Economics], that they would be a counterpoint to the Socialists in Latin America and now it would be a battle of ideas.

So the influence of the University of Chicago and the influence of Friedman under the Juntas of South America—and hundreds of students went through these programs. It extended from Chile to Argentina to Mexico, Brazil—the influence went well beyond Friedman. It was that a generation of politicians was trained in this radical ideology. They went on to be finance ministers, heads of the central bank; they went on to work for the IMF and the World Bank and they were really the proselytizers of this ideology….”

In the book I talk about three distinct forms of shock which reinforce each other—in a sort of cycle, a circle of shock, if you will. The first shock is the shock to countries. It’s the crises. In Iraq it was called “Shock and Awe.” It was the military invasion. It was an invasion strategy based on a theory that you needed to put the entire population of Iraq into the state of shock and awe to convince them of the futility of resistance. If you read the Shock and Awe manual, it spells it out. That was the first shock.

The Second Shock Paul Bremer arriving in Baghdad in May of 2003 and his trademark Brooks Brothers suits and his Timberlane boots and declaring Iraq open for business. So much has happened in Iraq, spiraling in chaos today, that one can forget that first summer of frantic law-making under Paul Bremer.

This was a period of relative stability in Iraq. This is where you can see very clearly what the Bush post-war plan was. You know, we often hear, they didn’t have a plan. Well they had a plan, but it didn’t work. It backfired badly but there certainly was a plan and Paul Bremer implemented that plan with great enthusiasm. The plan was to turn Iraq into a model, free-market economy.

And when they were finished, then they were going to have elections—and it’s very important to get the order right because the Iraqis had this crazy idea that they should have elections first and then they should have a democratic government decide what the economic policies should be.

You know, very backwards people. But of course, Bremer, and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Cheney knew better and there plan was to push through—Bremer wrote a hundred laws, edicts, they were very radical.

You know they often talk about them is if they were technocratic little housekeeping measures. But in fact economists described it as the wish list for foreign investors. Foreign companies were allowed 100% ownership over Iraqi assets. They were allowed to take a hundred percent of their profits out.

These are laws that are unheard of in the region, which is actually very protected economically—but these were radical laws anywhere in the world. These were laws Bremer pushed through that the Republican party has been trying to impose in the United States and never been able to, like a flat tax. Iraq got a fifteen percent flat tax in this period.

So that was the economic shock therapy program, and it was based on this theory that Iraqis would be so disoriented, and reeling from the Shock and Awe invasion—focused on daily concerns like the fact that they didn’t have electricity or water—that they wouldn’t be able to resist these economic shocks.

Richard Armitage, who I quote in the book, former Under Secretary of State under Powell, said that ‘The theory was that Iraqis would be easily marshaled from point A to point B.’

Now of course that didn’t happen and Iraqis did organize in that first summer, and they demanded elections, in fact there were a series of local elections. There were protests almost daily outside the Green Zone. People wanted their jobs back. And they were very against, particularly, the foreign investment law. Iraqi business people organized, opposed this law.

As that mostly non-violent resistance turned into the armed resistance, then there was the emergence of the Third Shock that I talk about in the book. And that is the non-metaphorical shocks to the body—the shock of torture. And torture is always an enforcement tool.

We talk about torture in a very narrow way in this country. Does it work? Does it get reliable information? But the real meaning of torture is that it’s a tool of state terror. It’s a way to gain control of a country that you can’t govern with consent. If you can’t govern a country with the consent of the people, then you have to govern it by fear. And a classic way of governing through fear is the use of torture because it says to a people—and Saddam used it to great effect—‘You cross me, and this is what happens to you.’

[In other words, torture—be it state torture or any other kind—is not used simply as a tool to get information, to gather information. It is a tool to send a message to the people. Indeed, in America, and the thought of Western countries using torture, it is seen as a means—some even argue a necessary means—of gathering information. But Middle Eastern terror, or Mafia killings, and so on, are scene as heinous cruelty that sends a message: don’t cross us…

The full interview is here.

Food for thought—sometimes too much, but a fascinating rereading of the story, nonetheless. It is remarkable to remember that our actions have meaning, and some meanings are profound.

Lots of love to you,

Pete