Romania: becoming heroes

Yesterday we began discussing the documentary Chuck Norris vs. Communism, in which director Ilinca Calugareanu takes us back to 1980s Romania and the phenomenon of surreptitious private screenings at which ordinary Romanians got to see American films – and, through them, the Free World.

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In a re-creation from the documentary, Nistor is seen doing her secret dubbing

But the films didn’t just vouchsafe to Romanians their first look at the West. “The films changed what you thought,” says one of Calugareanu’s interviewees. “You developed through films.” The movies, we’re told, sowed “seeds of freedom.” One interlocutor remembers that after viewing one action film after another – starring actors like Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude van Damme – “we started to want to be heroes.”

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Nicolae Ceaușescu

This is no small admission. These were people who’d been systematically beaten down by the Communist system. The word hero was flung at them constantly by their leaders – as we see in the documentary itself, in an excerpt from one televised speech by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu – but it was invariably used to refer to so-called “socialist heroes,” people who’d submitted themselves heart and soul to the regime, who’d embraced their role as obedient mice, who’d parroted the totalitarian rhetoric (and, in many cases, ratted on their neighbors who didn’t). The bootleg Hollywood films restored to the Romanians who saw them the concept of heroism in its authentic sense – restored to them, that is, the notion that it was possible in this world to stand up for oneself, for one’s friends, and for goodness itself against the forces of evil and oppression. Nistor tells Calugareanu that since the liberation of Romania, people have told her that her very voice is linked in their minds with the idea of freedom and hope.

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Vaclav Havel

Like many a good Hollywood thriller, Calugareanu’s film actually contains a twist or two in its latter half. We’d rather not give away the surprises here. Suffice it to say that pretty much everybody in Romania, it turns out, up to and including people at the very highest levels of government, was eager to watch American movies. Which, in turn, underscores the fact that even top officials were, in a very real sense, prisoners of their own system. It’s not a fresh insight: Vaclav Havel, the Czech poet-turned-activist-turned-president, articulated it brilliantly in his famous essay “The Power of the Powerless.” Indeed this documentary, seen from one angle, is a confirmation of Havel’s own assertion in that essay that oppressed people in totalitarian countries are effectively collaborators in their own oppression and that they contain within themselves the power to overcome their own powerlessness. The Romanians who gathered in tiny apartments to watch those American movies were, in their own small way, defying authority – awakening in themselves the very spirit that Havel wrote about, and that would help to bring Ceaușescu down.

We’ll finish up on this tomorrow.

Chuck Norris vs. Communism: a riveting true-life story

In a stirring documentary called Chuck Norris vs. Communism, first screened last year at the Sundance Film Festival and now available on Netflix, director Ilinca Calugareanu tells the story of how bootleg Western movies, sold on the black market and shown on VHS in secret, illegal viewings in private homes across Romania in the 1980s, helped transform the mentality of a people living under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

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Nicolae Ceaușescu

Calugareanu effectively combines beautifully directed historical re-creations with absorbing on-camera testimony by a couple of dozen or so Romanians who explain the impact that the movies had on them at a time when their own national TV service consisted of two hours a day of boring propaganda about the glory and triumph of socialism and when they were denied even the slightest glimpse of the world on the far side of the Iron Curtain. An older woman recalls that when she first saw Western movies, “I realized how far behind the West we were.” Another interviewee remembers, “We would all savor every image, even the credits at the beginning of the film.”

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Chuck Norris

Indeed, the stories told by the Western movies often took a back seat to the settings, the backgrounds. For the first time, Romanians could see the streets of New York and Paris. The actors’ “clothes, the attitudes, the gestures” communicated oodles of information that couldn’t be put into words. “You’d stop following the movies,” recalls one man, “because you were impressed by the houses.” You’d see “cars that you’d never see here.” The pictures provided “a window into the west through which I could see what the free world was like.” And every bit of it was fascinating to the viewers: “people had a strong desire to know, to learn about a society that was forbidden.”

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In one re-created scene from the documentary, Zamfir gets into a spot of trouble with the authorities

Few Romanians knew how the bootleg tapes had found their way into Romania. All they knew was that they’d had been smuggled in illegally – and that it was illegal to watch them. What we learn from Calugareanu is that the whole operation was the work of a single remarkable man named Zamfir. Starting with a couple of VCRs, he ended up with 360. Two or three times a year, he’d drive abroad and come back with a trunk full of new films. To get away with it, he bribed border guards. Eventually he developed a network that distributed tapes throughout the country.

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Irina Nistor today

Zamfir’s main helpmeet was a woman named Irina Nistor, whose story is also remarkable. She was working as a translator for the official government censors when Zamfir approached her: would she be willing to take on an evening job dubbing foreign movies for him? She leapt at the chance. She was risking prison – but she was curious to see the films herself. “It seemed,” she tells Calugareanu, “like a way to be free and spite the regime.”

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In one of the film’s re-creations, Nistor is seen at work in Zamfir’s home

So while continuing to work with Ceaușescu’s censors during the day, she also secretly collaborated with Zamfir, going to his home night after night to sit at a desk, watch movies on a TV screen, translate the dialogue in real time, and dub all the actors’ voices into a microphone, trying her best not only to render the words correctly into Romanian but also to convey the tone, the feeling, the mood. Even after being called on the carpet by an official of the secret police, she refused to quit. “The films were my oxygen.” Simultaneous translators at the UN generally work for only fifteen minutes or so at a time, so exhausting is the job; Nistor could dub a half dozen or more films in a single sitting. By 1989, when Communism fell, she had dubbed more than 3000 of them. As a result of her work, Nistor’s voice became, after Ceaușescu’s, the second most familiar in all of Romania.

More tomorrow.

Glitz and grime: Lagerfeld in Cuba

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Karl Lagerfeld in Havana

We’ve been discussing Karl Lagerfeld‘s recent fashion show – a massive bash to promote Chanel’s new line-up of pricey schmattas for rich people – held in the heart of destitute Havana, complete with 600 well-heeled guests, many of them international celebrities. Forget the cruel Communist reality that surrounded this scene – the event itself was all about fantasy, about illusion. Indeed, as Avril Muir put it in Harper’s Bazaar, “the entire thing looked like a film set, insanely beautiful in the soft evening light.” Never mind, as we say, the half-century of brutal Castroite repression and terror that was responsible for the crumbling backdrops of this “beautiful” spectacle: Lagerfeld and his crew from Chanel, cheered Muir, had “created a moment of fashion history.”

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Tilda Swinton was one of Lagerfeld’s 600 guests

To be fair, Muir was only one of many members of the fashion media – and, for that matter, mainstream media – who gushed over this event. While acknowledging that it was tough to put on “an elite fashion show in a country with an annual salary of £3,000,” and that Lagerfeld’s audacity in doing so “raised a few eyebrows,” the Guardian‘s Jess Cartner-Morley pronounced  Havana “a gorgeous setting for a fashion show” and decided to brand “Lagerfeld’s world view” with the relatively innocuous word “mischievous.” In the Daily Telegraph, Lisa Armstrong quoted a “flustered Chanel PR” person as saying that, yes, accommodation and dining options in Cuba are still “a bit Soviet,” observed that “most of the city is so decayed that only will-power and defiance keep it standing,” and pointed out that the country’s average annual salary is equivalent to the price of one large “classic Chanel quilted handbag” – but more important to Armstrong, apparently, was Havana’s “jaw-on-table degree of beauty,” which for six decades has been “un-besmirched by Western brands.”

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What’s left of the second-floor hallway of a building that collapsed in Havana on May 4

As it happens, on the same day (May 4) that Cartner-Morley and Armstrong filed their stories, one of those “beautiful” old Havana buildings collapsed “after a day of heavy rain and strong winds,” leaving fifty people homeless.  “The building had been declared unfit for habitation 31 years ago, in 1985,” reported Marti Noticias, “but people continued to live there and nothing was fixed. In addition, the wall that gave way, causing the building’s roof to cave in, had been declared extremely dangerous 13 years ago in 2003.”

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“Ordinary Cubans” checking out the glitterati

Despite claims, moreover, that Chanel had arranged for “ordinary Cubans” to be able to take part in the event, CNN, to its credit, noted that “[t]ight security prevented anyone without a coveted invitation from getting too close” and that those ordinary Cubans who wanted to get a peek at the “gloriously exuberant spectacle” had to do so from the windows and balconies of a relative handful of apartments that happened to look out on the Paseo del Prado. As Agence France-Presse put it, “ordinary Cubans were left watching the glitz from afar.” (WISH-TV, Channel 8 in Indianapolis, offered its own angle: Chanel’s show “offered a startling sight in a country officially dedicated to social equality and the rejection of material wealth.” The key word there, of course, being officially.

What Avril Muir and her colleagues were recounting, in short, was nothing less than yet another shameful episode in the history of privileged Western indifference to Communist despotism and deprivation. Alas, as the Cuban “thaw” continues, it looks as if there’ll be much, much more of this sort of nonsense in the months and years to come. 

Eau de Havana: Chanel meets Castro

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Lagerfeld (left) in Havana

And then there’s Karl Lagerfeld.

In recent weeks and months, we’ve been toting up some of the American pop-culture figures who’ve been jetting down to Havana since the so-called thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations made that destination even cooler (at least in the minds of some of our more ethically challenged celebrities) than it was before. This week we’ve looked at the high-profile filming in the Cuban capital of the latest Fast and Furious masterpiece and the recent release of the movie Papa Hemingway in Cuba, shot almost entirely on the prison island.

Here’s another item for our roster. “To unveil his Cruise 2017 collection for Chanel,” reported Harpers Bazaar the other day, Lagerfeld, the pompous, preposterous 82-year-old German designer who is head designer and creative director of Chanel, “flew the fashion pack out to Cuba, staging the first ever fashion show to be held in the country since the 1959 communist revolution.”

chanel-cuba-10The open-air show took place on the Paseo del Prado, “a street landscaped by a Frenchman and lined with colonnades on either side, painted in faded pastels.” Lagerfeld’s guests, 600 in all, including such celebrities as Tilda Swinton and Gisele Bundchen, “were chauffeured in a rainbow-coloured convoy of 170 old cars to a front row of park benches underneath trees that lined the centre of the street.” Lagerfeld’s glitzy garb, a “multicoloured sequin tuxedo,” made it clear he was “here to have fun.” And fun it was, with “dancing models and a delightfully eclectic collection that mixed up colour and print, masculine and feminine, Parisian chic and Cuban flair.”

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The beret worn by this model was inspired by Che Guevara’s habitual headwear

The Harper’s Bazaar contributor we’re quoting here is Avril Muir, who, scribbling in the storied style rag, described Lagerfeld’s big show as “a gloriously exuberant spectacle that showed the global reach of this supremely powerful brand.” Part of what made it so “glorious exuberant,” Muir emphasized, was that it was set in Cuba’s “beautiful capital city,” which she described as “a beguiling mix of ruined colonial houses, rusting Cadillacs and seafront boulevards which turn into a kind of catwalk for locals every night.” How supremely romantic! Cuba, Muir stated, is “a country where time has largely stood still since the late 1950s.” True enough; but the way she put it made it sound magical. Cuba, where time has stood still – just like in Shangri-La!

Muir didn’t realize it, of course, but what she was recounting here was an act of slumming on a truly monumental scale. Through the sheer wizardry of the fashion biz, one heartbreaking manifestation after another of abject poverty and oppression was transformed into a token of the utmost in chic.

Ruined houses? Dazzling! Rusting Cadillacs? Bewitching! Penniless serfs dragging themselves along the waterfront every night because they can’t afford to do anything else? Hey, it’s not a sad slog, folks – it’s a catwalk!

More tomorrow.

Bob Yari: lousy filmmaker, excellent Cuba propagandist

In recent months we’ve cast a jaundiced eye at the avalanche of stoogery that has surrounded the so-called “opening” of Cuba – what’s been called the “thawing” of U.S.-Cuba relations.

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Giovanni Ribisi and Adrian Sparks in Papa Hemingway in Cuba

Part of that “thawing,” as we’ve seen this week, has been a mass pilgrimage of TV and movie producers to the prison island. On Monday we noted that some sequences of the newest installment of the Fast and Furious franchise are being filmed in Cuba; yesterday we reported on the release of Papa Hemingway in Cuba, a feature that was shot there in 2014. While receiving lukewarm to poor reviews, the picture has nonetheless occasioned some pretty idiotic (if unsurprising) commentary about Cuba. 

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Eliza Berman

Take Eliza Berman, who, in a puff piece for Time, fatuously echoed the Castros’ own B.S., blaming the island’s disastrous economy not on Communism but on the U.S.: “Because the embargo restricted the import of American goods to the island, much of the country has maintained the appearance of being somewhat stuck in time—not least of all thanks to its 1950s-model cars. This allowed for the majority of the film to be shot on location rather than on artificial sets.” (It’s not surprising to discover that Berman is a very young lass and that her 2007 Yale B.A. is in that ridiculous non-field, American Studies.)   

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Ribisi in Havana

Helen T. Verongos, writing in the New York Times, may have been entirely correct to say that the film “bristles with authentic detail, down to the very typewriter Hemingway used,” and that the producers’ ability to arrange for shooting in Cuba “was a feat of diplomacy, financial and otherwise.” But it would’ve been appropriate, we think, to include some acknowledgment of the nature of the political system with which the producers worked their supposed diplomatic magic.

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Humberto Fontova

Verongas’s “feat of diplomacy” remark wasn’t a one-off. Even as they panned the movie, many reviewers praised its producer-director, Bob Yari, for pulling off a supposed coup – namely, getting Cuba’s government to let him film there. It took Cuban-American writer Humberto Fontova to point out the sheer absurdity of this take on the situation. Hemingway, after all, whether you love his fiction or not, was a fervent supporter of Castro’s revolution, which he called “very pure and beautiful.” In fact, recently uncovered documents show that, for a while there, he was actually a KGB spy (albeit a lousy one). From the very beginning, the Castros recognized Hemingway as one of their own; they turned his house into a museum, have maintained it assiduously ever since, encourage tourists to visit it, and are eager to publicly underscore, at every opportunity, their cozy connection to the Nobel Prize-winning author.

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Fidel Castro

Letting Yari make his film in Cuba, then, was a no-brainer. It’s perfect pro-Cuba propaganda. And, as Fontova stresses, nothing matters more to the Cuban regime than propaganda. Fidel himself bragged early on that “propaganda is the vital heart of our struggle”; the CIA has credited Cuba’s government with “creating the most effective propaganda empire in the Western Hemisphere.” 

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Che Guevara

To be sure, Yari’s picture leaves out Hemingway’s service to the KGB. To quote Fontova, “it also omits what could have provided the movie with some of its most dramatic scenes. I refer to Papa Hemingway as honored guest and charmed spectator during many of Che Guevara’s firing squad murder marathons, while gulping his especially-made-for-the-celebratory-occasion Daiquiris.” But of course such scenes – the absence of which from the movie was noted by absolutely none of the critics linked to at the review-aggregating sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic – would’ve damaged the images of both Hemingway and Cuba. And we couldn’t have that, could we?

Hollywood follows Hemingway to Havana

Yesterday we talked about the newest Fast and Furious movie, which according to a January article in the Hollywood Reporter is “the first Hollywood studio film to shoot on the island since the embargo was set in the 1960s.”

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Adrian Sparks and Joely Richardson as the Hemingways

But hey, then there’s the just-released Papa Hemingway in Cuba, which the same publication described in 2014 (when it was being filmed) as “the first full-length feature with a Hollywood director and actors to be shot in the country since the 1959 revolution.” Apparently the key word is “studio”; while the car-chase franchise is owned by Universal Studios, the Hemingway picture was an independent Canadian-American production.

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Bob Yari

The film is directed by Bob Yari, a real-estate mogul turned big-time Hollywood money guy, who has bought himself producer credits on a number of major Hollywood releases (such as Prime, starring Meryl Streep, and The Painted Veil, starring Edward Norton). During his fifteen or so years in the business, he’s landed in more than his share of legal messes; according to the Boston Globe, he’s “perhaps best known for unsuccessfully suing the Academy over not getting producer credit on the 2005 best picture Oscar-winning Crash.” Papa, his only directorial credit other than 1989’s Mind Games, is based on an autobiographical script by Denne Bart Petitclerc, who died ten years ago and who, when he was a young newspaperman, was taken up by Hemingway, then living in Cuba, as a sort of sidekick and protégé. Adrian Sparks is Hemingway, Joely Richardson is his fourth wife, Mary, Giovanni Ribisi is the admiring cub reporter, and Minka Kelly is Ribisi’s love interest; Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel, who, a half a lifetime ago, played Woody Allen’s love interest in Manhattan, has a cameo. 

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Giovanni Ribisi and Minka Kelly

The reviews, to put it mildly, haven’t been stellar. Variety called the movie “formulaic” and “plodding”; the writer for RogerEbert.com complained that “the storytelling continuously keeps us at arm’s length, never allowing us to fully understand the bond that developed between these men….Here’s a film about one of the greatest writers in history that reduces the iconic man’s mind to the canned insights of a fortune cookie.” Calling the picture “a missed opportunity,” Stephanie Merry lamented in the Washington Post that it “doesn’t leave much of an impression.” Several critics have complained that Sparks utterly lacks Papa’s charisma, and that Ribisi, whose character is supposed to be a starry-eyed twenty-something, is, in real life, 41 years old, with thinning hair.

But almost all of the reviewers have exulted in Yari’s supposed coup – getting the Castro regime to let him film at Hemingway’s Cuban home, La Finca Vigía. Indeed, there’s been plenty of predictably stoogerific commentary about this supposed “milestone.” We’ll look at some of it tomorrow. 

Diesel-powered stoogery

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Vin Diesel giving a fist-bump to a Havana crowd

Back in January, The Hollywood Reporter informed the world that at least a few scenes of the eighth installment of the mega-successful Fast and Furious movie franchise would be filmed in Cuba in the spring — provided, that is, that Universal Pictures secured the requisite approval from the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Well, the permission came through. Thanks to the partial opening-up of Castro’s island prison in the wake of the Washington-Havana hemi-demi-semi-thaw, Fast and Furious 8,  directed by F. Gary Gray, will reportedly be the biggest motion-picture project ever to be filmed in that country, either in whole or in part, and, depending on how you define these things, perhaps the first American motion picture ever to be shot there. This, note well, despite numerous “infrastructure issues, like spotty internet,” of the kind that most Hollywood types would not ordinarily tolerate for long. 

diesel4Gray & co., then, are making history. Not that this is an absolute first. In March of last year, Conan O’Brien taped episodes of his late-night TBS talk show in Havana; recently Showtime announced that an episode of its series House of Lies will also be shot there. Then there’s the feature film Papa Hemingway in Cuba, which beat Fast and Furious to Castro-land, but which is technically a Canadian-American production, and you can make of that what you will; in any event, we’ll talk about that project tomorrow. 

diesel5Anyway, it’s happened. The Fast and Furious gang – Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Jason Statham – traveled down to Havana in late April. In what was apparently set up as a big PR moment, Diesel steered a vintage convertible coupe down a crowded street, his manner that of a returning hero or conquering king. “This is paradise!” he exulted, according to the Daily Mail.

One of the arguments for filming U.S. movies and TV shows in Cuba is that it’ll somehow help open the country up, boost its broken-down economy, perhaps even (in some way) liberate its people. But what has been the real result of this development? A Cuban-American news site, Capitol Hill Cubans, reports that in order to clear the streets for the Fast and Furious film crew, Cuban security agents were “violently removing ‘undesirables’ — e.g. homeless — from tourism zones in Old and Central Havana….These agents, wearing plain-clothes and rubber gloves, have been scouring the area for ‘undesirables’ and forcefully taking them away. Various incidents of great violence have been reported.” All, apparently, in order to keep the gringo movie makers from recording on celluloid any sign of, um, poverty or desperation in this exceedingly poor and desperate country. 

castro3Another source, the Miami-based newspaper El nuevo herald, notes that tourists witnessed some of this chilling savagery and reacted, needless to say, with alarm. Some of them expressed the desire to call the police – only to be informed that the thugs who were beating, brutalizing, and rounding up people up were the police.

As the Capitol Hill Cubans website asked:

Is this how President Obama thinks American culture will positively impact Cuba?

No wonder Hollywood VIPs and artistic delegations come back “marveled” by Cuba and whitewashing their experiences.

They have no clue what takes place behind-the-scenes.

Perverse prescriptions: Andreas Malm

andreas2Yesterday we met Andreas Malm, an up-and-coming Swedish scholar who holds up sub-Saharan Africa as an economic model for the rest of the world.

Malm has a new book, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. In it, he pretty much slams every scientific, economic, and technological development that’s taken place since the industrial revolution. The devil lurking behind all this development, he makes clear, is the c-word: capitalism. As he puts it in his ringing Marxist-academic prose, “the fossil economy is coextensive with the capitalist mode of production.” For Malm, as the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce wrote in a review of the book for City Journal, “the rise of the steam engine was little more than a ploy by evil capitalists to subjugate workers, and because of that, we are now all going to die from global warming.”

Malm’s prescription to avoid this dire fate? A “special ministry” in each of the four entities – the U.S., the E.U., China, and India – that produce the most greenhouse gases. These ministries would be empowered to cut emissions – and, in order to achieve their desired goals, would be obliged to cut them very, very drastically. Needless to say, this radical transformation of the present world order would involve an almost complete shutdown of industrial activity and, essentially, a replacement of democratic capitalism by an all-powerful international superstate intent on “simplifying” life in the developed world to a virtually unimaginable degree. 

malm1As is the case with many other climate alarmists, Malm’s purported analyses, forecasts, and proposed remedies raise the question of whether this fellow is prepared to sacrifice modern freedom, prosperity, and comfort because he’s genuinely that hysterical about the prospect of disastrous climate change, or whether, like the recently deceased Maurice Strong, he’s a man who, quite simply, despises capitalism for the usual Marxist reasons and has latched on to climate as a rallying cry because he recognizes it as an effective way to argue for the utter dismantling of the capitalist system.

Andreas-MalmWhat Malm’s prescriptions don’t take into account is this: that the deliberate undoing of modern civilization founded on democratic capitalism wouldn’t just impoverish people in the developed world and shorten their lifespans. It would also, among much else, render their lives dirt-cheap. Take a good look at sub-Saharan Africa: what you see there are see societies so backward that in Tanzania, for example, albino children are hunted down and macheted to death because their severed limbs are thought to have magical powers. Many a family in Angola, after the demise of a family member, will attribute the death to acts of witchcraft by a child in the family, who is thereupon beaten, subjected to brutal rituals, expelled from the home, shunned, starved, and/or murdered outright. Throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, atrocities such as rape, forced child marriage, and human trafficking are rampant and go unpunished. Why? Because there’s little in the way of advanced social structure, little in the way of rule of law, little in the way of respect for the individual human life. All these good things that are missing in most of sub-Saharan Africa are part of the civilization that, over the centuries, has come to maturity in developed Western countries, thanks in large part to the kinds of advances that Malm has identified as enemies of humanity. 

The bottom line is clear. All too many people like Malm, sitting in their pleasant homes and their well-appointed offices in (for example) universities in Sweden, take a great deal for granted about the cozy lives they lead. When somebody in Malm’s position calls for an end to modern democratic capitalism, he is – whether he realizes it or not – a fool sitting in a tree and sawing off the very limb he’s sitting on.

Down with capitalism, up with a sub-Saharan way of life

AndreasMalmBioRecently we catalogued a few of the more prominent Swedes who prefer tyranny to liberty. Here’s one more: Andreas Malm, who’s currently a doctoral student in human ecology at Lund University. But he’s not just any college kid – he’s a prominent guy with an already substantial résumé who’s been a top-level player in Sweden’s cultural elite for years. A quick précis: born in 1977, he helped launch the Swedish branch of the International Solidarity Movement, served on the editorial staffs of the syndicalist weekly Arbetaren and the Socialist Party’s weekly Internationalen, written books on the “occupation of Palestine,” “imperialism in our time,” and “Islamophobia in Europe,” and won a respected prize in recognition of his “solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Oh, and he’s publicly expressed his support for both Hezbollah and Hamas.

These days, however, his specialty is trying to get everybody extremely worked up about what he describes as the apocalyptic dangers of modern technological and industrial economies and their reliance on fossil fuels.

One of Malm’s favorite ploys is to compare the level of energy use in the developed world with that in the global south. “The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone,” he’s written, to offer just one of many examples, “consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa.”

AndreasELWell, that’s likely true. For most people in sub-Saharan Africa, life is hell beyond the imagination of people in places like New York State (or Lund). It’s primitive. To borrow the famous line from Thomas Hobbes, it’s “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In more than a dozen sub-Saharan countries, including Burundi, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the GDP per capita is below $1000 a year; in several more, it’s only slightly higher. In nations like Chad, Angola, Lesotho, and Sierra Leone, the life expectancy hovers around 50. Across the continent, tens of millions perish annually from pneumonia, malaria, whooping cough, measles, and other afflictions that are no longer major problems in the rest of the world.

What lesson does Malm take from this? Not that the desperate, destitute souls of sub-Saharan Africa need to be helped to develop their terrible economies, so that they can attain at least some fraction of the prosperity enjoyed by, say, people in the state of New York. No, what he wants is for the Empire State’s economy to be radically shrunk so that its inhabitants’ consumption will sink to levels closer to those of the people of sub-Saharan Africa.

Malm has spelled out his ideas in a recent book. We’ll look at it tomorrow.

Celebrating terrorism: Max Blumenthal

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Max Blumenthal

Last June, we examined some of the sleazy shenanigans of one Max Blumenthal. Following in the slime trail of his dad, Sid Blumenthal, the longtime Clinton operator, bagman, lackey, factotum, spinmeister, and all-around inside-the-Beltway creep, young Max (he’s 38) has for some time now been pursuing his own career as an amoral political hack and hanger-on, gaining a reputation as —among other things — a shameless apologist for Vladimir Putin and a fierce critic of Israel.

Then again, the word critic isn’t quite strong enough to describe what young Max is up to when it comes to Israel.

As the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote in January: “A writer should avoid hyperbole. But when it comes to Max Blumenthal…it’s hard to avoid superlatives. Max is quite simply one of the most biased, anti-Semitic, terrorist-defending, Israel-has-no-right-to-exist haters out there.”

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David Mikics

David Mikics, writing in the Tablet in March of last year, summed Max up as follows: “Max Blumenthal’s stock in trade is anti-Zionist polemic dripping with cartoon-like, racially weighted depictions of Israeli Jews. What distinguishes him from many other anti-Zionist writers is not his political views, but the obsessive nature of his work, which seems animated not by moral passion or analysis but by hate.” In 2013, Max published the book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, which, in the words of J.J. Goldman in the Forward, seeks to “show the suffering and unbroken spirit of the Palestinians and the callous cruelty of the Israelis.” Eric Alterman of The Nation, who is anything but an apologist for Israel, wrote in his review: “It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).”

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Rabbi Schmuley Boteach

Max, noted Boteach in March, “is known for creating the hashtag #JSIL—the Jewish State in the Levant—a play on the acronym ISIL, aka ISIS. In Max’s twisted mind, the democratic State of Israel is on par with ISIS.” Throughout his writings about Israel, indeed, Max repeatedly likens the Jewish state to the terrorists who seek to destroy it. And, naturally, to Nazi Germany.

hillaryemailsMax’s anti-Israel writings gained a special kind of attention recently when some of the e-mails dating back to Hillary Clinton’s Foggy Bottom days began to be published, and it turned out that Sid was sending excerpts from his son’s poisonous screeds to the Secretary of State – who responded by praising Max’s work. In March, Boteach’s pro-Israel organization, the World Values Network, bought a full-page ad in The New York Times urging Hillary to cut her ties to both Sid and Max. The ad included several anti-Israel quotations by both father and son. Hillary appears to have ignored Boteach’s plea.

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Father and son

Then, in April, the Telegraph published a recording in which Max, speaking at a March event at the London School of Economics, celebrated a 2014 massacre of Israeli soldiers by Hamas commandos who entered an IDF base in Israel through a series of underground tunnel from the Gaza Strip. At the base, these terrorists killed “every soldier they encounter[ed].” Since they wore video cameras on their helmets during the entire operation, moreover, they were able to provide young Palestinians with a visual record of their triumph. For Max, this was a beautiful thing: after being “humiliated” repeatedly by the IDF, those youths had a chance to see their side win a glorious victory over “the occupier” and to recover their own “dignity” by becoming terrorists themselves.