Category Archives: Sports

May 14th: Just Another Day in a Collapsing Empire

May 14th was quite a day for the empire, the shit show on full display exhibiting lots of swagger in its death throes. The people on the inside are the last to know. They don’t see it but everyone else does. The rest of the world can see the toxic death culture, they see the rationalizations for idiocy and how silly they seem. The US empire has no clothes but wears only a paper thin emotional veneer resembling a child who attempts to lie for the first time after murdering the family dog. This is the modern American mind of empire. Delusional and full of contrived pablum to excuse their wretched actions. Trump is truly the perfect man to represent this country, its true face. A huckster, a gangster, and a liar that says one thing and does the opposite. The actions and the results before us are the real values of empire and not their diseased words, which are devoid of truth.

On May 14th the empire’s best friend Israel continued to show its reverence for death while inhumanely shooting protestors on the Gaza strip. 58 lives lost and 2,700 injured are the current stats, horrors playing out that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around, but tomorrow Palestinians will wake up and know a life that has more suffering than the day before. Many of the injured will look forward to death knowing the Israeli government lacks all basic compassion for fellow humans and the wounded know the path ahead will contain even more hardship. The implications of Israeli actions won’t make headlines for long in the US, and the externalities we’ll never see directly tied to this story will cause sadness and turmoil they will struggle to fight past for years – if Israel lets them live that long. We humans are more fragile than what is put onto our TV screens. Characters undergo one torturous event after another with little repercussions, but in reality our emotions break, especially when all community has been stripped out from under us, especially when people we love are killed or maimed for no good reason.

Six who died were under the age of 18. Does the US care? Nope, they’d sooner blame Palestinians for putting kids in the line of fire of Israeli soldiers than take responsibility for supporting a regime who sadistically fires openly into crowds of unarmed people. The corporate media have short memories, convenient memories. We forget how upset we were at the Syrian gas attack that may have claimed 40 lives and later the incident was filled with controversy over if Assad was actually responsible, I do not know the truth about this but I smell bullshit from somewhere, regardless of my bullshit sniffing abilities that number is less than the 58 killed at the protests on May the 14th. And there will be not a chirp, a squawk, a snort, or whinny of angst directed towards Israel for these actions by our overlords. In fact, quite the opposite.

The ignoble Jared Kushner said at the embassy opening that “Those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” referring to protestors who don’t have guns, didn’t wound one Israeli soldier, they don’t have an air force, tanks, humvees, an organized military, or any of the implements of destruction Israel does, yet Palestinians are somehow provoking violence to such an extent the bully state had to slaughter them? Ok Jared, fuck you. There is no respect for life, zero empathy, and not the smallest hint of a lingering humanity remaining in the logic of the state.

The US operates in a good ole boy league where the fellow goombahs get an automatic pass, they are made men, with made nations, they do as they please. So it would also please them on the day of May 14th to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as nothing more than a provocation to invite targets out for the racist Israeli state to gun down. The ostensible provocateurs are a battered people who are being violently edged off this planet for reasons of insanity from a bully regime and their bully death culture. The provoked are a people crying out for someone in the world to stand up to this machine. Provoked to the point they want the world to witness what those in power will do to people who are of no legitimate threat; To show how vicious and small in character those who wield power are, to show how profound their lack of wisdom. Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than an ant is to an elephant, yet this particular raging elephant’s sense of entitled justice is to seek out the ant population and stamp it out of existence, then boast as if they were doing a great service.

In other news occurring on the day of May 14th 2018, the supreme court of American shysterism decided to give states the power to legalize gambling. With the current predicament of the world and the myriad of issues I quite frankly get tired of speaking to…the warring, the species extinction this, the climate change that, the wealth inequal…..well, you get the point. Any logical mind might say that we shouldn’t take time to further line the pockets of the wealthy by allowing them to own these new con games. Also, it might seem a tad exploitative to further entice the poor to desperately gamble away their rapidly diminishing savings before addressing those much larger issues, but all dissent will go unheard because there’s money to be made, boys, so instead we’ll hear people say some ridiculous drivel about how this is good for economic growth, and we’ll continue to live by the obvious lies of supply side economics.

And of all the issues in the world to address, of all the ideas in dire need of review, the US government’s highest court chooses to address sports gambling and rules in favor of empowering an industry that has been synonymous with organized crime even in areas it’s legalized. From gangster Bugsy Segal who famously had a role in creating the Las Vegas strip, to Sheldon Adelson who was said to have ties to Chinese mafia, and, of course, like flies attracted to shit Donald Trump comes buzzing around the casino business with plenty of allegations mafia associations, of course, his most verifiable organized crime association being the US government itself.

Legalizing sports betting is an apropos move for an empire doing all it can to emulate the Biff Tannen universe that was widely referenced at the start of the Trump presidency. Sports are already a severely overemphasized part of American culture. The athletes are receiving salaries that rival that of some of the most abusive CEOs, but the US populace worships them, they make excuses for the rampant greed out of addictive impulse. Many of these dollars athletes and billionaire owners earn are subsidized from lower class taxpayers where they are forced to pay for stadiums and surrounding infrastructure owned by the billionaires, just so we can watch athletes whose top salaries are quickly approaching 40 million a year play for meaningless things that will quickly be forgotten in time.

The narrative from states and business interests looking to profiteer off gambling will put on their best act to pretend like the abusive capitalist activity of gambling is some form of freedom, and the narrative of Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is that peaceful protestors are a threat to a heavily armed military, and the narrative from corporate media will be that these are just things happening and not signs of empire collapsing amid the ever growing misery of a global population. And the narrative of the people in the empire who are lonely, sad, and separated from connection will tell themselves that democracy and capitalism will somehow purify to the point that they’ll really deliver on the goods this time around. That surely this twisted form of democracy installed by genocidal slavers will avert disaster in the coming elections. The idea is we wait in futility for events that have no chance of curving the murderous gangsterism inset in this disposable dung heap of a society; I don’t mean to insult dung, lots of good things grow out of dung, nothing good grows out of this disease. It must be transformed at a deep level to be fertile space again, and if we are to heal the disease we cannot continue to sow the lies of false narratives.

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.

The Temptations of Ball Tampering: Steve Smith’s Australian Team in South Africa

There was an audacity about it, carried out with amateurish callowness.  As it turned out Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft, besieged and vulnerable, had been egged on by Australian cricket captain Steve Smith and the Australian leadership to do the insufferable: tamper with the ball.

Before the remorseless eagle eyes of modern cameras, Bancroft, in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town, was detected possessing yellow adhesive tape intended to pick up dirt and particles that would, in turn, be used on the ball’s surface.  This, it was assumed, was intended to give Smith’s team an advantage over an increasingly dominant South Africa.

The reaction from the head of Cricket Australia, John Sutherland, was one of distress.  “It’s a sad day for Australian cricket.”  Australian veteran cricketers effused horror and disbelief.  Former captain Michael Clarke wished this was “a bad dream”.

One of the greatest purveyors of slow bowling in the game’s history, Shane Warne, expressed extreme disappointment “with the pictures I saw on our coverage here in Cape Town. If proven the alleged ball tampering is what we all think it is – then I hope Steve Smith (Captain) [and] Darren Lehmann (Coach) do the press conference to clean this mess up!”

Indignation, not to mention moral and ethical shock, should be more qualified.  This, after all, is a murky area of cricket.  An injunction against ball tampering may well be enforced but players have been engaged in affecting the shape and constitution of that red cherry since the game took hold on the English greens.

Festooned with regulations, norms and customs, the battle between bat and ball has often featured attempts to alter, adjust and manipulate the latter.  Foreign substances have been added to one side of the ball; conventional additions of saliva and sweat are also used to give a magical sense of movement on its delivery to the batsman.  Cricket, as ever, is a game of aerodynamic and environmental challenges, conditioned by human agency.

The line between tampering and permissible manipulation is, to that end, squidgy, even vague.  Article 42.3 of the ICC Standard Test Match Playing Conditions covers the sins associated with ball tampering. “If the umpires together agree that the deterioration of the ball is inconsistent with the use it has received, they shall consider that there has been a contravention of this Law.”

The deterioration of the ball, to that end, is salient.  Bowling innovations, for one, have triggered accusations and warnings from authorities bound by conservative instincts.  The emergence of reverse swing, pioneered by Safraz Nawaz and reaching peak perfection with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, caused endless grief to practitioners and commentators.

Accepted now as a product of skill, even genius, it was a perceived illegality of tampering made good.  As Simon Rae would note ruefully in his excellent It’s Not Cricket on describing another exponent of reverse swing – the majestic Imran Khan – the former Pakistan captain had a certain “dedication to bringing the ball’s condition into harmony with his own ambitions for its movement in the air”.

Such tussles have taken place alongside the confected illusion that cricket is the Olympian summit of gentlemanly interaction and fair competition.  The Preamble to the Laws – Spirit of Cricket reads like a sacred document chiselled on pristine marble. “Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket.”  Heed, it would seem, that incorporeal creature, the hovering spirit.

Stress is also placed on the captain, who assumes “major responsibility for ensuring fair play”, though it “extends to all players, umpires and especially in junior cricket, teachers, coaches and parents.”

The field of battle has, however, yielded its fair share of contraventions suggesting that cricket’s spirit was already well and truly disappointed before the antics of Smith’s men.  To tamper, in short has proven an irresistible temptation, whether biting the seam (Pakistan’s theatrically foolish Shahid Afridi in 2010) or energetic zip rubbing (South Africa’s conscience clear Faf du Plessis in 2013).

Even demigods have been accused.  India’s sanctified Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, received an initial one match suspension from match referee Mike Denness after alleged ball tampering in the second test match of India’s 2001 tour of South Africa.  (He was subsequently cleared of the charge.)

A supposedly squeaky clean Michael Atherton was less fortunate, receiving a £2,000 fine for rubbing dirt from his pocket onto the ball in the 1994 Lord’s test against South Africa.  The dirt itself had been extracted from the pitch.

In 2006, a Test match between Pakistan and England was forfeited after claims by umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove that ball tampering had taken place.  Bitterly protracted, Hair’s judgment and the international governance of cricket, was brought into furious question by the Pakistani team.

Nor can all this be said to be a particularly modern phenomenon.  The difference has been catching the sly culprit.  Australia’s elusive and daring Keith Miller admitted to lifting the seam on occasion. “If you can do this without being spotted by the umpire and if you can get the ball to pitch on the seam,” he confessed in Cricket Crossfire, “it will fairly fizz through.”  That, in an age of less televisual scrutiny.

Talk about equity and fair play rapidly becomes comic, especially when it stems from former players, such as Warne, who gave pitch reports to an Indian bookmaker and took diuretics at the height of his career.  The noble game has always boasted its ignoble rogues and its heavy disgraces.

The response to the incident has also been viewed with some dismay, not least of all regarding the insistence from the Australian captain to stay put.  Smith may well feel that a call to the principal’s office is in order, but he still holds the view that he is the best man for the captaincy.  This view may well be challenged given his decision to saddle the young, potentially doomed Bancroft with the onerous task of executing the deed.

Australian cricket’s self-advertised purity, however misplaced, has been overtly corrupted. Its “claim to playing hard but fair,” wrote a resigned Geoff Lemon, “has evaporated for years to come.”  Even John Cleese, with acid accuracy, felt some remark on the affair was in order.  Smith “in admitting ‘ball-tampering’, explained that the team leaders thought it was a way of ‘gaining an advantage’.  Another way of ‘gaining an advantage’ is to cheat.”

Kevin Love: Making a Hole in Denial

For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways….No one is free of the fear of death.
— Gregory Zilboorg, psychanalyst, as quoted in The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker

An anxiety is a lack that causes pain; a game is a lack that causes pleasure.
— John Fowles, writer, The Aristos

What we play is life.
— Louis Amstrong

In his moving essay revealing his existential anxiety and panic attack, NBA star Kevin Love has touched a nerve that underlies not just sports and male experience, but life itself.  He is right to say, “This is an everyone thing.”  In doing so, he has performed a public service far beyond getting men and boys to open up about their fears and feelings.  He has, as befits his surname, opened many people to a consideration of the marriage of love and death, and why all efforts to divorce them result in the diminishment of life’s passion and intensity.

Commenting on the unavoidable but often denied link between love and death, the important American psychologist Rollo May said this in Love and Will:

To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive – to grief, sorrow and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.

So it is fitting that in telling us of his conversations with a therapist, the one personal experience Kevin tells us about is the death of his Grandma Carol, who meant so much to him and was like another parent when he was growing up.  Busy with his basketball career, he didn’t see her when she was dying.  “I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years,” he writes.  Deeply pained at losing her and guilty about his behavior, he shared this with no one, bottling it up as he had learned since boyhood (Be strong, be a man), and like the athlete that he is, perhaps thought that if he did not dwell on this loss, the next game would be a win and he could somehow move on.  But this never works for long, as Love learned when panic burst into his consciousness and took him down during a game last November.  “It came out of nowhere,” he says, having learned, however, that nowhere is somewhere, even when a surprise.

Substitute sportswriter for athlete, as Richard Ford does in his dazzling novel, The Sportswriter, whose main character Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter haunted by the death of his young son from Reye’s syndrome but trying to lose himself in the ordinariness of sports-writing, says, “Since after all, it is one thing to write sports, but another thing entirely to live a life,” and we have Love’s cautionary tale.

For sports (shopping for women) is the perfect metaphor for the modern American male’s flight from authenticity.  As the etymology of the word sport attests (from old French, desporter to divert, literally “to carry away”), sports are a diversion from something.  Let’s call it “real life,” the place from where, as Ernest Hemingway so aptly put it in the title to his short story, “The Winner Takes Nothing.”  Trophies are handed out at post-season dinners, but as the American philosopher William James said, “The skull will grin in at the banquet.”

Although sports can inspire one to think deeply, for most people, athletes and spectators alike, sports are a diversion from existential matters involving relationships, fears, deep feelings, life’s meaning, love and loss, death, etc.  While surely fun, entertaining, and lucrative for professionals, sports are also absurd since they involve movements through time and space toward unnecessary and fictitious goals where someone wins (lives) and someone losses (dies) in a game of unreality.   In sports we play to overcome artificial and superfluous obstacles for fun and money – and for deeper reasons we may not realize.

Take golf, for example (my apologies to golfers).  Why does anyone care who can hit a little white ball with a stick in the fewest strokes down stretches of green grass into a hole in the ground?  Many do.  They spend enormous amounts of time and money trekking after those little white balls.  They care primarily because it’s fun, and fun is good.  Such fun is utterly meaningless in the larger scheme of things, but many find it relaxing from the “stress” of everyday life – a relaxing distraction.  And, of course, distractions can be good in moderation.  It is not sports that are the problem, but the obsession with them.

I knew a woman who felt her husband was overly obsessed with sports, and although she was wrong, she used to say to him, “With you it’s balls, balls, balls.”  To which he would respond, also erroneously, “And with you it’s malls, malls, malls.” But their humorous exchange catches a widespread truth about men and women in American society where there are plenty of obsessively distracted people of both sexes.

Sports only matter because they don’t.  And it is in that gap between mattering and not where panic, anxiety, and depression can appear “out of nowhere.”  Another athlete, the Nobel Prize winning French author Albert Camus, a soccer goalie in his youth and a lifelong fan, phrased this experience differently when he said, “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”

Athletes ride intense emotional roller coasters.  You win, you lose, you’re up, you’re down – like “real life,” just faster and with a much quicker turn-around time.  While Kevin is right to say that “everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” athletes live at a different pace and intensity, and the resulting highs bring deep lows as well.  One day you’re dead; the next day you are resurrected, as long as there is another game or season.  Some days you are in purgatory and wonder if all the aches and pains you endure are worth the cost.

This is true for the spectators also, absent the physical pains. Many fans are fanatics for a reason. The intensity of sports, its unpredictability, its “never over till its over” drama makes it the perfect distraction from more important matters.  It has an extraordinary power to energize and deflate, but all in a land of make-believe that often blinds its devotees from trying to understand “something that we can’t see” in their own lives.

But a fan’s life can last until actual death, while an athlete has a limited amount of time to perform. One day when your playing days are over your confrontation with “reality” happens, either consciously or out of the blue.  For many former athletes, men particularly, because women have come late to the games, the rest of their lives are lived in a desperate reliving of the past among “the fraternity of missing men,” as Don DeLillo says in his incredible novel, Underworld.  It is a place where “desperation” speaks.

A few years ago there was a short Grantland documentary, “The Finish Line,” about Steve Nash.  An uncanny player, Nash was battling injuries and age, and the documentary shows him pondering whether or not to retire or continue his rehabilitation and attempt a comeback.  In the opening scene Nash goes out with his dog into the shadowy pre-dawn where he muses on his dilemma.  His words are hypnotic.  “I feel,” he said, “that there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that – I don’t know – I feel that it’s blocking me  or I can see it out of the corner of my mind’s eye, or it’s like this dark presence…. is it the truth that I’m done?”

Hobbled by a nerve injury that severely limited his movement, he played a few more games and retired within a year.  He had brought an infectious joy to his playing, but he left without fulfilling his dream of winning an NBA championship.  Of his retirement he said, “It’s bittersweet.  I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else.”  Unlike many athletes, Nash was moving on; his “dark presence” wasn’t a final death but a step on the road to a hard rebirth.  It was a Dylanesque restless farewell: “And though the line is cut/It ain’t quite the end/I‘ll just bid farewell till we meet again.”

I think it safe to say that behind every panic attack, at the deepest level, lies what William James called “the worm at the core,” by which he meant death, the fear of it, the anxiety it engenders that rumbles beneath the placid surface of everyday life and breaks the surface here and there when least expected.  Sometimes it happens during “little deaths,” what the French call La petite mort in reference to the sensation of sexual orgasm, but which happen throughout life in so many guises such as losing a game, missing a shot, or failing an exam.  It can happen anywhere and any time, even in moments of great success, such as hoisting a trophy above one’s head after being named the Most Valuable Player.

A few years ago my friends and I were playing in basketball tournaments for men over fifty and we qualified for the Senior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh.  We acquired a sponsor, a local funeral home that made warm-up jerseys for us.  Being used to dealing with bodies at rest, these comedians knew we were a bunch of aging hoopsters intent on keeping our bodies in motion for as long as we could.  So they had shirts made with that up-beat and adolescent cliché printed on the front, “Basketball is Life.”  Lest we forgot, and being in the trade of taking bodies at rest to the underworld, on the back they had printed “Leave the Rest to Us: Flynn and Dagnoli Funeral Home.”

Kevin Love’s essay, “Everybody Is Going Through Something” is like that shirt.  He reminds us that at the back of everyone’s face there are matters that deserve scrutiny even when we can’t see back there.

He deserves a Most Valuable Person award for making a hole in a denial that is an “everyone thing.”

Toronto Maple Leafs go Full Military

Hey, Maple Leafs, be careful what traditions you honour.

On Saturday the Leafs are playing an outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. To mark the occasion the team created a jersey with the Royal Canadian Navy’s “Ready, Aye, Ready” motto on it. The website unveiling the sweaters includes a brief history of the RCN, and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan said the jerseys were designed to honour “the traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy” whose sailors “stand always ready to defend Canada and proudly safeguard its interests and values whether at home or abroad.”

Sounds all maple syrupy, but there are a couple of nagging questions: Whose “interests and values” are we talking about? Should we honour all their traditions?

For example, in 1917 the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay, saying the Canadian bank knew Tinoco was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” reports Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney in Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, “Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”

In 1932 RCN destroyers Skeena and Vancouver assisted a month-old military coup government that brutally suppressed a peasant and indigenous rebellion in El Salvador. London had informed Ottawa that a “communist” uprising was underway and there was a “possibility of danger to British Banks, railways and other British lives and property” as well as a Canadian-owned utility. Bolstered by the RCN’s presence, the military regime would commit “one of the worst massacres of civilians in the history of the Americas.”

In 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined US, British and French warships, reports Maloney, that “conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti’s] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government.” That mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Haiti did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later thousands of US troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the US invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.”

After dispatching three vessels during the First Iraq war in 1991 Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes on Iraq. In the months just before and after the second US-led invasion of Iraq at least ten Canadian naval vessels conducted maritime interdictions, force-support and force-projection operations in the Arabian Sea. Canadian frigates often accompanied US warships used as platforms for bombing raids in Iraq. A month before the commencement of the US invasion, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq.

In 2011 HMCS Charlottetown and Vancouver were dispatched to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. But, they allowed weapons, including from Canadian companies, to flow to anti-Gaddafi rebels. They also helped destroy Libyan government naval vessels.

Last summer HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg participated in “freedom of navigation” operations alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels responded by “shadowing” the Canadian vessels for 36 hours.

The honest truth is that the RCN is employed mostly to advance corporate and Western geostrategic interests, something many of us would prefer not to honour.

Racing Against the Best with a Car Made From Recycled Bits

Once again Palestinian students from the hell of the Holy Land face impossible odds as they take on top Western universities at the Silverstone race circuit.

*****

Young Palestinian journalist Joumana Imad, writing in Al-Monitor, reports that engineering students from An-Najah National University in Nablus (the West Bank) will be competing against 100 other teams from around the world in the 2018 Formula Student race car competition at the UK’s Silverstone circuit, the home of Formula One.

What makes the contest so interesting is that the An-Najah car is made from recycled components due to scarcity and high cost of new parts and materials in the Palestinian territories under Israeli military occupation. Everything has had to be locally sourced, nothing imported.

An-Najah FS Car Team

The Formula Student Competition is organized annually by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in collaboration with some of the world’s major automotive industry players. Graduates from all over the world compete in design, manufacturing and mechanics. A member of the An-Najah team told Al-Monitor:

I am so proud that we were able to build this car from scratch with our own effort and money, without any help. We have so much talent and ability that can be tapped to finish projects and manufacture cars but we need financial and moral support to materialize our ideas.

The manufacturing cost was about $5,000, which we paid for ourselves. This is a small amount to make a high-standard car that has qualified to participate in an international competition. But we did it. We are eager to represent Palestine abroad.

“Inspirational” race car heroes from Gaza went unrecognised. That must not happen again.

The event, now in  its 20th year, aims to inspire young people and boost skills in advanced engineering. It also teaches management, marketing and people skills. The motorsport industry regards Formula Student as an ideal standard of achievement for making the transition from college to workplace. The An-Najah team follow in the footsteps of students from Gaza who in 2011 took part in the same competition, bravely pitting their race-car design against the sophisticated machines of Western technical universities despite being obstructed by Israel from importing the necessary components.  They built their car with bits and pieces salvaged from local scrapyards.

The motorsport authorities were so impressed by the Gaza students’ effort that the Director of Engineering at IMechE, which runs the competition, said:

It really is inspirational to see a team working so hard with the odds stacked against them like this. Formula Student is a massive challenge in its own right, but to be working with almost entirely recycled parts in one of the most deprived areas in the world is remarkable. These students epitomise the spirit and inventiveness of those who take part in Formula Student.

It’s a pity Palestinian officialdom didn’t think so too. This amazing achievement went largely unreported even by the Palestinian authorities. When I found out about it many months later I wrote a retrospective piece which included this passage…

Sadly, I’m posting this article without any contributions from the main players – the General Union of Palestinian Students UK who (presumably) hosted the Gaza team while in Britain, the Palestinian Embassy in London, and the team itself. The reason? After several requests the union said it was “too busy” to give me the team’s contact details. The embassy has not, as far as I know, issued any press releases or briefings, although it did reproduce a Daily Telegraph report on its website. I have written twice asking the ambassador’s office for information and contact details only to be ignored. After combing the internet I found a general email address for KYTC (Khan Younis Technical College). Two emails have been sent but not acknowledged.

The story is scraped together from other sources. Had I known about it last summer, I’d have been at Silverstone cheering them on.

The problem, as always, is that the people who ‘run’ Palestine — whether Hamas, the Palestinian Authority or the PLO — are pathetic at managing media relations and downright lazy about seizing media opportunities. It was UNWRA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) who eventually provided me with basic information.

Now Palestinian youth is making a second technology bid for recognition in the outside world. So here’s a prod in the backside to the uncommunicative PA and PLO. Don’t let those youngsters down again. Reach out with news and briefings to those who are likely to use it, including us justice seekers in the alternative media. Act as if you really want independence.

Grit and determination to meet a very tough challenge

This year’s Formula Student event takes place on 11-15 July with four days of competition at Silverstone, where the teams will showcase their custom-built race cars and compete in static and dynamic tests.

Construction and use of the car itself has to conform to more than 100 pages of stringent rules and regulations. A four-stroke piston engine no larger than 710cc is used, and this is enough to catapult the car from 0 to 60mph in just a few seconds. But nowadays conventional IC engines go wheel to wheel with electric or hybrid powered vehicles. The cars are judged in a series of tests that include technical scrutiny and an examination of cost and sustainability, presentation, and engineering design. They are also put through performance and endurance tests on the track.

The year the Gaza team went to Silverstone the University of Stuttgart won. Stuttgart, as readers will know, is home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, so it’s no surprise that the University is renowned for its advanced automotive engineering. The Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, however, has no such iconic, cutting-edge benefactors on its doorstep. Nor does Najah.

After finalising the plans for their car and identifying the parts they needed the Gaza students contacted various suppliers around the world, only to be turned down time and again. Eventually a firm in Italy agreed to help, but when the parts were sent the Israelis refused to let them into Gaza, slamming the door as usual on any opportunity for the prisoners of Gaza to shine. Consequently they missed the deadline for their design and specification report and were docked a huge number penalty points.

So the team had to improvise by salvaging parts from old cars and machinery. The engine came from a used Honda motorcycle and the chassis was fabricated with domestic hot water pipes. This and the lack of sophisticated tools was hardly a recipe for ultimate success. Nevertheless their efforts earned considerable praise.

Anticipating that the enterprising lads from Gaza would be back in 2013, I spoke to the Lola factory which had been building race cars for 50 years, including Formula One, Formula 2, Formula 5000 and Le Mans machines. They responded with enthusiasm saying: “We will do whatever it takes to get this group a great experience here. We will do a tour for them and it will be a very educational and fun tour.” What’s more they were happy to receive staff members of KYTC even if the students couldn’t make it.

Imagine the shock to the entire motor-racing world when Lola later went into administration. But let us hope there are other firms at the leading edge who are prepared to give bright and “inspirational” lads from the hell of occupied Palestine some eye-popping insights into automotive engineering excellence… and help bring them in from the cold.

Will Palestinian ‘brass’ and media do better this time?

Just to remind readers, the tiny coastal enclave of the Gaza Strip has been cruelly and illegally blockaded by Israel, with Western collusion, ever since Hamas won the 2006 elections and enforced their right to govern. The great democracy-preaching powers had no hesitation in strangling Palestinian democracy as soon as the ‘wrong’ side was elected. And they continue  to use criminal methods like collective punishment to make life hell.

KYTC (Khan Younis Technical College) was set up by UNRWA in 2007 to provide training for Palestinian refugees and inject skilled labour into the impoverished local economy. One of its courses is Autotronics, which includes diagnosis, maintenance and repair of automotive systems, injection and ignition systems, and electronics and electrical systems. In 2009 KYTC’s first Autotronics class, frustrated at the lack of workshop materials for hands-on automotive experience, set about building a race car from recycled parts. The following year the students went one step further and built a car conforming to exacting Formula Student standards, and 11 students eventually travelled to the UK to test their prized creation.

Who were those remarkable young people? According to UNRWA many come from the sort of background the United Nations calls “abject poverty”, which means families who don’t have the financial resources to provide even the most basic necessities of life. And which means their achievement is all the more admirable.

Any new attempt on the FS Formula prize will require a totally new car. Sadly KYTC seem unable to overcome the many obstacles imposed by Israel’s blockade and take another crack at it. Their prospects won’t have been helped by Trump’s spiteful funding cuts which are having a devastating impact on UNWRA’s schools and colleges.

Hopefully the An-Najah team will keep the Palestinian flag flying with pride at Silverstone. A photo of their car hasn’t yet been released. The team has a problem finding funds and the difficult-to-obtain materials to manufacture the body shell, so the car remains in ‘bare bones’ form at present, hardly a thing of great beauty. It is sometimes forgotten that the West Bank too is under siege and lockdown, with nothing and nobody allowed in or out without Israel’s approval. So West Bank students also work under crushing handicap.

The project supervisor at An-Najah University, Dr Mahmoud Assad, tells me the race car idea was dreamed up by him and one of his students while they both worked in Manchester UK. This time, hopefully, the youngsters will get the support they deserve from the Palestinian authorities, institutions and media.

Neutral Athletes: Russia, Drugs and the Olympics

Being a moralist in the Olympics doesn’t carry you very far. Turn one way, and there are enterprising drug cheats; turn another, there are wads of cash in envelopes finding their inexorable way to an official’s accounts. The challenge of the Olympics is, in a fundamental way, a challenge of institutional decay, ruination and sport as profit.

Having the International Olympic Committee banish a state from a competition that is itself compromised is a truly tall order.  It reeks, by its nature, of falsely applied judgment.  In the case of the Russia ban for the Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, the pot has assumed judgment over the kettle.

The decision assumes that a particular state has gone defiantly rogue to an extraordinary degree while presuming a state of near decent purity on the part of the entire family of Olympic nations.  According to Samuel Schmid, chair of the commission report submitted to the IOC charging Russia with an extensive doping program, “We have never seen any such manipulation and cheating and this has caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports.”

The statement resembles a holed raft awaiting its inevitable sinking.  As always with such observations, history is risibly ignored in favour of the inglorious present.  Doping, after all, was the preserve of state sponsored, and engineered perfection, for decades during the Cold War.  The body beautiful became the patriotic instrument, suitably tanked and packed by doping.  That’s Olympism for you.

In the current era, the field of performance enhancement supplements and medications is notoriously shifting.  What is to be banned or not as assisting the athlete’s performance leaves the administrators baffled.  Technically, anything medical, anything soothing, and anything to salve the stretched body, could constitute assistance.  Little wonder, then, that the World Anti-Doping Agency has had its work cut out for it, having itself been accused of unevenness.

This notion of the eviscerated state, and institutional morality, supplies us with the option of where the idea of athlete neutrality might be taken.  IOC President Thomas Bach expressed his regret at the decision’s impact on athletes who had complied with the rules.  “As an athlete myself, I am feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes from all (National Olympic Committees) who are suffering from this manipulation.”

To that end, the IOC has permitted Russia to compete as neutral athletes called “Olympic Athletes from Russia”, to be determined by a panel headed by the chair of the Independent Testing Authority, Valerie Fourneyron.  (Russia has been scoldingly told that they supply $15 million to that authority.)

While this will be understandably sneered at in Russian circles, the precedent might well offer a blessing in rather well kept disguise. Why not consider taking the symbolic flag out of Olympic sports altogether, along with any patriotic vestiges?  A little tinkering with this concept and a different variant of Olympism might be forged.  Taken in its unadulterated way, the state can be removed from the equation, or at the very least minimised in its influence.  Keep the pursuit of the Olympics, but abolish the nonsensical notion of competing under what would amount to entrenched national sponsorship.

The flag of a country, after all, forcefully implies a commitment of allegiance and show pony status, the sponsored performer, the hired hand appointed to do approved tricks. To march with and under the expansive flag – a specific national flag, that is – into a stadium or an arena of competition suggests an instrumental purpose for the competitor.  You are not so much advancing yourself as your country’s credentials.

Bearing that symbol suggests benefits, state worship and loyalty. It also advises athletes to be slavish, leaving aside individual autonomy in favour of state policies.  The policies might be extreme – the Soviet-DDR model certain affords one example, but others are not that much better.  The Australian system is only better in so far as it claims to avoid prohibited doping while still keeping the psychological apparatus in play.  This is specifically true for swimmers, who tend to resemble psychological wrecks after an Olympic performance.

Given the stresses athletes already face, the neutrality status may have something going for it.  Throw out the oppressive national and nationalist nonsense. Focus on the healthy competition for its sake, sinews, sweat and skill, not the people or entities sponsoring or forcing it.  Focus on the sheer gravitas, the imposing physicality of human performance, rather than the manipulative politics and crude finance.  This would have an added incentive: taking another layer of the corrupt mechanics and the ceremonial circus lies behind modern Olympism.

Shifting the focus to individual athletes as performers removes the demanding middle man, the all-seeing parent ever in threat of disapproval.  Admittedly, that middle man tends to have the resources to back the athlete, generous yet compromising largesse.  Removing such entities banishes a particular form of global middle management.  To dare this is to dream for a new form of athletic governance.  Farewell pigs in clover and welcome the genuine punters.

Unfortunately, the nationalist sentiment beats strongly, fighting any notion of neutrality.  The treatment of Russia is popular in various fraternities, notably those who see their own states as noble backers rather than compromised masters.  The aesthetic might be important, but it never trumps the chest thumping, the patriotic coaches, and the number crunchers back in the home state seeking medals.

Be Aware of the Dark Side of Sports Media

The sports pages of major newspapers, such as the Washington Post,are thriving while other sections of newspapers such as business sections or book review pages struggle to survive.

That doesn’t mean that the sports pages allow the fans, the consumers, the taxpayers and many of the players have their say. Over the years, the sports sections have been neglecting the dark sides of organized sports as a deliberate practice, not as an oversight.

Ken Reed, author of several books, weekly columns, and the Sports Policy Director for our League of Fans, is arguably the leading contemporary essayist of sports at its best and at its worst. Ever hear of him? Probably not. His truth telling rarely makes it onto radio, television and the sports pages or into the sports publications such as Sporting News, because he writes about the greed, the covered-up dangers, the exploitation of youngsters by greedy owners and coaches, and way in which sportsmanship is most often pushed to the sidelines—all issues that the sports industry works tirelessly to suppress and squelch.

Probably no segment of journalism makes censorship so central a part of its craft, and yet receives so little criticism for its failings; no segment of journalism so arrogantly continues to exclude vast regions of crucial reporting from its pages. In his new book, EGO vs. Soul in Sports: Essays on Sport at Its Best and Worst, Reed systematically tackles the most neglected and underreported territories of the athletic world.

And he knows what he’s talking about. He holds a doctorate in sport administration with an emphasis in sport policy. He has taught sports, played sports, worked in sports marketing, and he has a regular blog for the Huffington Post. But mostly, he can’t crack the sports media because he is onto too many serious topics affecting sports—from middle school to the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL—that the giant profiteering sports business doesn’t want to reach you, so as to preserve sports fantasies.

Reed summarizes the driving ethics of organized sports as “win-at-all-costs” (WAAC) and “profit-at-all-costs” (PAAC). Reed writes about the hidden injury epidemics (early onto concussions and how to detect and minimize them); about sports participation for all (not just spectator sports); on the serious decline in physical education in elementary and high schools and how it is connected to the rise of obesity; on the harm of encouraging specialization at age 10 in sports; on athletes’ right to protest; on women athletes still being short changed under title IX; on Division One of the NCAA with its corruption, cheating and exploitation of student athletes; on the need for creating a National Sports Commission, as other western countries have done; on taxpayer and consumer rip-offs in the subsidized construction and operation of stadiums, arenas and ballparks; on the need for oversight that can lead to the benching of tyrannical coaches; on how television and aggressive advertising are not good for sports; on deliberate, brutal fighting in NHL games; on over-commercialization, and why its time “the fans ran the show”—to name a few of these engrossing essays in Reed’s book, EGO vs. Soul in Sports.

Year after year, Reed works relentlessly to sound the alarms and urge our society to get the best out of sports. He gives many examples of efforts that are sidelined by sports media reporters in favor of gratuitous slime and reporting on petty behaviors that they revel in sensationalizing—often without denouncing the roots of the behavior itself. Why should they be critics? Get fewer favors and freebies? Get fewer doors opened to the thrilling inner sanctums of the sports owners and high-dollar players?

Most sports pages have either no letters to the editor sections or they devote very little space to letters to the editor. Why should they allow letters that might expose their incompetence, their sacred cow managers and players, their refusing to give the fans—the source of all their profits—consistent voices, beyond some selected ones calling into sports talk-radio shows with rapid-fire comments on that day’s teams, tactics and strategies. ESPN Radio, for example, needs to think about these exclusions.

Earlier this year I sent a letter to the former General Manager of the New York Yankees, and current Chief Baseball Officer for MLB, Joe Torre, detailing the incessant in-game advertisements (“this is a x company call to the bullpen,” “that’s a x company double play,” etc., breaking the spirit of the action). The letter was also sent to sports reporters and columnists, some of whom I notified in advance. Not a word came in response. Not a reply came from anyone to this longtime Yankees fan since the time of Joe Dimaggio.

People I know, who are inveterate fans, often get brushed aside with no responses to their well thought-out emails, and they are screened out when trying to make calls to talk-radio hosts.

Some impartial observers of contemporary sports trends believe that self-destruction lies ahead for most high school football (concussions, etc.), for unpaid big-time college athletes, and for pushing the commercialistic envelope too far (staggering ticket prices and other extortions) in big time sports.

We’ll see how much spectator fans will take before they demand that the tax dollars and priorities go toward neighborhood recreational athletic facilities so that sport becomes a pleasurable way of life for tens of millions of presently sedentary adults and youngsters.

Mass Shootings: The Military-Entertainment Complex’s Culture of Violence Turns Deadly

Mass shootings have become routine in the United States and speak to a society that relies on violence to feed the coffers of the merchants of death. Given the profits made by arms manufacturers, the defense industry, gun dealers and the lobbyists who represent them in Congress, it comes as no surprise that the culture of violence cannot be abstracted from either the culture of business or the corruption of politics. Violence runs through US society like an electric current offering instant pleasure from all cultural sources, whether it be the nightly news or a television series that glorifies serial killers.

— Professor Henry A. Giroux

This latest mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 people dead and more than 500 injured is as obscure as they come: a 64-year-old retiree with no apparent criminal history, no military training, and no obvious axe to grind opens fire on a country music concert crowd from a hotel room 32 floors up using a semi-automatic gun that may have been rigged to fire up to 700 rounds a minute, then kills himself.

We’re left with more questions than answers, none of them a flattering reflection of the nation’s values, political priorities, or the manner in which the military-industrial complex continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

For starters, why do these mass shootings keep happening? Mass shootings have taken place at churches, in nightclubs, on college campuses, on military bases, in elementary schools, in government offices, and at concerts. This shooting is the deadliest to date.

What is it about America that makes violence our nation’s calling card?

Is it because America is a gun culture (what professor Henry Giroux describes as “a culture soaked in blood – a culture that threatens everyone and extends from accidental deaths, suicides and domestic violence to mass shootings“)?

Is it because guns are so readily available? After all, the U.S. is home to more firearms than adults. As The Atlantic reports, gun fetishism has become mainstream in recent decades due in large part to “gun porn in music, movies, and TV, [and] the combination of weapons marketing and violent videogames.” (Curiously enough, the majority of gun-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides, not homicides.)

Is it because entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office? As Giroux points out, “Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.”

Is it because the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what professor Roger Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire?

Is it because Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first person shooter video game produced by the military)? Explorer scouts are one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI).

Writing for The Atlantic, a former Explorer scout described the highlight of the program: monthly weekend maneuvers with the National Guard where scouts “got to fire live rounds from M16s, M60 machine guns, and M203 grenade launchers… we would have urban firefights (shooting blanks, of course) in Combat Town, a warren of concrete buildings designed for just that purpose. The exercise always devolved into a free-for-all, with all of us weekend warriors emptying clip after clip of blanks until we couldn’t see past the end of our rifles for all the smoke in the air.”

Is it because the United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world? Seriously, America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military—a standing army.

Or is the Second Amendment to blame, as many continue to suggest? Would there be fewer mass shootings if tighter gun control laws were enacted? Or would the violence simply take a different form: homemade bombs, cars driven into crowds, and knives (remember the knife assailant in Japan who stabbed 19 people to death at a care home for the disabled)?

Then again, could it be, as some have speculated, that these shootings are all part of an elaborate plan to incite fear and chaos, heighten national tensions and shift us that much closer to a complete lockdown? After all, the military and our militarized police forces have been predicting and preparing for exactly this kind of scenario for years now.

So who’s to blame for the violence?

This time, in Las Vegas, it was a seemingly nondescript American citizen pulling the trigger.

At other times, it’s organized crime syndicates or petty criminals or so-called terrorists/extremists.

Still other times, it’s the police with their shoot first, ask questions later mindset (more than 900,000 law enforcement officers are armed).

In certain parts of the Middle East, it’s the U.S. government and the military carrying out drone strikes and bombing campaigns that leave innocent civilians dead and their communities torn apart.

Are you starting to get the picture yet?

We’re caught in a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

Perhaps there’s no single one factor to blame for this gun violence. However, there is a common denominator, and that is a war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex that has invaded almost every aspect of our lives.

Ask yourself: Who are these shooters modelling themselves after? Where are they finding the inspiration for their weaponry and tactics? Whose stance and techniques are they mirroring?

In almost every instance, you can connect the dots back to the military.

We are a military culture.

We have been a nation at war for most of our existence.

We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

In order to sustain the nation’s appetite for war over the long haul in spite of the costs of war in lives lost and dollars spent—and little else to show for it—the military has had to work overtime to churn out pro-war, pro-military propaganda. It’s exactly what President Eisenhower warned against (“the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”) in his 1961 farewell address.

We didn’t listen then and we’re still not listening now.

All the while, the government’s war propaganda machine has grown more sophisticated and entrenched in American culture.

Back when I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, almost every classic sci-fi movie ended with the heroic American military saving the day, whether it was battle tanks in Invaders from Mars (1953) or military roadblocks in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). What I didn’t know then as a schoolboy was the extent to which the Pentagon was paying to be cast as America’s savior.

By the time my own kids were growing up, it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s blockbuster film Top Guncreated with Pentagon assistance and equipment—that boosted civic pride in the military.

Now it’s my grandkids’ turn to be awed and overwhelmed by child-focused military propaganda in the X-Men movies. Same goes for The Avengers and Superman and the Transformers. (Don’t even get me started on the war propaganda churned out by the toymakers.)

All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided—at taxpayer expense—in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots aimed at indoctrinating the American populace into believing that patriotism means throwing their support behind the military wholeheartedly and unquestioningly.

Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig, with the Pentagon’s entertainment office influencing “American Idol,” “The X-Factor,” “Masterchef,” “Cupcake Wars,” numerous Oprah Winfrey shows, “Ice Road Truckers,” “Battlefield Priests,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Hawaii Five-O,” lots of BBC, History Channel and National Geographic documentaries, “War Dogs,” and “Big Kitchens.” And that’s just a sampling.

It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.

And then there are the growing number of video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios.

This is how you acclimate a population to war.

This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.

This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon, “[C]ollusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs….major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.”

Why is the Pentagon (and the CIA and the government at large) so focused on using Hollywood as a propaganda machine?

To those who profit from war, it is—as Sirota recognizes—”a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers….At a time when more and more Americans are questioning the fundamental tenets of militarism (i.e., budget-busting defense expenditures, never-ending wars/occupations, etc.), military officials are desperate to turn the public opinion tide back in a pro-militarist direction — and they know pop culture is the most effective tool to achieve that goal.”

The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly.

This is what Dr. Stahl refers to as the representation of a “clean war“: a war “without victims, without bodies, and without suffering”:

Dehumanize destruction’ by extracting all human imagery from target areas … The language used to describe the clean war is as antiseptic as the pictures. Bombings are ‘air strikes.’ A future bombsite is a ‘target of opportunity.’ Unarmed areas are ‘soft targets.’ Civilians are ‘collateral damage.’ Destruction is always ‘surgical.’ By and large, the clean war wiped the humanity of civilians from the screen … Create conditions by which war appears short, abstract, sanitized and even aesthetically beautiful. Minimize any sense of death: of soldiers or civilians.

This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.

“This obsession with weapons of war has a name: technofetishism,” explains Stahl. “Weapons appear to take on a magical aura. They become centerpieces in a cult of worship.”

“Apart from gazing at the majesty of these bombs, we were also invited to step inside these high-tech machines and take them for a spin,” said Stahl. “Or if we have the means, we can purchase one of the military vehicles on the consumer market. Not only are we invited to fantasize about being in the driver’s seat, we are routinely invited to peer through the crosshairs too. These repeated modes of imaging war cultivate new modes of perception, new relationships to the tools of state violence. In other words, we become accustomed to ‘seeing’ through the machines of war.”

In order to sell war, you have to feed the public’s appetite for entertainment.

Not satisfied with peddling its war propaganda through Hollywood, reality TV shows and embedded journalists whose reports came across as glorified promotional ads for the military, the Pentagon turned to sports to further advance its agenda, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”

The military has been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles ever since, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR.

Remember, just before this Vegas shooting gave the media, the politicians and the easily distracted public something new to obsess over, the headlines were dominated by President Trump’s feud with the NFL over players kneeling during the national anthem.

That, too, was yet another example of how much the military entertainment complex—which paid $53 million of taxpayer money between 2012 and 2015 to pro sports teams for military tributes (on-field events recognizing military service members, including ceremonial first pitches, honor guards and Jumbotron tributes)—has infiltrated American culture.

This Trump-NFL feud is also a classic example of how to squash dissent—whether it’s dissent over police brutality or America’s killing fields abroad. As Stahl explains, “Supporting the troops is made synonymous with supporting the war. Those who disagree with the decision to send soldiers to war are thus identified with the enemy. This is done through a variety of associations… Dissent becomes synonymous with criminal activity.”

When you talk about the Las Vegas mass shooting, you’re not dealing with a single shooter scenario. Rather, you’re dealing with a sophisticated, far-reaching war machine that has woven itself into the very fabric of this nation.

As Stahl concludes, “War has come to look very much like a video game. As viewers of the TV war, we are treated to endless flyovers. We are immersed in a general spirit of play. We are shown countless computer animations that contribute a sense of virtuality. We play alongside news anchors who watch on their monitors. We sit in front of the crosshairs directing missiles with a sense of interactivity. The destruction, if shown at all, seems unreal, distant. These repeated images foster habitual fantasies of crossing over.”

You want to stop the gun violence?

Stop the worship of violence that permeates our culture.

Stop glorifying the military industrial complex with flyovers and salutes during sports spectacles.

Stop acting as if there is anything patriotic about military exercises and occupations that bomb hospitals and schools.

Stop treating guns and war as entertainment fodder in movies, music, video games, toys, amusement parks, reality TV and more.

Stop distribution weapons of war to the local police and turning them into extensions of the military—weapons that have no business being anywhere but on a battlefield.

Most of all, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, stop falling for the military industrial complex’s psychological war games.

The Super Patriotic Draft Dodger’s Rag: “Fire the Son-of-a-Bitch”

So I wish you well, Sarge, give ’em Hell!
Kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
I’ll be the first to go

— Phil Ochs, The Draft Dodger’s Rag

Guess that makes me a proud bitch.

— Teresa Kaepernick, Colin Kaepernick’s mother’s in response to Trump’s comment about her son

In the true spirit of patriotic opposition, Colin Kaepernick took a courageous knee when he protested the current and historical treatment of black Americans and people of color during the playing of the National Anthem.  For his patriotism, the NFL has made sure he remains unemployed, and now, when our reality-television president urges NFL teams to fire any “son-of-a-bitch” who dares follow Kaepernick’s example, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell releases a sanctimonious statement calling Trump’s demented words “divisive comments,” revealing an “unfortunate lack of respect” for NFL players.  NFL owners and others chimed in with the word of the day – “divisive.”  Exactly who is being divided from whom is left to speculation?

The hypocrisies of this lurid spectacle continue to mount daily.

Kaepernick knelt on principle during the Obama presidency. His was a lonely act.  Now that the buffoonish Trump tweets and speaks his grotesqueries, it has become easy to emerge from the woodwork and join the crowd in supporting the man who made his solitary witness.  Cheap grace, the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed the desire for “salvation” without paying a price.  He said this before being executed by Hitler for his opposition to Nazism.

Who among those kneeling today in solidarity with Kaepernick are willing to pay a price? What’s the NFL’s price?  The Tycoons who own the teams?  Who among them agrees with a man who gave his life for black liberation, Dr. Martin Luther King, who made it emphatically clear that the fight against racism involved opposing a trinity of devils when he said:

We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.

Colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, racism – this is U.S. history, not the myths proffered by myth-makers, politicians, and schools.  The system of exploitation is old and enduring, and the point of its spear is war.  It is great that many players join in solidarity with Kaepernick. Racism must be opposed and freedom of speech exercised and defended. But it would be better indeed if more of those who rightly oppose Trump’s disgusting comments and support Kaepernick speak out about the triple devils King warned about.  The system of racial exploitation does not stand alone; never has. Nor will it fall alone.

The Star Spangled Banner is a celebration of war, meant to stir martial emotions. It also contains racist lyrics.  And football is the war sport par excellence, extremely violent, and deeply tied to the spectacle of cruelty that dominates American society today and that has caused so much suffering for black people and other people of color for centuries. In the 1960s, Brazilian television, in an effort to distinguish football (soccer) from American football, aptly termed it “military football.”  And while it, like other sports, has been an avenue to wealth and “success” for some black Americans (a tiny minority), its war-like structure and violent nature is noted with a nod and a wink.  Heck, it’s fun to play and exciting to watch, and is just a colorful spectacle that we can’t do without, despite all the concussions, pain killers, and crippling life-long injuries.  Lasting effects similar to those suffered by veterans returned from war zones.  The gridiron is a war zone.

That the NFL is a conditioning agent for the love of war and violent aggression is usually passed over.  Its language, like all good linguistic mind control, becomes powerfully invisible.

Colin Kaepernick, like all quarterbacks, is the field general who throws bombs to flankers as he tries to avoid the blitz.  Each team defends and conquers the enemy’s territory, pushing its opponent back through frontal assaults and pounding the enemy’s line.  This is mixed with deceptive formations and aerial assaults behind the opponent’s line.  When none of this works and the enemy goes on the offensive, a different platoon is brought in to defend one’s territory. One’s front line must then defend against a frontal assault and hit back hard.

The analogies are everywhere, and as with many aspects of “everywhere,” what’s everywhere is nowhere – its familiarity making it invisible and therefore all the more powerful.

In a society of the spectacle, NFL football is the most spectacular and entertaining mass hypnotic induction into the love of war and violence that we have.  Goodell says that “the NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture.”  These are swell sounding words that were essentially forced out of his mouth by Trump’s mad rantings.  Words involving a double-entendre as well: The good of being united against racism on one hand, if that is what Goodell meant; the bad of being united to promote patriotic militarism, violence, and war on the other.  Hypocritical contradictions, at best.

And where in all this is Colin Kaepernick, the forgotten man?  Has he decided to study war no more, but to study Dr. King’s true legacy and his naming of the three demons that must be confronted and exorcised if MLK’s “Beloved Community” is to be established?

Great ironies abound here.  Who among Kaepernick’s current supporters said one word when the mixed-race, neo-liberal Democrat, Barack Obama, suavely mass murdered his way around the world with seven wars, while showing his “cool” skills on the basketball court?  Coolness works. Obama was given a free ride.  More than that; he was treated like a rock star by the entertainment/sports complex.  And now that he is cashing in with speeches to Wall Street, who calls him out on that?  Obama, while always standing front stage, was all about operating back stage, very CIA-like.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” wrote Shakespeare, who was quite an expert on acting.

Trump is the obverse.  His back stage is his front stage.  He is an easy target.  He makes himself one; thinks coolness is to generate heat and draw audience attention to it.  It is an aspect of his celebrity reality-TV mindset: create buzz around your “brand,” make it hot, whether good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Titillate, provoke, tweet garbage sure to arouse passions. Agitate the audience. He is an expert at feeding the beast that is America’s entertainment circus, the spectacle of con-men and prestidigitators extraordinaire.  Flip Trump and you have Obama.  Flip Obama and you have George W. Bush.  Flip George and you have Bill Clinton.  Flip Bill and you have the tail that wags the dog – Hillary.  Or the reverse.  Rotating little people going round and round, in and out, disappearing and appearing on a cuckoo clock with terrible music and mockingbird sounds.

There’s only one coin in these United States, and it’s counterfeit.

Trump goes to the United Nations and says he is “ready, willing, and able to totally destroy North Korea” and its 25 million people.  Who will take a knee for the North Korean people threatened by the public ranting of a man willing to commit genocide?

Who took a knee for the world when Obama announced a 1 trillion dollar nuclear weapons upgrade?  When he savagely attacked Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan; sent drones worldwide in search of victims?  Did the NFL issue a statement of condemnation on the deaths of innocent children at the receiving end of American bombs?

Who is linking arms for all the innocent victims killed by Trump in eight months?  What communities are the NFL Commissioner and team owners referring to when they say the league and the players are forces for good in our communities?  Does “ours” mean a small circle of friends, outside of which the enemies lurk who should be annihilated?  Over there, over there, send the bombs, send the bombs, over there.  Far from our “communities.”  Is that the theme song?  Is that the distinction?

What about Dr. King’s “Beloved Community”?

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

Who will take a knee for a radical redistribution of economic and political power?  Who will link arms for the end to capitalist exploitation and the amassing of obscene wealth by a few at the expense of the many?  Who will refuse to support war and war-making?  Who will tell it like it is and say that the demon of racism can only be eliminated if the others are?  Liberals won’t.  Conservatives won’t. Who will?  Who will pay a price?

MLK paid the ultimate price for confronting these demons.  When U.S. government forces killed him in Memphis, he had taken a knee for all the exploited and oppressed people of the world community, the beloved community.

“America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order,” he told us. Hypocritical comes from the Greek hypokrites, a stage actor; pretender, dissembler.  There are too many actors on this stage of moral outrage – far too many hypocrites.  For years many NFL teams accepted Pentagon money to pimp for the war makers, but their pimping days started long before and continue to the present day, even if they say they no longer accept their client’s payoff. What do the owners stand for?  Capital accumulation? Exploitation?  War?  And all the liberals jumping on the moral outrage train of racism?  Obama was okay as he killed, maimed, and exploited – wasn’t that their silent mantra?  So Trump is a conservative?  What kind of true conservative would threaten foreign wars and tweet absurdities?

Welcome to the phony circus, where the man on the hire wire, the daring one, Colin Kaepernick, is home studying American history and learning about all the confidence men.

So I hope and pray.