Cancer, Politics and Capitalism

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by LOUIS PROYECT

After working for a series of unsavory financial institutions for 15 years, I accepted a position as a database administrator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in 1983 with an eager sense of anticipation. Finally I would be doing something professionally that was more in sync with my political values. Instead of using my skills to keep track of pension trust portfolios, I would be creating a data infrastructure for patient care.

For more than a year I worked on developing a data model based on “normalized” relationships that sought to eliminate redundancies and provide a reliable foundation for applications development. A few months after I presented the model to management, I learned that all my work was in vain. The hospital had decided to buy a package from SMS, inc. that was considered nonpareil when it came to debt collection. As happened too often, a loved one would check into the hospital for a couple of months of very expensive and painful treatments that came to an end with the patient’s death. Since the survivors often had a tendency to ignore the astronomical bills that went along with such an exercise in futility, the hospital decided to purchase a system that was very good at dunning if nothing else. That decision left me feeling deflated. Once again money ruled.

When I received an invitation to review “Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering”, a documentary described as “the remarkable true story of a young science-writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who risked everything by blowing the whistle on a massive cover-up involving a promising cancer therapy”, I knew that this was one I could not miss. (The film opens at Cinema Village in NYC on August 29, and at Laemmle Music Hall in LA on September 5. A national release will follow.)

Directed by Eric Merola, the film is made up primarily of Ralph W. Moss, the aforementioned young science-writer now 71, describing the events that took place when he was working at MSKCC in the mid-70s filled with the same sense of idealism I brought with me 8 years later. Like me, Moss was soon disillusioned but for another set of reasons.

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my first encounter with Moss was when I worked at MSKCC, through the intermediary of a book he wrote titled “The Cancer Industry”. As I noted in a May 2012 article about MSKCC’s purchase of the SMS software, Moss’s book was a good introduction to the slimy realities of cancer care under capitalism:

When I was working at Sloan-Kettering, I read a terrific book titled “The Cancer Industry” that along with “The Cancer Wars” is essential reading for those with a class analysis. To this day, I remember what the book said about Hubert Humphrey’s stay at Sloan-Kettering. I don’t have the book handy but these paragraphs from a 1990 review should suffice:

Among the horrors stories in The Cancer Industry is the case history of Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was operated on by a team of surgeons at Memorial Sloan-Kettering on October 6, 1976. His surgeon appeared before the press and television cameras to announce that the senator was cured by the operation, but as a preventive measure, to “wipe out any microscopic colonies of cancer cells that may be hidden in the body, treatment would begin with experimental drugs.” Moss describes the aftermath:

“Within about a year, Senator Humphrey was dead. In that short time he had withered from a vigorous middle-aged man to an old, balding and feeble cancer victim. Humphrey himself blamed chemotherapy … calling it `bottled death’ and refusing in the end to return to Memorial Hospital for drug treatment.”

Hired to work in the PR department for his writing ability and enthusiasm, Moss had an unsettling introduction. On the very week he started, he was shocked to discover that one of the hospital’s top researchers had been caught perpetrating a major fraud. After announcing to the world that he had completed an experiment that successfully transplanted skin from a black mouse to a white mouse, William Summerlin became an MSKCC super-star. Since the mice were of different species and the transplant had not been rejected, this could lead to major breakthroughs in human organ transplants. When a lab assistant discovered quite by accident that Summerlin had simply used a black magic marker to draw a patch on a white mouse’s back, the hospital looked incompetent. Lewis Thomas, the hospital’s director, explained the incident as one caused by Summerlin’s “severe emotional disturbance”. I would have called it greed.

(I should add that Lewis Thomas is not one of my favorite people. He is the author of an essay titled “The Iks” that makes the case that this hunting and gathering society living in the Ugandan wilderness were “an irreversibly disagreeable collection of unattached, brutish creatures, totally selfish and loveless.” Remembering Thomas’s essay from high school, filmmaker Cevin Soling traveled to Ikland to find out for himself whether this was true. Suffice it to say that Thomas’s essay was a bogus as Summerlin’s painted mouse.)

Around the same time, a more serious experiment was taking place at MSKCC. An octogenarian Japanese scientist named Kanematsu Sugiura, who had published 250 papers in a distinguished career, had begun treating mice with laetrile. The substance, also called amygdalin, was extracted from apricot pits. His findings: the mice that received laetrile benefited from injections. They were not cured of cancer but were able to live longer than non-treated animals. Most importantly, the tumors did not metastasize in the treated mice. Trained to be cautious, Sugiura thought the drug had palliative value. The implication, needless to say, was that further research was needed.

As word of Sugiura’s experiments filtered up to the MSKCC brass, they assigned Moss to cover them from a PR angle but just as much to snoop on the senior researcher. Not only did Moss fail to detect any irregularities, he became upset when he learned that the hospital had become convinced that Sugiura’s experiments were flawed and that research should be abandoned.

Convinced that he needed outside help to make the case for Sugiura’s experiments, Moss hooked up with Science for the People, a radical group that came out of the 1960s student movement. Working with a physician-activist named Alec Pruchnicki and without the knowledge of his superiors, Moss began publishing a newsletter called Second Opinion that was distributed outside of MSKCC just like most agitprop was in pre-Internet days. The newsletter soon became a sounding board for every kind of grievance at the hospital, including working conditions and patient treatment.

When the hospital called a press conference to disassociate itself from laetrile, Sugiura said that he stood by the hospital’s decision as well as his own findings. When asked by reporters how he could hold mutually opposed positions, he handled himself gracefully while standing his ground.

In a fascinating Science magazine article from December 23, 1977, Nicholas Wade—the NY Times reporter whose recent book on genetic inheritance most critics regard as a painted mouse—was loath to get on the anti-laetrile bandwagon despite the newspaper’s strong agreement with the top brass’s dismissal of Sugiura’s findings. Wade quotes Robert Good, the top immunologist at MSKCC: “If we had published those early positive data, it would have caused all kinds of havoc. The natural processes of science are just not possible in this kind of pressure cooker.”

In a phone conversation with Ralph Moss shortly after I viewed the film, I was struck by his unwillingness to assume the stance of a pro-laetrile activist even though he was obviously convinced that Sugiura’s experiments were valid. The film is making the case for considering alternatives to costly and often toxic medications that are making big pharma rich. He mentioned Avastin, a drug that generated $2.11 billion in sales in 2011. That, he added, was more than the GDP of many third world countries. The spirit of Science for the People continues in the work of Ralph W. Moss. See this film for a riveting account of the conflicts between corporate power and the public good.

Several weeks before I watched “Second Opinion”, I made a point of reading George Johnson’s recently published The Cancer Chronicles in order to get up to speed on current thinking about the disease. As I mentioned above, when I worked at MSKCC, I read Samuel Epstein’s “The Politics of Cancer”, a book that ties what was perceived at the time as a cancer epidemic to environmental toxins, especially pesticides. It was very much in the spirit of Barry Commoner’s “The Closing Circle” and amenable to my Marxist opposition to corporate indifference to our health and safety.

About ten years after reading “The Politics of Cancer”, I read Robert Proctor’s “The Cancer Wars” that backtracked from Epstein’s findings. Although very much a man of the left, Proctor warned his readers that finding a direct correlation between pollutants and cancer is very difficult.

With Proctor’s warnings in the back of my mind, I was not completely surprised by Johnson’s treatment of the environmental question. In chapter seven, titled “Where Cancer Really Comes From”, Johnson amasses some statistics of the sort that pro-industry hacks might repeat. For example, epidemiology studies conclude that cancer cases in the immediate vicinity of Love Canal were no greater than that in the rest of New York State even though there was a spike in birth defects.

In referring to cancer clusters, such as the supposed breast cancer epidemic in Long Island, Johnson concludes that they are “statistical illusions”. It is not so much that Johnson denies that there is a connection between cancer and the environment; it is that they are exceedingly difficult to prove.

Since I have like most people on the left become convinced that there is a connection between carcinogens in the water, soil and air and the incidence of cancer, I emailed Johnson with my concerns and referred him to a study of cancer clusters near heavily polluted rivers in China. Showing a grace uncommon to most well-established journalists, Johnson took the trouble to write back:

Thanks very much for your email. I appreciate the kind words about my book. I hadn’t seen that particular study and will make a point of reading it. Of course many industrial chemicals are carcinogenic, and it seems very possible that concentrations have been high and chronic enough in China’s water to expose the general population to levels known to cause cancer in the workplace. Nailing that down is very tricky though, especially in developing countries where epidemiological studies are just getting underway. Most of the research in China seems to concentrate on air pollution and lung cancer. Since the focus of my book was on cancer in the developed world, I may write a column in the future comparing the situation with China, India, etc.

Making the case about pollution—a negative indicator—is difficult but just as much so with positive indicators. Nutritionists are always urging us to eat fruits and vegetables, especially those with anti-oxidant properties such as blueberries and cabbage but there has never been a rigorous study of diet and cancer. This has a lot to do with the near impossibility of conducting a demographically representative study of the effects of eating “good” food and bad. Since cancer can take many decades to show up, tracking its roots and development is a near impossible task.

“The Cancer Chronicles” was motivated in part by his wife’s illness. Showing the difficulty of establishing a unilinear connection between diet and the disease, Nancy Johnson was something of a health nut given to daily exercise and a large intake of the very anti-oxidant fruits and vegetables nutritionists advise. Chapter four begins:

She always ate her vegetables. Obsessively, it sometimes seemed. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, throughout the day she would keep mental count. Never mind if it was 10:30 p.m., halfway through a Simpsons episode or a DVD. If she hadn’t consumed two or three servings of vegetables (some green, some yellow) and three or four servings of fruits, nuts, grains—whatever the food pyramidologists were recommending—she would slice up an apple or open a bag of carrots.

Confronted by the sheer anomaly of a person with such a lifestyle being susceptible to cancer, Johnson sets out on a trek that takes him to conferences and labs all around the USA when he is not accompanying his wife on her frequent chemotherapy sessions. His goal was to understand the basic biology of humanity’s oldest disease.

Indeed, it is not just ours. The dinosaurs suffered from cancer as well. In a trip to western Colorado, Johnson visits the site where six tons of Brontosaurus bones were discovered in 1901, including one that was the oldest one known to have contained a tumor. Using prose that has been polished over a long and distinguished career in science journalism, he reports on what he saw:

Viewed head-on, the fossil measured 6.5 by 9.5 inches. Lodged inside its core was an intrusion, now crystallized, that had grown so large it had encroached into the outer bone. Bunge [a museum curator] suspected osteosarcoma—he had seen the damage the cancer can do to human skeletons, particularly those of children. Oval in shape and the size of a slightly squashed softball, the tumor had been converted over the millennia into agate.

Johnson’s book is one of the finest on science that I have read in a very long time, perhaps in my life. As I told Marxmail subscribers, if I had run into such a book when I was in high school, I probably would have majored in biology at Bard College rather than religion (don’t try to get me to explain that choice.)

Johnson’s book ranges from medicine to physics, and from physics to philosophy without missing a beat. At the risk of sounding like one of those people who write the blurbs on book jackets, I would describe “The Cancer Chronicles” as a powerful examination of the biology of the human cell, including those that mutate into the most dreaded disease we face.

Between 2008 and 2012, three men died of cancer all within just about two years of each other. The first to go was Peter Camejo, who was responsible for helping me to understand what went wrong with the Socialist Workers Party. Peter, who succumbed to lymphoma, attributed his illness to pollutants he had been exposed to over a lifetime.

Next to go was Harvey Pekar, the comic book author who persuaded me to work on a memoir with him. Peter Camejo was a character in the memoir, as well as number of other colorful characters I got to know over a lifetime in politics and the bohemian underground. Like Peter, Harvey died from lymphoma or at least a system weakened by the disease.

Finally, two years later, I learned of Alexander Cockburn’s death. Alexander was a kind of bookend to Peter. When I quit the Trotskyist movement in 1979, I intended to put politics behind me and return to the bohemia of my youth. In an attempt to keep up with the NYC underground, I began reading the Village Voice. But the only writing that made any kind of impression on me was Alexander Cockburn’s weekly columns that lacerated the high and mighty. It was his writing that moved me to return to politics, the only damned thing I am good at.

The more our lives become entwined with the Internet, and social media in particular, the closer we become to people even if we never meet in person. Over the past few years, I have been at the virtual bedside of two people who I have enormous respect for. Using Facebook for both support and ventilation, Ed Douglas and Kristin Kolb have kept their friends abreast on their encounters with life-threatening illnesses. Additionally both were able to raise funds through the Internet, a necessity given the lack of adequate health care in the USA. Ed, a founding member of New York Film Critics Online—the group I have been part of for 15 years, developed an acute case of leukemia some years ago that ultimately required a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately he is in remission now and doing well. Kristin, a CounterPunch contributor of great distinction, is going through the final stages of chemotherapy for breast cancer. We who contribute to and read CounterPunch offer our support for her getting past this ordeal.

If the origins of cancer and its ultimate cure are shrouded in mystery, the same cannot be said about the need for adequate and affordable care. If it were not for the generosity of Ed and Kristin’s friends and admirers, their road would have been a lot more difficult.

Mike Marqusee, another long-time CounterPunch contributor, made the wise choice to relocate to Britain in 1971 where health care is free.

Around the time I started reading Johnson’s “The Cancer Chronicles”, I learned that Marqusee has been dealing with multiple myeloma for a number of years. He wrote a book recently that touches on his illness as well as Britain’s socialized medicine. Available from OR Books, “The Price of Experience: Writings on Living with Cancer” is both a personal history as well as a sharp-eyed analysis of the benefits of socialized medicine—as one would expect from a long-time Marxist.

You will notice that just above I refer to Marqusee “dealing” with cancer rather than the hackneyed term “battling”. As might be expected from an antiwar activist (Marqusee was on the steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain), Marqusee has little use for military metaphors. He writes:

Obituaries routinely inform us that so-and-so has died “after a brave battle against cancer.” Of course, we will never read that so-and-so has died “after a pathetically feeble battle against cancer.” But one thing that I have come to appreciate since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood) two years ago is how unreal both notions are. It’s just not like that.

The emphasis on cancer patients’ “bravery” and “courage” implies that if you can’t “conquer” your cancer, there’s something wrong with you, some weakness or flaw. If your cancer progresses rapidly, is it your fault? Does it reflect some failure of will-power?

Like one of the characters in Michael Moore’s “Sicko” who lives a country not befouled by big pharma and the insurance industry, Marqusee describes a system that is geared to human need rather than private profit. For all the years he has been receiving treatment at Barts, the nickname for St. Bartholomew’s, a London hospital founded in 1123 (!), he has never had to pay a penny. Despite the fact that it is free, the treatment has been equal to some of the premiere hospitals in the USA.

But the same forces that have imposed Obamacare on us are conspiring to privatize and/or reduce the level of treatment in Britain. Showing the same sense of worker and patient solidarity that Ralph Moss’s newsletter sought to imbue at MSKCC nearly 40 years ago, Marqusee writes and we conclude:

I hope staff at Barts resist this attack on their jobs, and on the essential, life-sustaining services they provide. It’s often seemed to me that Barts survives on their good will alone. They’ve already been hammered by a steady fall in real wages, and there is a sad fatalism among most, not helped by the patchiness of the union presence across the Trust. What’s vital is that they understand that what’s happening now is not about failings at Barts; it’s a manifestation of the general crisis in the NHS, a crisis brought about by cuts, fragmentation, and privatisation, and one that can only be addressed through a mass movement that forces a radical redirection in government policy.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/29/cancer-politics-and-capitalism/

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia

The rules are important at Burning Man. But being rich means you get to do what you want, just like anywhere else

Why Burning Man is not an example of a loosely regulated tech utopia
El Pulpo Mecanico, at the Burning Man 2012 “Fertility 2.0″ arts and music festival, August 29, 2012. (Credit: Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

“Burning Man culture,” writes Gregory Ferenstein in Vox, “discourages money or bartering; the entire economy is a gift economy.”

Ferenstein, a regular attendee at the Nevada desert counterculture festival so beloved by Northern California’s tech-hipsters, is defending Burning Man from critics like the New York Times’ Nick Bilton, who have noted that in recent years, rich attendees have been setting up their own luxury camps within the confines of Black Rock City. Ferenstein makes some good points explaining why tech billionaires love Burning Man, but it’s still difficult to square his point on “burning man culture” with the details reported by Bilton.

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

Such camps, reports Bilton, also included “Sherpas” that serve as servants.

Ferenstein writes that the tech execs have basically the same experience as everyone else. But he appears to be tone-deaf to the enormous offense of labeling paid employees “Sherpas” and doesn’t bother to mention the female models flown in from New York. That’s not the gift economy, and it’s not the sharing economy. And it’s surely not something that anyone even imagined possible when tripping around a very big bonfire on Baker Beach in the early ’90s.



Ferenstein also wanders into a self-combusting contradiction, of the sort that would look pretty good exploding  in the desert night. Burning Man, he writes, “is an experiment in what a city would look like if it were architected for wild creativity and innovation…. At Burning Man, sharing is the economy. It’s rather appealing to the Silicon Valley elite to see an entire city function on an economic idea that is at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s an important glimpse of why the founders are so optimistic that a loosely regulated field of tech startups can outweigh the potential downsides of unregulated sharing.”

But Burning Man is intensely regulated. It’s got its own police force. Gun control is absolute. Attendance is limited to a set number of people who can afford the not-cheap tickets. The very layout of Black Rock City is a paean to planning and organization. Central control is as much the essence of Burning Man as is hedonism and fire.

We can argue about the proper extent of regulation. Is Burning Man more like Houston, which scoffs at zoning restrictions, or San Francisco, where plastic bags are outlawed? (The rules on trash at Burning Man might come off as pretty extreme to your typical happy-go-lucky free market polluter, after all.) But to use Burning Man as a model for what tech billionaires want for a greater society is to actually argue that rules are extremely important, and anarchy is a failure!

The key point made by Nick Bilton is that the very existence of a camp inside Burning Man where tickets cost $25,000 and female companionship is imported is a demonstration that Burning Man, far from being an alternative to society, is business as usual.

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/22/why_burning_man_is_not_an_example_of_a_loosely_regulated_tech_utopia/?source=newsletter

Not Content To Ruin Just San Francisco, Rich Techies Are Gentrifying Burning Man Too

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Artist Dadara‘s Facebook like altar from Burning Man 2013. Photo: Bexx Brown-Spinelli/Flickr

This will come as news only to people who have not attended Burning Man in the last couple of years, but the New York Times has just caught on to the fact that Silicon Valley millionaires (and billionaires) have been attending the desert festival in greater numbers and quickly ruining it with their displays of wealth. While we used to call Coachella “Burning Man Lite for Angelenos,” Burning Man itself is quickly becoming Coachella on Crack for rich tech folk who want to get naked and do bong hits with Larry Page in Elon Musk’s decked-out RV.

Burners won’t just be sharing the playa with Larry and Sergey, Zuck, Grover Norquist, and at least one Winklevoss twin this year. There will also be a legion of new millionaires, most of them probably Burning Man virgins, who will be living in the lap of luxury and occasionally dropping in on your parties to ask for molly.

Per the Times piece:

“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. (He asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize those relationships.) “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book “This Is Burning Man.” “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.”

The blockaded camps of the tech gentrifiers have tended to be in the outer rings of Black Rock City, as was previously reported in 2011 when a guest of Elon Musk’s spoke to the Wall Street Journal. “We’re out of the thick of it,” he said, “so we’re not offending the more elaborate or involved set ups.”

But as Silicon Valley assumes more and more of a presence on the playa, what’s to stop them from claiming better and better real estate, closer to where the action is?

You won’t see any evidence of this on Facebook, though. All of this happens without the tech world’s usual passion for documentation, since they do abide by at least that one tenet of Burning Man culture that frowns on photography. And at least, as of 2014, they seem to understand that their displays of wealth aren’t all that welcome, and should probably be kept on the down-low.

But seriously? Models flown in from New York? Gross.

[NYT]

 

http://sfist.com/2014/08/21/not_content_to_ruin_just_san_franci.php

Robin Williams and the Virtues of Suicide

 

Laughter in the Dark

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by BINOY KAMPMARK

Now let the reader’s own moral feelings decide as to whether or not suicide is a criminal act.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On Suicide, in Studies in Pessimism

The Grim Reaper never runs out of converts. Put another way, death never gets his full due. Comedians do not figure well in this – they are particularly attractive targets in the business of death.  Ironic, then, that clowns are sometimes hired to make the ill in hospitals laugh, to give the impression that the world is not as dark as all that.

The more one is engaged in the business of making one laugh, the more one is taken from. It is a well that never runs dry.  There is much to be said that the jovial one is the creative giver, and the one who laughs in response is a pirate of emotions, a recipient, yes, but a parasitic one.  While we will never know the extent of what a comedian like Robin Williams was going through when he took his life, a tendency of exploitation is all too strong. The comedian is doomed to suffer, and when that life is taken by the joker’s own hand, questions will be asked.

The casualty list for such noble people is high, and it comes with its fair share of ailments – alcoholism, drugs, the softening blow of dejection.  Tony Hancock, one of Britain’s finest, found himself mocking the Australian society he visited near the end of his life with well-targeted viciousness.  There was a sense that he was coming to his end, brooding in the twilight of his years. He died in a Sydney flat in June, 1968. He did leave grief, but he left a stunning record of humour.

For American audiences, John Belushi is cited as an example of one the reaper carried off the day the comedy died.  Ironically, Belushi’s own death in 1982 after a combination of heroin and cocaine in his Chateau Marmont room in Hollywood was something of a spur for Williams to get clean.  No slate, however, is ever clean. The prospect of taking one’s own life is always up the sleeve. Nor should it ever be removed. It is the ultimate play.

Grief, when it is total, untapped and uncontrolled, may leave one suspicious. Williams was evidently admired, though throwing words such as love around is not necessarily a wise thing.  It is invariably compensation for what has passed – we did not think enough of him when he was alive.  It says much that, at the end his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald[1], a helpline number is featured just in case people might get funny ideas.  “Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline”.  (Mensline and Kids Helpline also feature.)  The more one talks about not merely suicide as a reality, the squeamish start taking over. Whatever you do – don’t do it!

The undertone here is one of ingratitude – you were selfish to leave the land of the living, and in so doing, made sure the lights went out for others.  Suicide, which has been practiced since the human condition became aware to humans, is thereby delegitimised. It is somehow wrong to take one’s own life, especially if you are supposedly loved.  Society itself is a barbarism that remains decidedly against the suicidal.

While the scolding element has not been all too evident with Williams, there is a suggestion that he should have shown more concern for his brigades and platoons of anonymous admirers.  Behind the message of love is often a chiding note.  Tributes are not necessarily unqualified in their affection. Why didn’t you, bastard, leave us more jokes, or at the very least, live longer?  We do not know you, but you owed us that.

Philosophers have been busy on the subject of suicide for centuries. A main target of this came from organised religion.  The paradox of most religions, but notably those of the Book, is that suicide is most of all irresponsible and disgraceful to the glory of life.  As Arthur Schopenhauer explained, “none but the votaries of monotheistic, that is to say, Jewish religions, look upon suicide as a crime.”[2]  The Enlightenment thinkers were scathing in their criticism of this tunnel visioned view.

That said, Immanuel Kant did keep a salvo there for those who felt that self-inflicted death was an option.  Suicide, he argued was “in no circumstances permissible”.  To commit suicide sees the man who does so sink “lower than the beasts”.  A curious view, given that human beings are prone to collective suicide on a constant basis (war, economic ruin, and a myriad of other examples).

Again, as Schopenhauer explained, suicide would lead to a cruel appropriation of the dead person’s property, an “ignominious burial”, and a verdict of “insanity”.  This, he pointed out with scathing observation, was most prevalent in England.  How absurd, then, to compare the issue of someone who met a “voluntary death” with that of someone who inflicted a death with voluntary inclination.

While it is true that Williams has received many condolences and tributes, the love simply flows too far, drying even as it flows. Instead, his decision should be respected, however desperate it was when taken.  Suicide is often misunderstood and almost always underrated.  What should matter is the oeuvre, the body of work that says everything about a man who did something all too easy to ignore: make people laugh.  His humour was volcanic, and it bubbled and steamed till death.  Treasure him, if nothing else, for that.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/08/13/robin-williams-and-the-virtues-of-suicide/

Tech Industry Believes it Invented San Francisco, Burning Man, and Sex

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 7:30 AM

Inspired by Bay Area tech industry - FLICKR/CROWCOMBE AL

According to reports, the Silicon Valley-based tech industry has convinced itself that it invented everything it enjoys, including Democracy, rule of law, San Francisco, Burning Man, and sex.

“Techies are really innovative, so it’s only natural that they would hack human sexuality by coming up with a pleasurable use for what was previously just a reproductive process,” Google employee Miles Davidson said. “You’re welcome.”

Brent Sternberg, a Facebook engineer who started attending Mission Control sex parties a year ago, said that blow jobs simply wouldn’t have been possible without social media. “How could you have ever told someone that you like it?” he asked. “It would never work.”

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, said he believes that the tech giant is on track to invent S&M by 2025. “It will be incredibly pleasurable,” he said, “unless it hurts too much. Until we develop it, there’s just no way to know.”

Apple vice president of design Louis Harris is especially proud of the tech industry for inventing Burning Man, a 27-year-old annual arts event, in 2008.

“Prior to the tech industry, no one had really considered creating experimental communities, or going camping,” Harris said. “But then thousands of tech workers disrupted the desert and invented DJs.”

Not everything has gone well since then, Harris admitted. “The problem with Burning Man is that since the tech industry invented it, it’s gotten so popular that all these artists are showing up, and they don’t know anything about the culture.”

That’s also a problem with what many see as the tech industry’s crowning achievement: the city of San Francisco.

“We really knocked that one out of the park,” said Twitter Vice President Larry Johnson. “When we got here there wasn’t a single unaffordable building, there were musicians in lofts, and the place was just filled with women. But we’ve really turned that around.”

LinkedIn Senior Data Analyst Rod Suchet agreed. “San Francisco is famous the whole world over as a city of art, and art was originally an App for the iStore. It’s famous for its restaurants, and restaurants were originally developed so that Google’s cafeteria could telecommute. Honestly, was there even a music scene in San Francisco before Pandora digitized it? Did this town even have an economy before we started to displace it?”

As of press time, Suchet had meant to Google the answer but had been distracted by a cat video. Cats, for those not in the know, were invented by YouTube in 2006.

Benjamin Wachs is a literary chameleon. 

http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2014/08/12/tech-industry-believes-it-invented-san-francisco-burning-man-and-sex

Here’s Why Republicans Should Not Be Getting into Burning Man

By Tom Berman

Photo by Vito Fun

If you pay attention to the American political scumbag carnival, you’ve probably heard of Grover Norquist. He’s the head of Americans for Tax Reform, a lobbying group known for keeping tight reins on the Republican Party through the anti-tax pledge they exact from elected officials. “The Pledge,” as it’s known, prevents Congress from reaching compromise on virtually every issue. However, Grover’s power is dwindling, as more and more lawmakers refuse his pledge. So, like a lot of white guys facing a mid-career crisis, he’s decided to go to Burning Man.

Burning Man, if you didn’t know, is a celebration of absurdity, art, and self-sufficiency that occurs every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. So far, Norquist is behaving like a typical first-year “Burner” by telling everyone he knows about his plans to attend. With a single tweet, he attracted an avalanche of commentary. Last year, Seth Rogen told the world he was headed to Burning Man—on TV, no less—and received just a small slice of the attention won by Norquist.

I’m like a lot of people who are into Burning Man, in the sense that I groaned when I chanced upon Norquist’s tweet. Aside from Rogen, celebrities tend not to announce their plans to attend, because it’s considered a faux pas to use the event for self-promotion. As LeBron James will tell you, self-aggrandizing announcements cast doubt on one’s intentions. In future communications, Grover would do well to follow the lead of this guy, who at least managed to stay off Twitter until he had a sweet picture to post.

Photo by Vito Fun

Norquist went on to do an interview about Burning Man with the National Journal, which really ought to know better. According to the Journal, he stated: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” He also claimed that “there’s no government that organizes” it.

Burning Man, like any city or nation, requires funding and organization to function. When people buy tickets, they help to pay for the event’s needs as a price of citizenship. It’s exactly the same as a tax.

Photo by Vito Fun

The annual event is organized by a series of departments that serve the event like a de facto government. They are managed by the Burning Man Organization, which maintains a year-round office in San Francisco and acts as an executive branch. Most of the people who work for the staff departments are unpaid volunteers, but each team requires gobs of resources in order to make the event a reality.

Burning Man’s Department of Public Works provides the event’s critical infrastructure. They institute a “City Plan,” survey street alignments, and employ an arsenal of heavy machinery to help build the art installations that Grover can’t wait to scope out. The DPW also coordinates the Playa Restoration Team that stays behind for weeks to clean the site, because the event is only allowed to re-occur if it picks up after itself.

Photo by Vito Fun

Then there’s Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus, who manage the event’s arduous entry and exit process. They employ radar, night vision, and elbow grease to thwart stowaways and fence jumpers, who are the Burning Man equivalent of tax dodgers. Grover Norquist knows all about tax dodgers, because many of them are his biggest contributors.

The Black Rock Rangers mediate disputes between attendees, and shut down and search the city if somebody’s kid gets lost. There’s also Burning Man Information Radio, which serves as the sort of public broadcast system that Norquist’s friends love to hate.

Photo by Flickr user Jon Collier

The Emergency Services Department partners with a nearby hospital to provide paramedic and medical services. If they can address an illness or injury without shipping the patient back to Reno, their services are paid for by the ticket proceeds. Norquist should be aware that his supposed libertarian Xanadu is a proud provider of single-payer health care.

In an echo of everyone’s least favorite government agency, there’s a Department of Mutant Vehicles, which inspects and registers the event’s famed Art Cars. Without them, Burning Man would turn into a janky demolition derby. This would be bad, because nothing sucks the fun out of a fire-shooting octopus encounter like vehicular manslaughter.

Photo by Flickr user Ian Norman

There are even staff teams looking out for Grover’s beloved One Percenters, like the airport that serves the growing share of people who arrive by chartered plane.

Finally, you’ve got the actual US government, which manifests itself at Burning Man as the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM enforces the 20-page Interior Department closure order that makes the event a reality. By my count, that’s two separate governments working at once. Without either, Grover wouldn’t get to rave. He’d be forced to settle for the creepy Porcupine Festival campout in New Hampshire, which nobody on Twitter is going to give a shit about.

Norquist probably knows all of this. He’s been itching to attend Burning Man since 2012. And he’s an alum of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding society, which means he’s a nerd. I’ll bet he’s reading up on the event the way a 15-year-old devours the Harry Potter books.

Photo by Vito Fun

Grover should expect to have a good time, though, because nerds excel at Burning Man. It’s like a political campaign: You learn a map, do a budget, and endure compatriots who use the whole thing as an excuse to binge-drink. Burning Man also celebrates recklessness, and Grover’s a proven daredevil thanks to his hard-ball debt-ceiling politics. How can any acrobat or fire spinner compete with a guy who can endanger all the world’s money?

Still, he shouldn’t stop at the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation on his way up from Reno. The locals may recall the time he helped scam Native Americans by laundering Jack Abramoff’s money. And he shouldn’t discuss his support for South African Apartheid in the 80s. Most of the people he’ll meet are California and Oregon neo-hippies, and Apartheid stuff will harsh their mellow.

He should, rather, expect a warm reception. Burning Man’s principle of radical inclusion doesn’t stop at K Street.

Photo by Vito Fun

So here’s a personal welcome from yours truly: Welcome home, Grover! Go forth with a reckless spirit and an open heart. Seize each day, and have the time of your life.

I hope you chance upon some synthetic psychedelics. I hope you wind up lying on your back in the dust, eating peanut butter with a spoon, and watching as hallucinations of zebras and baby goats cavort against the sunrise. I even hope you trip so hard that you realize what an asshole you are.

No matter what happens, keep one thing in mind: People move heaven and earth to reach this event to test their limits, to make friends, and to challenge their preconceptions. Nobody is showing up to serve as a thin, cherry-picked rationale for your sniveling politics.

 

http://www.vice.com/read/heres-why-republicans-should-not-be-getting-into-burning-man-804?utm_source=vicenewsletter