Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ali and Patterson

“Come on, American! Come on, white American!” Muhammad Ali was taunting Floyd Patterson, faking punches, dancing around the ring, fighting in what A.J. Liebling once described as his “skittering style, like a pebble scaled over water.” It was November 22, 1965 and Ali was getting back at Patterson, an African-American, for the things Patterson had been saying about him. And he was doing so in spectacular fashion. “Like a little boy pulling off the wings of a butterfly piecemeal,” wrote Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times the next day, “Cassius Clay [as Ali was still being called by many members of the press] mocked and humiliated and punished Floyd Patterson for almost 12 rounds”.  

Patterson was no real match for the blindingly quick and prodigiously skilled Ali, but Ali eschewed knocking him out, choosing, instead, to carry Patterson and make him pay for the personal slights. “His intention was humiliation, athletic, psychological, political, and religious,” wrote David Remnick in King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. “In the clinches he called him Uncle Tom...white man's nigger.” 

When the ref finally stopped the bruising beating in the twelfth round, Ali, retaining his title as Heavyweight Champion, left the ring amidst the crowd's booming boos. They were astonished by what appeared to be little more than a display of needless cruelty directed at Patterson, a sensitive boxer nicknamed the Gentle Gladiator.  

One book about Patterson's life, by Alan H. Levy, was entitled Floyd Patterson: A Boxer and a Gentleman. Writing for the now-defunct magazine, Nugget, a rival of Playboy magazine, the esteemed novelist and essayist, James Baldwin, estimated that “Patterson, tough and proud and beautiful, is also terribly vulnerable, and looks it.” As an Olympian staying in host country Finland, Patterson was so disturbed by the sight of poor and hungry Finns that “[h]e began helping himself to extra food, which he'd pass on to Finns he'd meet on the street.” He wouldn't train at the same gym as one boxer because the opportunity to see his opponent train “would give him an unfair advantage in the fight.” Helped by New York Post columnist, Milton Gross, Patterson wrote a deeply introspective and searching autobiography, Victory over Myself, in which he discussed his painful childhood, his shyness, and his insecurities. His confessional and his tendency to dig too deeply and too openly into his own psyche inspired some reporters to call him Freud Patterson. He was considered weak - at least for a boxer. “Compassion is a defect in a fighter,” Jimmy Cannon, the celebrated sports columnist, once wrote about him. 

This is the character one begins to see at the centre of W.K. Stratton's new book, Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing's Invisible Champion. “Floyd avoided stare-downs with his adversaries,” Stratton writes. “In fact, he could not even bring himself to look them in the eye in the moments leading up to the first round.” So susceptible to shame and embarrassment, he took to wearing disguises - a fake beard, a hat, shades - after losses (after his first defeat to Sonny Liston, he flew to Madrid and, to throw people off even further, he faked a limp). The sports columnist, Jim Murray, called him an “essentially sad and gentle human being”. Speaking to Gay Talese for an Esquire profile about himelf, entitled “The Loser” (a title chosen by the editors, to the disapproval of Talese), Patterson revealed something few boxers would ever admit - if they even felt this way at all. “I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do,” Patterson said, “and cannot seem to conquer that one word - myself - is because...I am a coward.” When he was set to fight Eddie Machen, who was diagnosed as having acute schizophrenia and found himself committed to an institution after he threatened suicide, Arthur Daley of the New York Times called the two “a pair of emotionally entangled men with enough psychoses and neuroses to have fascinated Freud.” 

But this gentle man would not pull punches when he set himself against Ali. The war of words between the two titans began in biting earnest more than a year before their battle in the ring. Patterson condemned Ali's membership in the Nation of Islam, an organization that preached the superiority of Black Muslims and advocated the separation of the races. Patterson clarified his views at length in an essay entitled “I Want to Destroy Clay”, written with Milton Gross, for the October 19, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated. Insisting on calling Ali by his old name, he wrote that “Clay is so young and has been so misled by the wrong people that he doesn't appreciate how far we have come and how much harm he has done by joining the Black Muslims. He might as well have joined the Ku Klux Klan.” Patterson, in contrast, believed in the integration of blacks into what was then exclusively white society, and he supported the NAACP's efforts to open American society up to the nation's most marginalized community. He took the differences between them seriously enough that he believed beating Ali would be his “contribution to civil rights.” 

“I say...that the image of a Black Muslim as the world heavyweight champion disgraces the sport and the nation,” he wrote in another essay for Sports Illustrated, published just six weeks before their fight. “Cassius Clay must be beaten and the Black Muslims' scourge removed from boxing.” Even Martin Luther King Jr. took a side. “When Cassius Clay joined the Black Muslims,” he said, “he became a champion of racial segregation and that is what we are fighting against. I think perhaps Cassius should spend more time proving his boxing skill and do less talking.” 

These comments incensed Ali. He called Patterson the “Black White Hope”. What drew Ali to the Nation of Islam was what he saw as its then-revolutionary insistence that black people were not inferior, that they deserved recognition, and that the promises of civil rights reform were fundamentally hollow when blacks were still looked upon as second-class citizens. Ali couldn't accept Patterson's response to what Remnick called the “accumulated slights of mid-century American apartheid”. “Patterson yearned to prove himself worthy of integration,” wrote Remnick. Describing the line of reasoning held by some, he added that: “[T]he white man, in Ali's rhetoric, did not deserve integration after all he had done to blacks.” So Ali practiced outright defiance, opposing a society which often set itself as a moral judge against which blacks must always appeal. “I don't have to be what you want me to be,” he once said. “I'm free to be what I want.” What “he didn't have to be,” Robert Lipsyte clarified, was “Christian, a good solider of American democracy in the mold of Joe Louis, or the kind of athlete-prince white America wanted.” 

In an interview for Playboy conducted by Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family and co-author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ali let loose. “It's going to be the first time I ever trained to develop in myself a brutal killer instinct,” he said, talking about his upcoming fight with Patterson. “Fighting is just a sport, a game, to me. But Patterson I would want to beat to the floor for the way he rushed out of hiding after his last whipping, announcing that he wanted to fight me because no Muslim deserved to be champ. I never had no concern about his having the Catholic religion. But he was going to jump up to fight me to be the white man's champion.” 

Later, he said “I want to see him cut, bruised, his ribs caved in, and then knocked out.” And, his love of rhyme and doggerel showing: “I'm going to put him flat on his back/ So that he will start acting black.” 

And there were many who wanted just that. Years earlier, leading up to Patterson's fight against Sonny Liston, the poet LeRoi Jones (who would later change his name to Imamu Amiri Baraka) condemned what he took as Patterson's need for acceptance and approval from whites and called him an “honorary” white man. Baraka saw Patterson as doing the work of the American establishment and as representing a certain tendency to shy away from trenchant critiques of America's treatment of its citizens. “And each time Patterson fell,” Baraka once wrote, “a vision came to me of the whole colonial West crumbling in some sinister silence.” 

In his autobiography, Malcolm X also heaped scorn on Patterson. “Nothing in all the furor which followed was more ridiculous than Floyd Patterson announcing that as a Catholic, he wanted to fight Cassius Clay - to save the heavyweight crown from being held by a Black Muslim,” he wrote. “It was such a sad case of a brainwashed black Christian ready to do battle for the white man - who wants no part of him.” 

In his admittedly well-researched book, Stratton, however, articulates a near-complete ignorance of this debate within the black community. He reveals an unnerving tendency to depict those who are simply more cynical about mainstream American society than Patterson as being radicals, and as being vaguely sinister and dangerous. To Stratton, they are “radicalized young African Americans”, while the writer Eldridge Cleaver's views are quickly framed for the readers by Stratton's description of him as a “black radical”. In an astonishing passage, Stratton betrays a Manichean, black and white, understanding of the strains of thought produced by black intellectuals. “He [Patterson] was a staunch anti-Communist, supported the war in Vietnam, believed in Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent approach to social change,” writes Stratton, “while younger, more revolutionary blacks thought that the time to pick up the gun had arrived. As a result, many politicized young black Americans joined Muhammad Ali in attacking Floyd as an Uncle Tom.” One gathers from this, it almost goes without saying, that if you do not share Patterson's views, you must be in the process of firing an automatic weapon. 

Stratton writes very little about Patterson's support for the war in Vietnam. He mentions, in passing, that Patterson maintained this support even after many liberals had taken to condemning the war. He does not mention that Martin Luther King Jr. had come to criticize it, inspiring him to call the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world”. Nor the fact that King was inspired to do so after Ali refused to be drafted into the war in 1967 and after he began to see how much Ali lost (the heavyweight title, and his license to fight - a revocation which would last three years during his prime) by doing so. Ali and Patterson's differences over Vietnam tellingly reflect their differences about race. 

“I feel that if a man lives in a country and enjoys the fruits of the country,” Stratton quotes Patterson as once saying, “he should be willing to fight for it. Clay should serve his country. If not, he should go to jail or be driven out of the country.” This was the seemingly patriotic stance; a stance which accepted American society as it is; a stance Ali could not help but reject. Ali's “courageous defiance of American power,” as the philosopher Bertrand Russell put it in a letter to Ali, was diametrically opposed to Patterson's acquiescence. Patterson was either unaware of the fact that the Vietnam war was unjust and brutal and little more than an exercise in neo-imperialism, disproportionately employing, and killing, African American soldiers; or he was precisely the sort of figure Ali and others described: passive and accommodating, the good citizen, the unchallenging citizen. Stratton does not explore these themes deeply enough in his disappointing book about Patterson. What is supposed to be an analysis of one boxer's remarkable life turns out to be only an extensive catalogue of events (for how can one possibly understand a man if he does not also understand those whose views differed from his?). 

Our attempt to understand Patterson's approach to these issues is better served indirectly. The Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), which organized black athletes, was in the middle of calling for a boycott of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics if certain conditions were not met. These included the resignation of an International Olympic Committee chairperson who had made comments considered racist; the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia from the games because of their apartheid system; and Ali's reinstatement as heavyweight champion “as a symbolic gesture to our gratitude for the stand he took”. When two African Americans named Tommie Smith and John Carlos won medals for the 200-meter race, their particular symbolic gesture embedded itself in the world's memory. Atop the podium, the Star Spangled Banner playing, they raised their firsts, wearing black gloves (representing black pride and power) in support of the OPHR. A few days later, George Foreman, who Ali would defeat in 1974's “Rumble in the Jungle”, won the gold medal and, in what was certainly an effort to denigrate the runners and what they stood for, waved an American flag and shouted “United States Power”. Ali watched this on television and it's quite possible it brought to his mind memories of Floyd Patterson.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Scientists call it the Amazon of the North and they fear the Mackenzie River Basin, an extensive watershed three times the size of France, is under threat."

"The City of Vancouver plans to partner with Metro Vancouver on an electric car charging station network, which could add up to 150 new charging stations across the Lower Mainland by March 2013."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dave Barrett, BC's first NDP Premier: "Barrett's government would go on to pass a staggering 367 bills during its tenure -- creating everything from the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) to the modern ambulance design now used across the continent (before, they used low Cadillacs and attendants were forced to crouch). From forcing politicians to reveal their donors, to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the BC Human Rights Board, simply put, Barrett's caucus changed B.C."

 Happening today in Vancouver: "More than 27,000 government workers are walking off the job this morning, forcing offices that oversee everything from marriage and driver's licences to forestry permits and government liquor sales to shut their doors for the day. Wages are at the centre of the 24-hour action by members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and its supporting unions, and the strike is affecting all but essential services at about 1,800 work sites in 153 communities around the province."

Brigette DePage edits a book, titled "Power of Youth", which dispels the myth of youth political apathy.

Incredibly difficult working conditions for temporary foreign workers in British Columbia. Read the compelling story here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Mike Tyson's "managers used to market him on posters, reminding you that if your grandfather had missed Joe Louis, or your father Muhammad Ali, don’t you miss Tyson. But what they didn’t mention was that Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali were a boy’s dream of a fighter. Before long Tyson understood his customers a little better and modified the sales pitch. Tyson figured out, in his era, that America really craved a nightmare."

HBO Documentary, One Nation Divisible

Here's a great documentary about the "Fight of the Century", Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's first fight in March of 1971.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Great article: "Soaring inequality is at the root of our polarized politics, which made us unable to act together in the face of crisis. And because rising incomes at the top have also brought rising power to the wealthiest, our nation’s intellectual life has been warped, with too many economists co-opted into defending economic doctrines that were convenient for the wealthy despite being indefensible on logical and empirical grounds."
The west's lazy reporting in Africa: "Bad stuff, obviously, happens in Africa just like everywhere else Рand no one is denying that those issues should be reported, but their coverage would be greatly improved if it were led by journalists whose mentality were not shaped by the Hugh Trevor-Ropers of this world. Africa is not, as the New York Review of Books reported recently, "plagued by countless nasty little wars". Nor can aviation within the continent, as Cond̩ Nast Traveller recently suggested, be summarised by a "combination of political corruption, civil wars, numerous rogue carriers, airplanes at the end of their life cycles"."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Note to self

A few people I should spend more time reading:

Joseph Stiglitz
Thomas Frank
David Graeber
Matt Taibbi
Chris Hedges
Paul Krugman
Incredibly illuminating piece by Thomas Frank: "And as we serve money, we find that money wants the same thing from us: to push everyone it beguiles in the same direction. Money never seems to be interested in strengthening regulatory agencies, for example, but always in subverting them, in making them miss the danger signs in coal mines and in derivatives trading and in deep-sea oil wells. You can have a shot at being part of the 1 percent, money tells us, only if you are first committed to making the 1 percent stronger, to defending their piles in some new and imaginative way, to rationalizing and burnishing their glory, to exempting them from regulation or taxation, to bowing down as they pass, and to believing in your heart that their touch will heal scrofula."
Good review of Thomas Frank's book, Pity the Billionaire: "The reason Obama does not explain things – and Frank captures this vividly – is the cult of expertise. He assumes everything has already been explained and the answers are known to the people at the heart of business, insurance, banking, and the flourishing industries, people he has come to know personally. As he said once when a reporter brought up the names of Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) and Lloyd Blankfein (CEO of Goldman Sachs): "I know both those guys, they are very savvy businessmen." An artless moment, but not without a message. The cult of expertise is a form of elite pride, and the populace have sniffed it out in the president."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." (April 23, 1910, Citizenship In A Republic speech) Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Matthew Yglesias untangles the confusing threads of Obama's economic proposals.
The 10 most racist moments from the Republican candidates - so far.
Bill Gates does the right thing and calls for higher taxes on the rich.
Apparently politicians with competent looking faces - "masculine but approachable, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, and large eyes" - fair better come election time.
Obama's State of the Union speech was written at an 8th grade level - and that's a good thing.
After the Great Depression, there was a pronounced backlash against right-wing economic policies. In the midst of our current Great Recession, however, there seems to be a growing embrace of the very policies which have brought us here, argues Thomas Frank in his new book, Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Very good article about why the Republican candidates won't say too much about unemployment and why America might be experiencing the worst of both worlds of cyclical and structural economic disaster.
"There will be riots on the streets of America," says George Soros.
What to do about the proliferation of reckless conspiracy theories on the internet? "The second—and not necessarily mutually exclusive—option is to nudge search engines to take more responsibility for their index and exercise a heavier curatorial control in presenting search results for issues like "global warming" or "vaccination." Google already has a list of search queries that send most traffic to sites that trade in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories; why not treat them differently than normal queries? Thus, whenever users are presented with search results that are likely to send them to sites run by pseudoscientists or conspiracy theorists, Google may simply display a huge red banner asking users to exercise caution and check a previously generated list of authoritative resources before making up their minds."
This is a very well-written article on the petro-state of...Canada.
Seven billion people and growing food shortage. What to do? Eat insects, artificial meat, develop algae farms and "green super rice".


I think Chris Hedges is one of the most important voices today. His critique of American corporatism is trenchant and deeply insightful. His column from yesterday is very good.
On the American prison-industrial complex: “[A] growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible.”
Vancouver is the world’s second-least affordable major city to buy a house, according to an annual survey of global housing markets.”
Monbiot advocates an absolute cap on executive pay. “The UK government imposes a minimum wage, and even the neoliberal coalition appears to accept that this is a necessary intervention in the market. So why should it not impose a maximum wage?”
The food emergency in Niger is incredible: "At the best of times this vast landlocked country – whose estimated 14.7 million people mostly live along a narrow strip of arable land on its southern border – has trouble feeding itself. Even in "non-crisis" years, 300,000 children are treated for malnutrition – 15% of the world total. This year threatens to be particularly severe.

Humanitarian organisations estimate that 1.3 million people are suffering from acute malnutrition across the Sahel, a belt of countries from Mauritania and Senegal on the Atlantic to Chad in central Africa, taking in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. These countries suffer from chronic food insecurity – families without enough money to meet their food needs – and 300,000 children die in a normal year from malnutrition or its related causes."
"President Rafael Correa of Ecuador is leading a relentless campaign against free speech, harassing his critics, forcing independent broadcasters off the air and hijacking the nation’s courts in his bid to bankrupt the country’s largest newspaper."
Interesting: "Researchers have invented a kind of soap that can be magnetically corralled to help clean up toxic spills. The feat is accomplished by infusing more mundane suds with tiny iron particles that join together and react to magnets."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Here's something I wrote for the Toronto Star about Bob Rae.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My article about climate change and its effect on global security.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Climate change adaptation is now something we should take very seriously. We've reached a point where no matter what we do, we will see some (if not disastrous) changes in the climate. Which leaves us with the task of adapting to this shift.

The World Bank is taking some action.
Poverty reduction bill introduced in BC. Hopefully the province can make some headway here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Here's my article about Eritrea.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Canadian Youth Delegation to Cancun

In Cancun, Mexico, global leaders met to discuss climate change and to propose solutions. A collection of youths gathered there as well to offer their views on the discussions. Here's my short report for CJSF 90.1 on their work:

You can read more about their work at:

Haiti: Radio show

I hosted a show for CJSF 90.1 on Haiti and the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. You can listen to it here:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Here's my review of Immigrants and the Right to Stay by Joseph H. Carens.