Friday, August 31, 2007

We don't understand democracy because we never had to fight for it

On the face of it this sounds like the complete opposite of everything that we're told. In fact, the notion that Freedom, as distinct from democracy, can't be understood by people who haven't fought for a regular slogan of the right, something that appears on car bumper stickers. But if you look at what other peoples have been up against in their fight to establish democracy in their countries you see that the United States got off pretty easily.

The United States had no established feudal system of ranks, although there was the odd lord in pre-Revolutionary times, and the King was a thousand miles away in England. What about France, that had been directly governed by one of the most autocratic dictatorships, in the form of Louis XIV, for decades and decades and only gradually thawed in the almost century between his demise and the rise of the French Revolution? They had lords, ladies, princes, dukes, marquises, royal families vying for dominance, Absolutism, you name it, and these things weren't idle curiosities. The nobility in France had direct power over the peasant farmers who lived on and farmed their possessions.

When the French Revolution came it wasn't about educated lawyers wanting independence and democracy for the pure theory of it, and neither was it about grievances like the mother country taxing tea. It was about the direct oppression of the people of France by the feudal system. And the feudal system put up a fight, not only during the Revolution itself but through a royalist restoration after Napoleon that was in turn overthrown.

The people of Continental Europe have fought harder for their democracy than the United States ever has. The United States was founded on idealism, but the democracies of Europe were founded on hard reality. Which might be one reason why socialism doesn't bother them. I don't know, I could be wrong on this one.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The "Mile High Club" and Larry Craig

How many movies have you seen where a couple either sneaks off to have sex in an airplane bathroom or where a man picks up a woman sitting next to him and takes her to the airplane bathroom to have sex with her? It's more than just one or two. It's always presented as a gung ho triumph for the man, especially if he's picked up the beautiful woman sitting next to him, who he's just met on the plane.

In the pilot episode of "Six Feet Under" on HBO the characters Nate and Brenda meet on a plane, talk to each other through the flight, then after landing Brenda proposes having sex in a closet in the airport, which they do.

Think about office dramas or comedies where a man takes in a woman co-worker that has just appeared on the scene into an office closet and has sex with her, or about dramas where the elevator stops between floors and the man and the woman have sex.

They're all regarded as sexy, manly, triumphs, but every single one of these is public sex, disorderly conduct, the exact same thing that Larry Craig was arrested for.

Only in Craig's case because he wanted to have sex with another man he's a pervert and a lowlife.
Beyond the very obvious contradiction between his political stands and his personal life people go, and are, going to town with what a sick scum bag he is. Can't get any lower. Above and beyond the call of duty they go, especially the writers on The Huffington Post, for something that if it had involved a man and a woman would have got them cheering.

David Bowie must suffer from the "Sickness of Supression" too

I'm arguing that there isn't anything sick about Larry Craig seeking companionship in a bathroom stall. There's a really nifty song by David Bowie called "Sweet Thing", which is three parts, and which is available on YouTube as a video, that outlines the general philosophy I'm talking about.

"Sweet thing" starts at 3:50.

Here then is Nina Burleigh's further comments on Larry Craig (title link leads to post) in "Satan's in the next stall"

"The trouble with this wedge issue, as everyone now knows, is that it's Republican suicide. The hateful public stance of the party has driven its many gay members into ever more contorted acts of self-loathing excess, driving the disease of suppression out in the open and subjecting men to public stoning by their own frenzied followers."

"It's time for Republicans to embrace their own gay wing and stop fueling the sickness of suppression that drives men like Larry Craig into airport bathroom stalls. Until they do, they're headed straight for the toilet with him -- not that they shouldn't jump right in anyway."

This is in amidst the incredible assertion that Clinton was impeached as revenge against his heterosexuality by gay staffers (IT'S A GAY CONSPIRACY!)

"When I was covering Capitol Hill just before Clinton's impeachment, every other young, spiffily manicured male staffer I met in Republican Congressional offices was at least androcentric, if not obviously gay. I don't have a sensitive gay-dar, but there was something about them. Ties never askew, hair immaculately groomed, cuffs gleaming, they usually knew more about my shoes than I did.

Bill Clinton's voracious heterosexuality had as much to do with drawing their rabid hatred as any of his other attributes. He loved women too much, and if only he'd given equal time and effort to seducing those beautiful men, he might have saved himself some trouble.

Republicans in Washington know there are probably more gay men in their ranks than there are on Castro Street. "

And they're all self loathing losers, repressed faggots,right Nina?

Here's the lyrics to David Bowie's song "Sweet Thing", proving that he too must be a pervert because he talks about the same type of thing that Larry Craig and others engaged in in a positive fashion, as representing sexual liberation in fact:

"Its safe in the city, to love in a doorway
To wrangle some screens from the door
And isn't it me, putting pain in a stranger?
Like a portrait in flesh, who trails on a leash
Will you see that Im scared and Im lonely?
So Ill break up my room, and yawn and i
Run to the centre of things
Where the knowing one says

Boys, boys, its a sweet thing
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing, sweet thing
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
cause hope, boys, is a cheap thing, cheap thing

Im glad that you're older than me
Makes me feel important and free
Does that make you smile, isn't that me?
Im in your way, and Ill steal every moment
If his trade is a curse, then I'll bless you
And turn to the crossroads, and hamburgers, and

Boys, boys, its a sweet thing
Boys, boys, its a sweet thing, sweet thing
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
cause hope, boys, is a cheap thing, cheap thing

[Part II: Candidate]

I'll make you a deal, like any other candidate

We'll pretend we're walking home 'cause your future's at stake
My set is amazing, it even smells like a
There's a bar at the end where I can meet you and your friend
Someone scrawled on the wall "I smell the blood of les tricoteuses"
Who wrote up scandals in other bars

I'm having so much fun with the poisonous people
Spreading rumours and lies and stories they made up

Some make you sing and some make you scream
One makes you wish that you'd never been seen
But there's a shop on the corner that's selling papier mache
Making bullet-proof faces, Charlie Manson, Cassius Clay
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing
So you scream out of line
"I want you! I need you! Anyone out there?
Any time?"
Tres butch little number whines "Hey dirty, I want you
When it's good, it's really good, and when it's bad I go to pieces"
If you want it, boys, get it here, thing

Well, on the street where you live I could not hold up my head
For I put all I have in another bed
On another floor, in the back of a car
In the cellar like a church with the door ajar
Well, I guess we've must be looking for a different kind

But we can't stop trying 'til we break up our minds
Til the sun drips blood on the seedy young knights
Who press you on the ground while shaking in fright

I guess we could cruise down one more time

With you by my side, it should be fine

We'll buy some drugs and watch a band

Then jump in the river holding hands"

Better label Bowie a pervert.....oh yeah, people did do that in the '70s, but they were people more associated with the DAR, the "Daughters of the American Revolution" than they were with the counter-culture.

Is kink wrong?

Moralizing bullshit under another name smells just as sweet. Here's Nina Burleigh from her column "Satan's in stall beside me":

"The demise of mountain state Republican Senator Larry Craig amuses those of us who enjoy watching right-wing heroes crash to the ground, spiked on their own hypocrisy. It further confirms my theory: prick any conservative and the kink oozes out. The rockier the rib, the more likely you'll find pink lingerie under the trousers or a bullwhip and manacles in the bedside drawer. You can bet those Beltway dominatrices, madams and escorts (gay and straight) have been able to buy second homes -- maybe even in Sun Valley! -- with their haul during W's reign." (emphasis mine)

Which is to say that if you like kinky sex, so the thinking goes, you're a repressed loser. If a liberal were fired for engaging in S&M it would make all the blogs, but a conservative....well....must be a repressed loser that we can all look down on. The issue of sexual freedom seemingly doesn't come into play here.

What exactly is wrong with the behaviors described in the sentence I put in bold? And what's wrong with a Republican engaging in them?

The way I see it, it isn't the acts so much as the hypocrisy of engaging in them while condemning them from your political pulpit that's wrong.

So now we've seen homophobia make its appearance in relation to Craig, we've seen general anti-gay sentiment like Trey Ellis' comment that discrimination has psychologically forced gay men to seek companionship amidst "Piss and shit", a direct quote, and now we're seeing sexual freedom as embodied in non-standard sex practices being condemned and laughed at because the people who it's being aimed at are Republicans.

With friends like these people who advocate for sexual freedom sure as hell don't need enemies.

Look at the silly faggots! Huffingon Post's coverage of the Larry Craig affair

As I write, Huffington Post has up the following articles on its front page:

"Sometimes I wish I were gay", by Trey Ellis, which starts off on the front page with the wonderful lead in "Leave it to a bunch of guys to figure out a way to circumvent thousands of years and the endless intricacies and uncertainties of courtship with a simple tap of the toes."

After the standard "I'm not prejudiced! Mea culpa Ellis goes on to "And awesome it would be if straight guys could just sidle up to a woman, tap our foot and have sex with them. According to Craig's police report that's all you have to do. I'm newly single again and truly suck at meeting women at bars. I don't like to get drunk and think it's unsportsmanlike to take a woman to bed if she's blotto.

This whole tapping the foot thing could be the answer to my prayers. After yoga, instead of feverishly racking my brain for some non-lame ice breaker I'd just -- tap, tap, tap -- and they'd jerk me in to the locker room. The next time I fall in love at Starbucks, instead of pretending to the woman in front of me that I'm confused about the distinction between a grande and a venti I'd tap, tap, tap and we'd rush off to the nearest hotel."

In all fairness, Ellis' article probably the least offensive of the offensive articles, note that not all of them were offensive, about the Larry Craig scandal.

Then there's "
"Paul Hipp
A Dramatic Reading Of The Craig Bathroom Bust"
, where Paul Hipp delivers an erotic reading of the police report attached to Craig's arrest. Look at the faggots everyone! Here, we'll read his arrest report and put it on the internet! Those crazy faggots, look at the shit they do. And we'll savor every moment of punching them while they're down......oh, I mean pick on Republican faggots, not the liberal fags who look so nice on television.

Then there's this, the sort of apogee of the homophobic (but it doesn't count because he's a Republican!) coverage of Larry Craig on the Huffington Post.:
"Larry Craig: thank you all for coming out today",

Words don't fail me. I'll tell you what it is. It's a one minute clip from Craig's statement where in sequence a guy in a leather harness, Freddy Mercury (the gay singer from Queen), Judy Garland as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, the gay policeman from the Village People, and Liza Manelli, appear as cut outs overlaid on top of the statement. Then techno music starts playing in the background. Then the words GAY and then PARTY in pink fill the screen, one after the other, then animated confetti starts dropping from the top of the screen.......and then the gay characters that have been overlaid on top of Craig start moving to the techno beat.

Oh, and by the way, it was produced by a company named "23/6", which is a newly formed satirical website. Be sure to drop by sometime, once the site gets fully up and running, and tell them about their work.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In defense of the right of Senators, and everyone else, to have sex in bathrooms

Why? Because it's a matter of gay rights. Hate to sound over the top about this but the sniggering response of The Huffington Post, with "Paul Hipp
A Dramatic Reading Of The Craig Bathroom Bust"
, "Larry Craig: thank you for coming out today", which is a vicious video satire that I'll deal with separately, is contributing to bring us back to the pre-Stonewall days when gays and men engaging in consensual gay sex were viewed as hilarious curiosities that could be put down and disrespected with impunity.

Every liberal blogger who supports gay rights but laughs at Craig should really look at where they're coming from in this. Arrests in mens' rooms, in parks, etc... of men having, or discussing having, sex with each other have been one of the ways that police have used for a long time to intimidate the gay community. Throwing people in jail on 'solicitation' charges or other charges relating to the act is a good way of ruining careers and outing people who don't want to be outed---both things that if the person in question hadn't been a Republican would have elicited sympathy from people.

The fact that he supports family values and anti-gay legislation is no excuse to put up stereotypes and lampooning that the gay community has dealt with for decades.

Please, watch the video to see how close to Fox News and other gutters of homophobia the Huffington post has gotten to. I'm speechless. Right now I'm feeling like I want to hurt someone over this video.

When it comes to gay rights, either shit or get off the pot. Either support the rights of people whose political opinions you don't agree with to have gay sex or stop pretending to support gay rights.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Went to Vancouver and survived

I know there are more things that are important, even locally considering that Bush paid a visit to Bellevue--which is a Seattle suburb--yesterday, that I was unavailable for. But it was very interesting. No problems at the border. It's a surprisingly easy drive from Seattle, I was shocked.

Vancouver itself has a really big contrast: most of it, from what I saw, resembles regular Pacific Northwest cities, which is to say that it's made up mostly of small neighborhoods of little apartment buildings and single family homes with kind of regional downtowns every now and again; but downtown Vancouver itself is completely different.

You go over the bridge to downtown, which is on a little peninsula and it looks like something from Blade Runner, tower after tower of enormous, maybe twenty five story or higher, apartment and office buildings. The downtown is incredibly dense, completely urbanized, in a way that only a few blocks in the heart of Seattle's business district are.

They have a great art museum, the Vancouver Art Gallery, that has a good show going now called "From Monet to Dali" that focusses mainly on the impressionists but also has some stuff going into later movements. It made me look at Impressionism in a new way, made it make more sense than Art History books and slideshows.....and it's all, duh duh duh, about impressions. Gee, who would have thought of that. My reading is that these paintings were done to represent how we actually see a scene, what we pay attention to in a scene, rather than what it actually one-to-one looks like.

A great thing about the city that I experienced was the Canadian "Salad Bowl" model for ethnic Canadians, which, as opposed to our "Melting Pot", allows people to still be Canadian without having to sacrifice their own languages and traditions. I heard Arabic, Castellano Spanish, Russian, a huge amount of Chinese, and possibly some slavic languages that I wasn't familiar enough with to actually say what country they were from. French too. And I heard them a lot. You can hear one or two conversations a day in some of these languages in Seattle, with Vietnamese and Thai thrown in there, but people were speaking them all the time all around me.

And from my very, very cursory experience in Vancouver, limited to places around the downtown and to the art gallery, it didn't appear that Canadian society was falling apart due to the presence of non-English speakers who carried some of their own cultural traditions with them and weren't pressed into some generic mold of being "Canadian". Which is what anti-immigrationists here in the U.S. say is going to happen if we don't either keep people out or force them to integrate into (white)"American" cultural norms.

Good experience. I'll go back. And I'll give a report.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Maliki lashes out at U.S. critics

He's not exactly in a position to dictate orders.

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday blasted US politicians who have called for him to be replaced and demanded that France apologise for allegedly also seeking to turf him out of office.

Maliki's outburst came after two US senators, Carl Levin and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, urged Iraqi lawmakers to choose someone else to lead Iraq's ruling coalition and seek faster national reconciliation.

Separately, in an interview with a US news magazine, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also reportedly suggested that Maliki step aside.

Their calls came amid mounting frustration with the slow pace of Maliki's attempts to reunite his war-torn country, which have so far failed to heal the deep rifts between Iraq's warring factions and communities.

"Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin are democratic people and should respect democracy. They talk about Iraq as if Iraq is their property," Maliki complained at a news conference in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone."

Come now. Maliki surely knows that if Bush withdrew his support and his troops from Iraq that Maliki's government would fall in a day. If he wants to complain about people acting like they own Iraq why doesn't he talk about his patron and protecter, President Bush, and the hundred thousand or so U.S. troops on Iraqi soil.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Random thoughts on some old news

It never ceases to amaze me the optimism which journalists in the West greeted Victor Yushchenko's campaign while ignoring protests from the Yanukovich camp that in one particular case turned out to be very valid. I'm thinking particularly of the charge that Yushchenko's alliance contained fascists.

Well, if you look at the members of the coalition that Yushchenko heads you'll notice it includes something called the OU/B, or Ukrainian Organization Bandera. The OU was the main collaborationist force during the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine. It split into two, of which the Bandera organization was one. Many of the members, because they weren't German and because their country was occupied by the Soviet Union, slipped through the net of U.S. immigration, and Canadian immigration as well as setting up shop in some South American countries. They maintained fraternal ties to one another and when the Cold War ended and Ukraine ceased to be Communist they, or their sons and people in the Ukrainian community that they'd won over to their side, went back and started organizing there. The present OU/B is a direct continuation of the fascist organization that formed during the Nazi occupation. And it's a member of Yushchenko's coalition.

Certainly Putin was funneling money into the Yanukovich camp, but this charge wasn't entirely made up. Ukraine has seen a renaissance in fascist and Nazi organization, with the remaining members of the Ukrainian division of the SS, made up of Ukrainians,which formed in the last part of World War II, staging parades.

I'm sure that the OU/B presence in the coalition isn't that large but, you know, if someone invited the Klan into a coalition government I don't think that the lack of seats going to the Klan would really make any difference in how people viewed that action.

Friday, August 24, 2007

More obscenity, a story proposal

Involving Queen Elizabeth. It would be called "Queen Elizabeth gets her period", and would be a day in the life of the current English monarch in her younger years, told from her inner perspective. It would have things like doing royal ceremonial functions while being aware that she's having her period and hoping that the blood is controlled. After all, how does the reigning monarch deal with menstrual flow?

"The Function of the Orgasm" by Wilhelm Reich

Adding it to my "Good political books list" on the sidebar. Too complicated to get into now. In general believed that sexual revolution and liberation wasn't just good for the individual but could also be a step in establishing a society based on social justice and socialism. Influence Herbert Marcuse. Believed specifically that sexual liberation would help usher in work as non-regimented a la Marx's notion of the free association of producers and would sink patriarchal society.

Fox News, network broadcasting hysterical rantings of virgins

Who have apparently never spent time in the real world because they have this attitude of perpetual innocence around them...leading to dire predictions of disaster for every conceivable indicator of possible trouble.

Maybe it's not a network of virgins so much as a network for virgins, or at least those that in the terminology of Wilhelm Reich have excessively dammed up sexual drives leading to loss of orgasmic potency. Which brings me to something I'll post soon....

Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out" or The Punchy Movie

Dennis Wheatley was a British horror writer, who wrote a series of books about a fictional underground Satanic cult that was out to do bad things I guess. I've just seen the movie that was made out of "The Devil Rides Out", the first of these books, starring Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle of The Wicker Man). It's really funny, actually, although I can see kids taking seriously. It's about the Satanic cult trying to get two acolytes. The influence of Christianity in it is really funny, as if you can just throw a cross at, well that's best left unsaid ;)

I call it "The Punchy Movie" because the character Rex, one of the good guys along with Christopher Lee, resolves situation after situation with a right cross, inevitably knocking whoever it is out with one blow. This starts in almost the first scene and goes on. Whenever there's a problem that can't be resolved through arguing with someone this guy just punches them out and the story goes on. There should be a drinking game where you take a shot whenever Rex punches somebody, it would be entertaining. Only people who don't get it are the female characters.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Mexican Senate sides with mom deported from USA"

U.S.A. today made a startling announcement: Mexico has a Senate. I don't know where it's been hiding from U.S. reporters for all these years but the U.S. media, at least U.S.A. today, has managed to find it, inadvertently revealing that Mexico has more elected officials than just the President. What's next? The U.S. media actually addressing a Mexican congressman by name? You never know in this crazy world.

Ok, the story (title link): "MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican Senate committee passed a measure Wednesday urging President Felipe Calderon to send a diplomatic note to the United States protesting the deportation of an illegal migrant who took refuge in a Chicago church for a year.

The committee also approved a scholarship to help her 8-year-old U.S.-born son, Saul, who is an American citizen and stayed in the United States.

Elvira Arellano, 32, became an activist and a national symbol for illegal immigrant parents by defying her deportation order and speaking out from her sanctuary in the Adalberto United Methodist Church. She announced last week that she was leaving to try to lobby U.S. lawmakers for immigration reform.

On Sunday, shortly after she spoke at a rally in a Los Angeles church, she was arrested and deported to Tijuana, across the border from San Diego."

Observation about the Blogosphere

It's strange but although the big name blogs proclaim that they're progressive you're better off finding real socialist information from established magazines like The Progressive and The Nation, and the Counterpunch website (and newsletter if you can find it). And further on down the left independent publications like the Fifth Estate retain their high quality of coverage and thought.

Psychic TV in Seattle, PTV 3

It was a good show, although the audience was really subdued. You could feel the temperature in the room drop first with the projection of large vaginas on the wall and then with the accompaniment to "I like you", which was a vaguely sadomasochistic film, which surprised me. I mean, this is Seattle, supposedly, and Capitol Hill, the place where all the jaded Hipsters live. Obviously this type of thing is too much for them. In actuality they got off really easy.

But this sort of detracts from it. Why did I go? Why do I have live Psychic TV recordings that I listen to a lot? The answer was something that Genesis said during the show and that I realized during the course of it, which is for the education. You can't really say much more than that except that it was a function of honesty, which in general is hard to come by because honesty means vulnerability. So here was a group of people performing onstage, in front of an audience that might have come because they saw a notice for it or a write up somewhere, might have come because they've followed them for decades, might have come for any number of reasons between those two as well as other reasons and possibilities, trying to test people's weak spots, in terms of what they expect from performers and what they expect from bands that are billed in a certain way, the relationship of the performers to the audience, in the hope of getting people to another place. Not just saying
"Fuck off", but instead picking and prodding them with the best intentions in mind. Which is really nice. And generous.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Things that make you go hmm......Musicwerks and their promotion of bands

Well, after that uplifting post. I got a mass e-mail from Musicwerks, a record store in Seattle devoted exclusively to Industrial and Gothic music, talking about upcoming events. What was interesting was that although they've heavily promoted Combichrist, a band that's catching a wave of popularity and that I don't really care for because they aren't intense enough, they didn't send out anything, not the special e-mail that Combrichist got, about Psychic TV coming to Seattle tonight.

This is kind of an oversight for the following reason: Psychic TV is the band of Genesis P-Orridge, formerly of Throbbing Gristle, one of the bands that invented industrial music itself. Literally. It's Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubauten, which was more a completely experimental band than TG. have band of the moment promoted heavily and you have one of the founders of the genre your store is oriented around not getting any publicity. It's true that they announced the dates late....but even so,Combichrist is playing on Friday and I got the e-mail urging people to come to it today. Surely they could at least have given several days warning that one of the founders of the genre was playing in Seattle this week.

Well that's it for now. I'm going to be off to see Psychic TV soon.

Social economic and ideological sources of fascism

I recognize that you can't cover all of a subject like this in just one short entry, but I'll report what I've recently come up with.

First is that fascism in Italy and in Germany made use of the threat to the middle classes of being declassed by workers' movements in order to establish itself. Italy had massive strikes and factory occupations after World War I and Germany saw an intense Communist movement that sought to turn Germany into a copy of the Soviet Union. I don't know how things played out in Spain, but the fact that an actual civil war was fought between the anarchist workers and Republicans on the one side and conservatives and fascists on the other is suggestive. However, I don't think it was just the middle class. Many workers supported Naziism. My one sentence analysis of that is that they hoped to gain social advancement by linking themselves to the middle class. The rich, at least some of them, supported Naziism, not because they liked the middle class doctrines of it but because they thought that it would suppress the workers---and that it wouldn't get out of their control. They, then depended on the success of an ideology that would appeal to the middle class to preserve themselves.

This leads into just what was the appeal for middle class people of Naziism and Fascism. Was it just status anxiety, the possibility of being declassed and having to become workers? I think that bound up with it was a sort of bourgeois fantasy of what life was like that they wanted to preserve, and that Naziism and Fascism presented a fantasy of what the nation was like or could be like that agreed with their own beliefs. Although extremely violent to its enemies, to the people who it wasn't attacking but whose support it wanted Naziism presented itself as representing the values of a bygone time, where traditional values still ruled, where people had faith in their country, where the chaos of democracy was replaced by an order which resembled in ways the Prussian social system that was dismantled after World War I.

All of these things were illusions. The values that they represented in all probability were not actually being challenged, the sanctity of German womanhood for instance, but in a changing world it may have felt to some people like this was happening.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Resurrecting the Neo-Romanticism posts

That I wrote in 2003 and that were included in the previous incarnation of the "Essential Posts".
I still think that what I refer to as Neo-Romanticism is a good response to the current cultural state of affairs. This also feeds into Socialism.

The fundamental idea is based on a couple judgments of mine about American culture. First and foremost is a perception that American culture is caught between two untenable extremes: on the one hand you have a kind of sterile cultural liberalism that sees life as a mechanical outcome of atoms running into each other, with human life being an extension of that so that human beings are kind of biological machines that are programmed to be a certain way by heredity and to a certain extent by society, although that has inexplicably fallen away some. On the other hand there's the pure reaction to this that manifests in Christian fundamentalist politics and cultural views, totally rejecting everything about science and about liberalism and replacing them with a fantasy constructed out of their dubious reading of the Bible. The second judgment is that we need a middle path between these two, something that corrects the views of sterile liberalism without going into the sort of total reaction typified by the Christian fundamentalists.

Romanticism as it existed in he early 19th century in continental Europe seems to offer some insight into how to go about doing this. My idea, taken from the Romantic thinkers somewhat, is that science has its own sphere. It can define many things, can find many innovations and improve the quality of life significantly, but that at certain point in defining the human experience it comes up short. The aspect of the human experience that it comes short on relates to the personal experience of the 'I' and the experience of intersubjectivity, that is the experience of a group of 'I's relating to each other. The products of this group experience are things like culture and relationships, attitudes on life, thoughts about the ultimate nature of reality, as well as basic things like what it's like to live in a neighborhood or a town. These things no doubt are topics that cultural anthropology can shed light on, but in the end it still is based on the experience of the 'I' as either 'I' alone or in groups. This 'I' can of course be shaped by social conditions; we don't start out from nowhere and we all live in a society whose structure is determined by things out of our immediate control; however a line must be drawn between this sort of sociological and economic reasoning and the type of reasoning that would go further than this and attribute all of it to a complex interaction of biological and ultimately chemical factors.

Which is why I talk about two spheres, the scientific and the human, with a kind of intermediate place occupied by socially structuring factors.

A Neo-Romantic viewpoint would welcome the partial light that the social sciences can throw on human behavior and society, and also welcome the advances that could be made by science, but would say that the focus of a human society is the human being itself and its experience, with possibly the experience of animals added on. It would take the focus away from determinism and towards exploring human life in all its potentials and possibilities, as well as variations.

From my perspective the deterministic mindset that is typical in many people who are very liberal is extraordinarily limiting. Life is set and even if you can do a little bit personally you're still trapped in a relationship between biology and yourself, that determines so much that to understand life we have to look at physical anthropology and the questionable sciences that try to directly link behavior to biological adaptation, from our most inner experiences outwards. In such a situation why should anyone even try to explore human life? Why should anyone even try to test the possibilities, to experience more, to develop a sense of self removed from this sort of prison of determination?

By separating out the scientific and social spheres, but leaving the door open for sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology, and trying to reorient life back to its normal focus we can present an alternative to sterile liberalism which also avoids the perils of completely and totally turning ones back on these things. Democracy and everything that the Enlightenment produced that was valuable still have a place here, unlike in the world of Christian fundamentalists, because Democracy doesn't rest on socio-biology but on a basic understanding of human societies and the possibilities inherent in the variety they represent, as well as in the potentials of the individual for directing his or her own life successfully.

This in turn feeds into socialism in that a big obstacle for socialism in the United States right now is the kind of Classical Liberal worldview, which is different from the more modern liberal worldview but which is represented in a lot of ways by the characteristics outlined above. The Classical liberal worldview has been used by people opposing socialism who ironically take the opposite of determinism to be true: that the same concepts of the individual as a sort of generic atom create the possibility for individuals to completely structure their own lives independent of social constraints, and that any action that recognizes collective experience and conditions and seeks to change them is infringing severely on the rights of the individual. This is reflected in mainstream economics, where everyone can potentially be a winner, irrespective of the fact that businesses need workers and that not everyone can be an owner or a businessman by the very nature of the constraints of the economy.

If with the paradigm of deterministic liberalism goes the doctrine of liberalism as denying any sort of collective experience or collective factors determining experience and possibilities then the way will be cleared for a socialism that honors the rights of the individual while addressing the collective problems that humanity faces.

Superpower in decline...

By Dilip Hiro. Hiro means this first paragraph as subtle irony, but it's worth presenting because it does capture the thinking of a lot of people.

"With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States stood tall — militarily invincible, economically unrivalled, diplomatically uncontestable, and the dominating force on information channels worldwide. The next century was to be the true “American century,” with the rest of the world molding itself in the image of the sole superpower."

This points to the notion in the United States of what the Cold War was all about and what the "winning" of it by the United States meant. I was always under the impression that the Cold War was about human rights, that sort of thing, and that it wasn't about the U.S. per se opposing the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union as a model of what these countries should look like.

But it seems that people in the U.S. foreign policy establishment have a different ideas, relayed to the American public via the media.

Which is very strange considering that Germany, for instance, which saw nearly half of its territory incorporated into the Eastern Bloc, with an enormous border line between East Germany and West, probably didn't consider the point of ending the Cold War as turning East Germany into a model of the United States, which hasn't happened because of reunification. What exactly does the United States have to do with that situation, or a hundred other situations?

Another lapse of consciousness: "Saddam's Cousin, 14 Others On Trial For Crimes Against Humanity"

That they did it is probably not in doubt. The people on trial are those responsible for the suppression of a Shiite uprising in Iraq after the Gulf War, more on which will be said later. But what's ironic, and what signals a lapse of consciousness on the part of the AP, is that a trial for "Crimes against humanity" is taking place in Iraq. Not because of the Iraq war but because if they had been apprehended by anyone else this would be taking place in the Hague, where Slobodan Milosevich was tried. However, we in the U.S., or at least are government, don't believe in international tribunals set up under UN auspices, and we've in fact signed bilateral agreements with many countries to prevent U.S. citizens from ever going to the International Criminal Court if they commit crimes there.

So we have the scene of a country that's spurned international cooperation for the prosecution of crimes against humanity running it's own little court in Iraq, trying former Hussein government figures that are both likely guilty and whose crimes fit the U.S. propaganda spread in the run up to the Iraq war, with people like the AP writer (whose article is available through the title link) piously talking about what a solemn day this is, where these people are actually being brought to justice in a court of law. It's kind of like the taking down of the Saddam statue: it looks dramatic up front but if you move the camera back and get a wider view you see the scam and obfuscation of it.

And about the Shiite uprising? Well, there's a little something that the reporter failed to mention, which is that the U.S. encouraged the Shi'ia to rise up after the Gulf War but at the crucial moment withdrew support, leaving the people who rose up to be butchered.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Great Barbara Ehrenreich article--"Smashing Capitalism", about the collapse of the payday loan industry

Now this is what I mean by having an attention span wide enough that you write about more than just the minutia of the daily Bush drama:

"The American poor, who are usually tactful enough to remain invisible to the multi-millionaire class, suddenly leaped onto the scene and started smashing the global financial system. Incredibly enough, this may be the first case in history in which the downtrodden manage to bring down an unfair economic system without going to the trouble of a revolution.

First they stopped paying their mortgages, a move in which they were joined by many financially stretched middle class folks, though the poor definitely led the way. All right, these were trick mortgages, many of them designed to be unaffordable within two years of signing the contract. There were "NINJA" loans, for example, awarded to people with "no income, no job or assets." Conservative columnist Niall Fergusen laments the low levels of "economic literacy" that allowed people to be exploited by sub-prime loans. Why didn't these low-income folks get lawyers to go over the fine print? And don't they have personal financial advisors anyway?

Then, in a diabolically clever move, the poor - a category which now roughly coincides with the working class -- stopped shopping. Both Wal-Mart and Home Depot announced disappointing second quarter performances, plunging the market into another Arctic-style meltdown. H. Lee Scott, CEO of the low-wage Wal-Mart empire, admitted with admirable sensitivity, that "it's no secret that many customers are running out of money at the end of the month."

Security and Prosperity Partnership, or, the more mainstream web progressives miss the story behind "NAFTA Superhighway"

* on edit: here's a progressives criticism of the Security and Prosperity Partnership from the Council of Canadians, the group that activist Maude Barlow is a part of.

Say that there was a pact that was underway between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, that would lead to greater integration through harmonization of customs duties, laws regarding subsidies, and that would offer cooperation on things like security as well. The agreement is discussed in legitimate circles but is arcane, dealing with stuff that the regular TV news thinks people aren't interested in. However, there's a populist movement opposing it, some of which admittedly is composed of right wing people who see a big conspiracy behind it linking the agreement to the UN and invasions of U.S. sovereignty. But a fringe candidate for President speaks out against it and is lampooned in the press for supporting conspiracy theories.

Are we talking about the NAFTA Superhighway, the Security and Prosperity Partnership between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada---which is meeting this week in Ottawa and is being protested, and Ron Paul?

Nope. The agreement was NAFTA, the conspiracy people were right wingers associated with the "Patriot" Militia movement, and the fringe Presidential candidate was Ross Perot. The year was 1992.

There was also a progressive opposition to NAFTA, linking in with labor opposition, but that was ignored.

Ross Perot, who bought TV time in order to run what were essentially informercials outlining what NAFTA could do to the U.S. economy, was looked at as an alarmist who didn't know the facts. Perot's "Giant Sucking Sound" coming from the U.S.-Mexican border, which was the sound of jobs being lost, was laughed at and repeated ad nauseum because, hee hee hee, "Giant Sucking Sound" that sounds like oral sex!!!

Well look at where we are now. Canada has lost big time, the U.S. has lost a hell of a lot, and Mexico in turn hasn't gained much, with the promised jobs and prosperity turning into sweatshops where unionization and resistance to bad working conditions are met with force.

Which brings me to the NAFTA Superhighway. The rational kernel within the resistance to this thing, which beyond a stretch of road in Texas is non-existent either in plan or execution, is that there's a real entity behind it encouraging further lowering of economic trade barriers between the three countries, and it's called the Security and Prosperity Partnership...something that sounds a little to close to the "East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere", which is what the Japanese called their empire in Asia. It's been in existence for three years. Ominously it has incorporated Security cooperation between the three countries into its mandate because of the of course changed conditions in a post-9/11 world.

But instead of pointing out that at the bottom of this thing is an issue that people should be concerned about, all the attention has been placed on exposing just how stupid people are for believing in a "NAFTA Superhighway" and how, thank god, there isn't such a thing!

Here's a link to a blog entry from the Huffington Post on the subject of people's total stupidity about that NAFTA Superhighway.

From Katharine Jose: "Between then and now, Google Alerts for "nafta superhighway" went from one or two a day to more like six or eight: more editorials in local papers opposing the highway, more blogs from more or less anonymous bloggers. This month, the dam burst. Corsi reported an official denial from Dick Cheney. A piece on The New York Times' Caucus blog reported that constituents in Iowa were posing questions about the highway to Republican candidates. A segment on the Colbert Report poked fun at an author convinced not only that the highway will be built, but that it will destroy the American way. Finally, just as I sat down to write this blog, the final word. Christopher Hayes' article for The Nation appeared online last week, putting to rest the rumors, the whispers, and the doubts. The left-leaning media agrees that the highway doesn't exist, which is not entirely a surprise since the right has long taken ownership over this particular conspiracy theory., a conservative website whose contributors have repeatedly declared opposition to the NAFTA Superhighway, this week published an editorial that outed the Superhighway as a conspiracy -- one that right wingers were orating about but failing to address as a decoy."

and "he [writer for Human Events Jerome Corsi] said it was part of a broader plan to merge the three nations into a North American Union; he also said a certain planned highway -- the Tran Texas Corridor -- was only the beginning."

North American Union? That wouldn't sound anything like the Security and Prosperity Partnership, now would it?

But Jose says that people aren't completely stupid in believing in this: "Most significantly, it isn't going away, and it won't go away, because the highway has never been the point. For every journalist, blogger, politician, constituent and lonely heart that has raged about this highway, the anger has never been about the highway itself as much as about fear for the future of America and anger at what has happened to the country under this administration."

That's the kind of positive reinforcement that you'd give in a polite assessment of a very bad piece of work by a child.

The truth is that there's a lot of people who believe in the NAFTA Superhighway that are concerned about it for xenophobic reasons dealing with illegal immigration, but a few years down the road when the Security and Prosperity Partnership has eroded away yet more jobs, and forced the standard of living in the U.S. down further, smug pats on the head like this one will reveal themselves for what they are: five second responses by people so concerned about the immediate daily political situation relating to President Bush and the administration that they miss the forest for the trees.

Families of miners demand hole for a rescue capsule, meanwhile 34 civilians were killed in Iraq yesterday

From CNN via Rawstory

Keith Oppenheim reported from Huntington, UT that over the weekend the tone of mine officials had "changed from optimism to despair" after experts determined that underground tunneling was no longer safe and a borehole showed oxygen levels were insufficient to sustain life.

A fifth borehole is being drilled that may provide more information, but the underground tunneling that resulted in the death or injury of nine rescuers has ceased. The families are demanding that the mining company drill a hole large enough for a rescue capsule that could retrieve the men or their bodies.

From Iraq Body Count

Sunday 19 August: 34 dead

Baghdad: 12 killed by mortars, including 2 children, Obeidi; gunmen kill Education Ministry official and his brother; motorcycle bomb, roadside bombs, eastern Baghdad; 14 bodies.
Rashad: body found.
Kirkuk-Hawija road: policeman's body found.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Miners' families enraged search is being called off. Meanwhile, last sunday, 56 people were murdered in Iraq violence

FromIraq Body Count

Sunday 12 August: 56 dead

Baghdad: mortars, Qahira; US/Iraqi raid kills 2 in Sadr City; 17 bodies.
Hawija: US air strike kills farmer; 2 bodies.
Arif Koie: 3 policemen killed by gunmen -policeman's wife commits suicide when told of his death, leaving 5 young children.
Hilla: 3 bodies.
Baquba: 16 bodies.

From MSNBC about the miners:

"HUNTINGTON, Utah - Six coal miners caught in a cave-in are probably dead and may forever be entombed in the still-quivering mountain, officials conceded Sunday, all but abandoning the unflinching optimism they’ve maintained publicly for nearly two weeks.

Relatives responded by accusing federal officials and the mine's owners of quitting on the rescue effort and leaving the men for dead.
Story continues below ↓advertisement

"We feel that they've given up and that they are just waiting for the six miners to expire," said Sonny Olsen, a spokesman for the families, reading from a prepared statement as about 70 relatives of the trapped miners stood behind him."

From Iraq Body Count about last Saturday:

Saturday 11 August: 31 dead

Baghdad: 3 killed when Imam's house is bombed, Adhamiya; roadside bomb, Zaafaraniya; 11 bodies.
Afak: governor of Diwaniya killed with police chief and 3 bodyguards by roadside bomb.
Ishaqi: 4 mutilated bodies of young men, abducted last week.

Last Friday:

Friday 10 August: 69 dead

Third day of curfew and driving ban

Baghdad: 6 bodies.
Kirkuk: car bomb kills 11, including a child.
Garma: son of head of Maliki tribe is killed, 5 killed in clashes following his death.
Baquba: car bomb, shootings.
Khalidiya: US rockets fired from Al-Habaniya base hit house, kill 2.
Mosul: 3 policemen, kidnapped the previous day, publicly murdered/executed; 11 bodies.
Samarra: US aircraft bombs van carrying electricity workers, kills 8.
Rutba: 3 bodies.
Khalis: 9 bodies, 4 from the same family.

Yazidis, first bad now good

Illustrating the schizophrenia of the blogosphere, where few of the progressive bloggers have anything resembling a coherent opinion on things that isn't forgotten after five minutes. There was a bombing in the Kurdish town of Dohuk, killing 150 Yezidis, followers of a small semi-Muslim sect. The appropriate kind of condemnation is going on of the event, but I can't help but remembering the response of Digby on "Digby's Hullabaloo" to the killing of a Yazidi girl earlier this year who had converted to Sunni Islam and married a Muslim. It was that the act wasn't due to religious strife but was an act of pure patriarchal barbarism. By not due to religious strife she meant not due to Sunni/Shi'ia religious strife, or ethnic strife because both Yazidis and non-Yazidis in Kurdistan are both Kurds. The sect was described in extremely negative terms as being a marginal sect, with the implication that these people were sort of crazy. This was reported not just on Digby but in several other places in the Blogosphere, particularly on Huffington Post.

I wrote on Digby's site that there was in fact a religious dimension to this: Yazidis had been, and still are, persecuted by their fellow Kurds because of their religious beliefs. There is no conversion to the Yazidi faith, you have to be born into it. Yazidis only marry other Yazidis. While the killing was wrong the girl in question had converted out of the Yazidi religion and married a non-Yazidi. Strangely enough, an Imam had said that the community had forgiven the girl, which was why she came back there in the first place.

So first the Yazidis are a marginal cult that practices pure barbaric patriarchal violence and now, with the five second memory of the blogosphere, they're cheered as a minority religion that has been decimated by religious infighting.

I wonder if the people who supported the first opinion, either personally or in print, and who now support the second even know the basics of Yazidi belief and history. It isn't hard to find out: all you have to do is go to Wikipedia. Interestingly enough, while Digby has written about every other topic under the sun this week there's nothing on her blog about the 150 Yazidis killed in the religiously motivated bombing.

Knowing your market

Usually, when someone says something about knowing the market they're directing either their site to or their writings to it's the kiss of death. It means that actual content is on the way out and that something like the "Videos of Dogs close up through a widescreen lens" are on their way. Witness Alternet, which started out as a pretty decent site only to put up a survey that it wanted its readers to take..The purpose of the survey was to ascertain what were the backgrounds of readers, what they liked about the site, what they liked in general, in order to attract advertisers. Result: a reduction in real progressive voices and content and a rise in non-political and semi-political content intended to sell the site to advertisers. Well that's not what I'm talking about here.

Instead, I should realize that people are more likely to read a post about a band they like than they are to read a post about modern art. Common sense things like that. Doesn't mean changing anything just that their should be an awareness of different sorts of likely responses to different sorts of articles.

The opposite of Alternet is bad too. An example of this is Verso press, which is associated with the New Left Review, which in turn has grown much less radical since 1992. Verso started out publishing books from authors that were part of the New Left whose work didn't fit into traditional left classifications. It had a high standard for intellectual content. Eventually what happened is that the press started more and more to specialize in topics that academics liked but that had less and less to do with what people on the ground were concerned with, until you have the situation today where most of Verso's output is academic philosophy of dubious worth both philosophically and certainly in relation to its radical content, which is almost non-existent at this point. The rest of its publishing is taken up by a small number of radical books that it does in fact keep putting out each year. But the disconnect between anything concrete whatsoever, and I don't mean just things belonging to academic disciplines but hyper, hyper theoretical works...that go beyond anything that I've written or published.

A key example of this is a remaindered book called "Mapping political ideologies", edited by Slavoj Zizek. I think it's remaindered since I found it at "Half Price Books". When I first saw it I thought "Great! Verso is putting out a field guide to the different sort of left strands of thought out there, with maybe some other types of thought included too." But when I looked inside I saw that none of the essays, none of them, was a description of a political ideology. Instead they were essays dealing with some sort of meta-post structuralist concept that redefined "Mapping" in some way that it meant something else than purely organizing data about something into classifications. It wasn't about political ideologies but about the theoretical concepts behind the word "Mapping". This might be interesting if they meant conventional classification but they didn't. Instead "Mapping" was given a Critical Theory, Post-Structuralist, spin that related mapping to god knows what.

It is sad. They publish Zizek, whose work actually is interesting, but they publish people who are totally disconnected from things like a guy named Laclau whose big contribution is that he wrote a theory laden book on populism. Wow, if he had actually used the historical method it might have been valuable, but he decided, after using intensive theoretical constructs that show more his familiarity with hip philosophers than anything else that Populism was the new thing, that it was present in South America as the new thing. Well, you know there have been actual objective books written on it that haven't been oriented towards proving that "populism" fits some sort of post-structuralist mode as being acceptable but instead have been oriented to actually going to these countries, researching the movements and writing books making use of that research. Then, of course, there are books like Jim Hightowers' "There's nothing in the middle of the road but dead armadillos", a book about populism that actually has a chance of being read by the populous itself.

How to understand modern art.

I took the bus downtown today and went to the Seattle Art Museum or SAM for the first time. I'd been to several regional art museums and had come away from them thinking that the press they put out was totally overblown and that they really weren't worth my or anyone else's time. So it was great to get down to the SAM and find out that it's a real museum with high quality pieces. The museum itself isn't big but although it's an overused cliche what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, especially in non-Western art, which was a happy thing to see. On top of that it has a very large collection of modern 20th century art.

That's where a lot of the fun came in. When I got into the modern art part and adjusted myself to reading abstract paintings I noticed a few names, people that were basically just names that I'd come across, like Arthur Dove, and people that I vaguely knew, like Marsden Hartley. Then I went into another room and looked at the wall and things got a little warmer in terms of knowledge. First was a Paul Klee, but unfortunately it was really small and hard to make out, but next to it was a painting by Sophia Delauney which was really good. So I'm moving around the room and I see an interesting abstract painting, with cleaner lines than the rest and actual shading, with a more complex painting above it. I looked at the little sign and it said the one on top was by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which I thought was pretty cool, but I didn't see who the one below was by.

Then, I saw the notice: it was by Wassily Kandinsky, and I almost fell over. I did a very long research paper on Kandinsky, one of the founders of modern art with both his work and a small book entitled "On the Spiritual in Art" that dealt with the correspondence of colors with moods and shapes with, sort of moods, but different. I'll give an example of how his paintings work later on after I go through some more people. So there was another Moholy-Nagy next to the two, and not quite as interesting as the first one, but then I look at an interesting painting consisting of about nine spirals each mounted on its own circle and arranged on a black background and I see that it's one of the few more straightforwardly conventional creations of Marcel Duchamp. Tick another almost fainting off there.

Now I'm sort of wandering around in a kind of daze, then I go into the next room and look at the right wall still hits me remembering it even though it was at the beginning of the day....a Mark Rothko painting. At this point I'm almost crying, literally, because I read Rothko's biography late in highschool and have enjoyed his paintings.

Soon after that I left the modern art spaces because the sensory overload, not just from being impressed with really great works by very good artists but also from the sheer emotional complexity of the works in question, has overwhelmed me.

And I thought it was good when I saw a pseudo-Cubist painting in the first room!

Anyways, this is how abstract expressionism....which actually is a term that I don't quite think is appropriate because I think that the people who started modern art also drew on the symbolist, but this doesn't apply to Cubism and Marcel Duchamp is in another universe entirely:

It's pretty simple. The colors stand for moods or feelings. Red can be love but certain types of red can be anger. Yellow can be a sort of neutral color, or sunny if there's gold in it and it's sort of orange. Blue can be sadness, while green is sort of a modified blue and can be melancholy if it's light or, actually, if it's deep green it can be sort of evocative of nature and the outdoors.

All of the coloring in abstract expressionism plays on the conventional sorts of symbolic associations that have been built up in the west regarding colors and moods or colors and ideas, like purple being considered a rich and majestic color because it was once associated with royalty....or conversely meaning the opposite if it's rendered in such a way as to make it seem tacky.

The thing is there isn't a book that all the abstract expressionists used to generate correspondences between moods and colors. Each of them has their own scheme but the schemes are close enough together that you can usually figure them out.

When it comes to shape the kind of correspondences that applied to color apply here: circles are harmonious and sort of neutral. Squares are less harmonious, being sort of solid and angular, and triangles are kind of disruptive because the angles are so severe and because they're so pointy, to use professional terminology. More complex shapes like pentagons are rarely used because the associations with a shape like a pentagon are vague compared to the three basic shapes. Rectangles are variations on squares and are a way to express square-like feelings in a less severe way.

Then, there are lines. The meaning of lines depends on their orientation and relationship to the shapes surrounding them. Piet Mondrian, the dutch painter, had a theory about the qualities of vertical lines as opposed to horizontal lines, and he made his paintings around almost purely horizontal and vertical lines, but this scheme was not adopted by people outside of his movement, de stijl.

So how does all of this come together? Well, I'll give an example, but first let me say that the way that abstract expressionist paintings are put together resembles a language, with one set of figures modified by figures around it that are in turn modified by other figures, more than it does the sort of aesthetic meaning gathered around most representational painting from the Renaissance onwards. The figures are like words that together form sentences, with patches of color and lines serving as modifiers. Although you can't literally do this since the meaning is fluid, you could look at an abstract painting as containing several paragraphs or more of text within it.

I should mention too that the shapes are open to the same sorts of variation that the colors are, at least when you start using modifications of the basic forms, for instance one of the paintings I saw today was an attempt to represent what a piece by Bach sounded like, and what impressions it made, to the artist, and he used jagged lines to represent patches of the Bach piece---that sonically resembled the ups and downs of the lines in terms of rise and fall of pitch. What does a circle divided into four with a dot in each quarter mean? That's the sort of thing that's up to the artist to define as he or she wants. And what if it's situated diagonally and is on a very large swath of color that turns out to be a very asymmetrical shape with five sides, but not a pentagon?

Ok, here's an example of what these things can mean. You have a circle with a thick black border that's a sort of orangish red inside. The red is sort of a soft color, it's not overpowered by the black border but hold's its own. The mood isn't aggression, and it's not a sort of deep red representing some sort of deep romantic love. No, it's sort of a happy, less serious feeling of love, and ironically the particular feeling is brought out by the thick circle because if the circle was less thick you'd have a color, intrinsically weak because it deviates a lot from pure primary colors, that would have to struggle to express the same thing with the same clearness.

Now, there's a small rectangle that looks more like a strip of color but is dark green but not too dark, that's arranged in such a way that the top is closer to the circle than the bottom, but the whole thing is turned a little bit up so that it isn't at a forty five degree angle. There's also a decent amount of distance between the rectangle and the circle, so that the rectangle isn't crowding the circle.

What do the two in concert mean?

Well because the rectangle is more like a line of color you can tell that it's primarily the circle that it modifies---the circle isn't modifying the rectangle primarily. The color of the rectangle modifies the color of the circle and sort of grounds the feeling of happiness with something more concrete: green is the color of the outdoors, it's the color that we subconsciously associate with trees and forests and therefore with nature, so the subject of the happiness is somewhat established: it's a happiness regarding being outdoors, maybe in a park, maybe in nature in general. The green plays on the feeling of sunlight that the orange added to the red establishes.

Then what does the placement of the rectangle mean in relation to the circle? The idea of placement between the two that I've tried to describe is sort of a neutral placement. By going down and to the right, but not crowding the circle, the rectangle establishes that it's modifying the circle but that it's doing so in a subordinate way. If the rectangle was coming from the bottom of the circle out it would have a totally different effect. The modification of the circle would be jarring and it would be obvious that the modification had to do with the rectangle, more so if the angle was less than forty five degrees. If the rectangle was vertical in comparison to the circle that would have a totally different effect as well. Having the rectangle be horizontal to the circle really would be kind of vague and would depend on other elements in the painting to clear up exactly what was meant.

That's another thing: with lines and figures in combination they're rarely arranged in a way that makes them geometrical shapes, because that would obscure the sort of meaning that this system is based on and would suggest a completely different way of reading the painting based on the placement and impact of geometric shapes on a canvas.

That was just two figures in relation to one another. Most abstract paintings have at least twenty five, unless they're minimalist, and many have from fifty to a hundred figures spread out on the canvas, each modifying the others. You can see how a person could get overloaded translating the shapes modifying shapes modifying shapes into meaning.

But I'm not over yet. One thing that makes this somewhat more comprehensible, although some artists make use of this more than others, is the informal division of the canvas into particular parts, so that instead of having to take the whole thing in relation to itself you can consider the little patch of meaning being worked out in this section of the canvas and relate it to similar sized divisions of meaning in other parts of the canvas, making something more like linked paragraphs of a story out of them.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's funny that people don't give a damn about Iraqi civilians killed but can tear their hearts out over six miners who are probably dead.

I'm just saying. On the one hand, very little coverage and a whole lot of apathy relating to Iraqi civilians who have been blown apart, maimed, had their limbs amputated, been blinded, because of American fire. On the other, when it comes to six, just six people, who are unfortunately probably dead by now, who are Americans, it's a national tragedy that has people tearing their hearts out in sympathy and mourning. News story after news story after news story is devoted to it, to the latest about the miners in Utah, to the scandal about the "Mining Czar"'s conflicts of interest, and to the honestly bad safety record of the mine itself. What about the errors and problems that lead to children being shot in Iraq or people being bombed in Afghanistan? It must be a variant of the "white girl in trouble" story. If a bad, but comparably small, thing happens in the U.S. or to U.S. citizens it's an enormous deal. If it happens to brown people in Iraq or Afghanistan it doesn't matter. Even though it's not bad mine safety that's at fault but U.S. soldiers actually shooting and dropping bombs on people.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a terrorist group so is the U.S. Special Forces

Because they're both part of a country's armed forces. To classify a division of another country's army as a terrorist group, which Bush wants to do with the Revolutionary Guards of Iran as a pretext for invading that country, defies all logic and all rules of linguistic meaning. It's right up there with Clinton's question about "What 'Is' is." that he asked during questioning in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. If Bush can designate elite military units as terrorist organizations then why not designate the Special Forces and the Rangers, two of our elite killing groups, as being composed of terrorists. Or....why not the FSB of Russia? Ah, but the people who torture and murder Chechens are our friends, because we've temporarily paid Putin off with support for his "war on terror" in exchange for less anti-U.S. saber rattling on his part. Why not go down to Ft. Bragg and protest our very own homegrown terrorist group then?

I guarantee you that they're responsible for many more bodies than the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Buddhism has its revenge on the U.S.

Of course Buddhism doesn't teach revenge. In fact it teaches the complete opposite, but....

Something that a lot of people including myself have been trying to figure out is why exactly a big component of the United States totally lost it after 9/11, and still isn't in touch with reality. I'm not talking about people honestly supporting conservative reactions to 9/11 but about people who've had a fundamental disconnect from the facts so that they support conservative responses because they believe that things that have proven to be absolutely false are right. It feels like the U.S. population split between people who took 9/11 as a very bad occurrence and got on with their lives and people who couldn't take the reality of a terrorist incident of that scale happening to the United States and who had some sort of deep crisis of identity and belief about the United States itself and its place in the world. That might have been good if the crisis had lead to a more critical sense of what the U.S. has been doing in its foreign policy, which rarely gets reported in the U.S. press itself, but the reevaluation was based on a kind of gut reaction that lead people to become ultra-patriotic and ultra-critical of people who questioned the belief that America is the greatest country in the world.

These people, who outnumber the people who were able to integrate the events of 9/11 into their lives without a real crisis, seem to have fallen into their own little worlds, where things that have been proven time and time again, like the absence of any connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein or the lack of WMDs in Iraq, are real. 9/11 has brought to the surface a real fracture in American society that was invisible: the lack of even a basic education in a lot of people in U.S. and world history and politics in an awful lot of people that causes irrational responses when the chips are down and that knowledge is needed.

Which is how Buddhism fits into this. In Buddhism people are said to create their own illusions, which become part of their psychology and structure their every day lives. They live by these illusions and fight against them at times but it's like fighting your own shadow. They're trapped. They're trapped in their own world by their own misperception of reality, that is in turn caused by some error in their lives.

I feel like this is a good description of the situation of a large portion of people in the U.S.: they've become trapped in the illusions that they formulated after 9/11 and instead of questioning the illusion itself, the basis for their new political beliefs, they respond according to the rules of the illusion.

That's how the principles of Buddhism but not Buddhism itself has had its revenge on the United States. The lack of awareness and the concentration of people on things in their lives that aren't as important as what's going on in the world has now lead to a harvest of self delusion.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The case of Ward Churchill

In a way I think that the aim of attacking Ward Churchill, which was to pave the way for radical academics being dismissed, has not been accomplished. This is because Churchill was probably the only person out there who made his comments on 9/11 so explicit. But, there are two separate issues related to the brouhaha surrounding his case: one, the issue of academics being dismissed for political reasons, the other the actual facts about Ward Churchill. The facts about Churchill's academic career are distantly related but not directly related to the first issue; in fact the issue of dismissing people for political reasons would be more important than the second issue except if the second issue was so serious that it undercut the political reasons. So, if we can agree that dismissing someone because they say something that people take issue with is wrong, let's move onto the second issue.

I think that the people who organized the firing of Ward Churchill spent a lot of time picking their target. The 'Eichmans' article was written days after 9/11 and had been circulating for years before Fox News picked it up. In fact, an entire book, "The Justice of Roosting Chickens", was published as an extension of the essay. They probably looked into his career and found some inconsistencies and looked into the claim of Native ancestry, saw that it had problems, and decided to go with that too. I'll get to that in a second. What the press ignored though was the enormous amount of scholarship that Churchill has devoted to the history of government oppression of radical groups in the U.S. It's an irony that one of the subjects he's written about in an inspiring way, the orchestration of disinformation and of attempts to discredit radicals, should have been used against him himself. Or maybe it isn't that ironic. I'm trying not to sit in judgment here because I really have no right to, but to me at least the talks given by Churchill and the books he's written about government repression, along with the general notion of a Fourth World, an indigenous world that has different politics than the industrialized first world, along with the notion of the Nation-State in the New World as being a construct devoted to the furtherence of capitalism and colonial subjugation, is the most important part of his work.

But on the other hand there have been rumors and murmurs about Churchill's style itself. I know three people who either have known Churchill personally over the years or have had some interaction with him, all of these being either professional or kind of peripheral through being part of the same radical community in Colorado, and they've been kind of cold on the matter of Churchill. One person said that he knows people who have studied under Churchill and that they're good scholars, but had "no comment" on Churchill personally. Another person said that during the Nicaragua conflict in the eighties Churchill was involved with supporting the Miskito tribe against the Contras and that this brought him into collaboration with right-wing figures associated with the Reagan administration, who also were helping the Miskito tribe as part of their broader effort to undermine the socialist Sandinista government.

Then there's the main issue, besides the allegations of plagiarism, which aren't spurious but which certainly were investigated because of the "Eichmans" article, which is the Native American issues that Churchill writes about. It isn't so much that he lectures on Native American issues that made Churchill vulnerable as it was the way in which he lectures and writes. As people note, it's very angry and confrontational, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it trades an awful lot on the idea that there's a person with a rock-solid Native identity behind it. There's the weakness, on top of the "Eichmans" article, that people exploited: the tenuous nature of Ward Churchill's Native identity, which is based on family tradition, versus the type of rhetoric employed in his books.

So you have a politically vulnerable paper that's employed to start the fire of outrage, then you have a vulnerability further down the line in the person's trade and background, which is exploited. Then you have some issues regarding use of sources and attribution of articles that have come up before but haven't been seriously pursued, but now are. If you go to that oracle of truth Wikipedia and search for the Ward Churchill controversy you'll find a link to an extensive thirty page paper written by an academic, with lots of supporting evidence, that argues that particular historical incidents that Churchill talks about in Native history were fabricated. The article also outlines Churchill taking credit for a pamphlet on dams in Canada that was written by an NGO as well as putting his name on a paper written by someone else.

This is the third layer of vulnerability, with a layer possibly in between the second and third being the role of affirmative action in getting Churchill appointed as a professor based on Native ancestry, which is troubling but maybe doesn't mean what people think.

The impact of the three layers, the Eichmans article, the Native Ancestry issue, and the academic work issue, is spun in such a way as to suggest that Churchill is a con man and a liar and that he doesn't deserve an academic post, and that further he's a radical who has exploited the system and exploited liberal tolerance to be appointed as a heavy radical teaching vulnerable children and getting a voice that he otherwise wouldn't have.

I don't know what the truth is but I seriously doubt that the con man image is accurate; there probably is a more complex explanation for all of these things. Neither is the story that he mysteriously embodies all that conservatives fear about academics: a tenured radical, someone who has exploited minority status, someone who's issues regarding plagiarism and academic honesty were overlooked because of the topics he was writing about.

It makes for a perfect storm though, one that conservatives were very smart to exploit.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Christianity somewhat debased

In the influence of the Western notion of the Trinity and the idea that Jesus has two natures, human and divine. This is theological, I'm not a Christian but see truths in all religions. First off, the notion of Jesus as being both divine and human undercuts the previous notion of Jesus as being the creator of the world, which was present in Christianity before the Council of Calcedon arrived at the two natures in one rule. Then, the part of the Church that stuck with the idea of the Council progressively moved the scheme of God, Son, and Holy Spirit,or Father,Son, and Holy Spirit, organized into some sort of functional grouping and towards an idea of them as being co-substantial, having the same essence, which as a whole makes up God.

This is really problematical, first and most glaringly in the case of the Holy Spirit but also in the case of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are equal parts of a whole, that proceeds from God the father. However, Jesus was sent to earth on a specific mission by God, or in the earlier rendering he was also commanded by God to create the world, meaning that Jesus was subservient to God. The Holy Spirit was/is thought to be the power of God and Jesus that lets them intervene in human affairs today. Clearly, at least to me, the Holy Spirit is much less than God the Father and Jesus, occupying the lowest rung on the Trinity, not even being a person or a God but instead just being a force. Yet in the doctrine of the Trinity the Holy Spirit is looked at as equal to God and Jesus.

The idea of Jesus as having two natures, human and divine, has more problems in that according to the Trinitarians Jesus wasn't created by God but existed from the beginning of creation. Yet, he is supposed to have the nature of humans, who were created by God after the beginning of time.

What makes more sense to me is the Arian heresy and the Monophysite doctrine. Arian in this case doesn't refer to "Aryan" but to a Bishop named Arius.

He had a doctrine that went away from the Trinity and towards divinity being organized into a sort of functional grouping, where the Son was created by God the Father, then brought into being, and the Holy Spirit was created by God the Father and then appointed as subservient to Jesus. Jesus existed before being incarnated as the being who created the world. "Jesus" then, was not the Jesus of humanistic interpretations, who focus on Jesus' actions and character as a spirit or deity in human form but a cosmic principle that transcended humanity. There were three types of beings, and Jesus as incarnated was divinity taking on human form but not having human nature as part of his nature. That's the Monophysite part.

*on edit: it might sound foreign to people living in a Protestant society to refer to Jesus as a creator of the world, but it's there in the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John where Jesus is referred to as the Logos or Word of God. Here's the Gospel of John, Verse 1-5 and Verse 14

"The Word Became Flesh
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.

3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[a] it.


14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Clearly he's saying that in the beginning was Jesus as Word or Logos and that he dwelled with God and that God operated through him to create all things.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Book Review of "How the Irish Invented Slang" Part II--Side by side definition comparisons.

Where to begin? First, lets do the silly ones. Then the predictable ones, then the ones where he gets it completely wrong. It should be mentioned that the bulk of Cassidy's supposed finds in slang are words so old and out of use that they're totally unfamiliar. Examples: Slat: ribs; Gigger: a lock; Cheese, to "Cheese it" to shut up or be quiet; Cove: a fellow rogue; Oliver: the Moon; Pill: a baseball or golf ball; Plunge: a Hobo's stash of money; Foot Juice: fortified wine; Kinker: circus performer. Wow, that really shone some light on expressions I use every day! Ok, onto the side by side. BTW, I'm translating the pronunciations from the symbols into something that people can easily read. Cassidy didn't write them like that. The third section of this is where the meat is, so skip on to it if you want. Oh, and there's an entertaining satire in the appendix to this post, which is at the end.

The Silly Ones:

Buck: a strong and spirited young man, a dashing fellow. DC[Daniel Cassidy]: Boc n. A buck, a wag, a playboy

McBain's dictionary [published in 1896] derives Buck from Boc....and thence to a Sanskrit root.


it could just refer to someone who was like a deer, or a buck, "young buck" = like a young male deer.

Kid: a young goat, a child. DC: Cuid, pronounced Coueed, a share, a part, a portion, a term of endearment, love affection.


It could be a term of endearment for a child who was as cute as a little sheep.

More DC: "Stealing a Kid (a chuid, my darling) from an Irish mother was robbing the Cuid (portion, part) that she loved more than any other."

And if, like, the world was, like just a little world, right, inside a bigger world, and that was inside a bigger world, that would be, like, woah, cool.
Yes, scholarship on the level of stoned humor. Got to love it.

The Big Onion: term for Chicago. Cassidy thinks that this refers to New York City, which it decidedly does not. Nevertheless, he gives a definition for it. DC: (big) Annon, pronounced eh-non (big) beyond, far side. "NYC was the 'Big Beyond' to millions of Irish emigrants."


Chicago was named the "Big Onion" to distinguish it from New York City, which was the "Big Apple". Cassidy cites the fact that a group called "Big Onion Tours" has a tour of the Lower East Side that talks about the Irish who used to live there as proof that "The Big Onion" refers to New York City.

Ma. Mother. DC: Máthair. Mother; source.


Actually, Mother is spread along every single Indo-European language in related forms, from Máthair to Mutter to Mor, to Mere, to Moeder, to Mothir, Meter, Mater...going all the way back to the Sanskrit Matar. In fact, "Mother" was one of the words that prompted linguists to think that there was an Indo-European family of languages that included languages in India. Very curious to suggest that Irish was the the source of the abbreviation "Ma". It's related to 'Mumm' and "Mom" and "Mommy", an abbreviation of these. You have to ask where 'Mom' came from. You can't just say that 'Ma' came from Irish because Máthair has an "A" as it's first value, as opposedd to the "O" of English. Why not Latin for the origin of "Ma", then? Or Greek? Or Sanskrit?

Ok, now the obvious. These are words that DC includes as slang revelations that aren't exactly news.

Shamrock: a clover. DC: Seamróg: a Shamrock, a clover

Mullarkey (Malarkey): exagerrated, foolish, talk. DC Meallacach: alluring, charming, beguiling, deceitful.

Bard, poet: DC Bárd, Bard: a poet, a bard, a rhymer, a scold.

Bet you didn't know those were Irish!

Now, onto the good part, the just plain wrong.

Lucre: gain, profit, advantage. DC: Luach óir, pronounced Luec-Or: reward of gold, wages of glod, price of gold.


Lucrum, Latin, gain, used in St. Paul's epistle to Titus. Cassidy mentions this but says that Lucrum is a cognate, meaning that it's basically the same word, as the Irish Luach and Old Irish lóg. Now, "filthy lucre" is a most English phrase, meaning that Lucre probably got into the English language in America from England, where it was derived from Lucrum. Additionally, the Catholic Church likely influenced the Irish language through Church Latin, and if that's not enough there's always the common Indo-European roots between Latin and Irish, something that Cassidy doesn't seem to take into account. Irish isn't it's own language family, neither is it a language that's been outside of history. Latin influenced it through the church like Greek influenced Russian.

Dude: a dapper dandy; a "swell", [someone whose style was affected]: DC: Dúd a foolish looking fellow; a dolt; a numbskull; a clown; an idiot; a rubbernecker.


Interestingly enough, Cassidy exploits something here that he exploits elsewhere in the book: the fact that some words have either obscure origins or aren't listen in slang dictionaries. He devotes a whole essay to "Dude" without giving a single instance connecting the word "Dude" to anything Irish. Look at this, from the Brooklyn Eagle on February 25th 1883 "The Dude is from 19 to 28 yearsw of age, wearsw trousers of extreme tightness, is hollow chested, effeminate in his ways, apes the English and distinguishes himself as a lover of actresses."

Cited in Chapman's Dictionary of American slang as being something that dandy African-American youths described themselves as, same meaning as "cat".

Now, Cassidy saying that what these folks called themselves was a derogatory term is pretty interesting. He labels the Oxford English Dictionary Dúd in the sense of numbskull for not accepting an Irish origin of the word. So Cassidy is making a judgement about the origin of the word that comes from what he thinks that Irish folks back in the 19th century thought about these people, that they were idiots, and thinks that this terminology somehow leaped into use by the people themselves, who obviously weren't aware of the term's connotations. Interestingly, he only cites descriptions of people using the word "Dude" to describe dandies and doesn't show anything that relates Irish to Dude besides the similarity of Dude and Dúd. Maybe Dúd is related to "Dud", which would make much more sense.

The mention of effemininity brings up another word he uses, one that's near and dear to my heart: Queer.

Queer: odd, strange, peculiar, eccentric, suspicious; a homosexual; DC: Corr, pronounced Core, Odd, occasional; peculiar, eccentric, strange.


Counterfeit (Chapman), like a counterfeit coin, something wrong. Sounds like the Irish definition, right? Well, yes, but Chapman cites the first use of Queer as coming in the 1500s, the 16th century, and coming from a Scottish dialect. Cassidy notes some of this but goes on to point out how Queer looks like the Irish word Corr and an associated verb: Corraigh, pronounced Core-ee, which means to disturb to stir to tamper with to rouse to anger. The fact is that Scottish in the 1500s looked like Irish, but that doesn't in any sense mean that Queer is an Irish borrowing, or that the borrowing took place in America. The 16th century rule is something that Cassidy invokes from time to time. This is supposed to be a book about Irish slang in America, but every now and again he traces something to 16th century Ireland or France (where many Irish supposedly settled in the 16th century after the conquest of Ireland), and then says "Aha! See! The Irish influenced the English language!". Possibly, but that has nothing to do with Irish slang in America.

Hick: n. a peasant, a rural person, a country fool

DC: Aitheach, pronounced H-ahheych.n. A churl [boorish person], a peasant, a rent-payer.

"Hick was classified as low cant and vulgar slang well into the 20th century. Most Anglo-American dictionaries derive the word hick from an obscure nickname for Richard"


Cassidy is right that they say that it comes from an obscure name for Richard. What he leaves out is that the Oxford English Dictionary cites a passage from the 16th century containing the name Hick for Rich-ard. Specifically, says it's first recorded in the 1560s and goes on to record a passage talking about " Hick, Hod, and Hodge", describing average Joes, where Hick and Hodge were nicknames for Rick and Rodger. The sense is that a Hick is a average or common person, kind of like "Bubba".

Crony: a close intimate friend or associate; a pal, a chum. Cronies, n. pl, fellow-friends, mutual pals.

DC: Comh-roghna, pronounced ko-rohneh) fellow chosen-ones, mutual sweethearts, fellow-favorites, close friends, mutual pals.

This one, I have to say, is one of the cases of outright fraud in Cassidy's book, and I'm not saying that lightly. Here's why:

"Crony is said to first appear in English during the Restoration Period, supposedly originating in the gobs of wise-cracking English college swells"....vox academica...a term of university or college slang" [from the Oxford English Dictionary]

However, Crony appears in the 1811 edition of Grose's Vulgar Tongue with a decidedly non-collegiate definition....."a confederate in robbery"..."

Here's the really, really, important part, :"Much like African-American gangsta' slang, the flash talk of the Irish slums of London's Seven Dials and St. Giles was all the rage with the youth of the English upper- and middle-classes in the 19th century".

So what's the problem? First off, I've read the very entry in the Oxford English Dictionary that he cites, and he omits to say that the word was recorded in the diary of Samuel Pepys, a famous chronicler, in the mid 17th century. That's when the Restoration was. It started in 1660 and lasted until 1688. Now, how is it that the language habits of youths in the 19th century jumped back in time to the 17th? His example of the "Seven Dials" area, while clearly applicable to the late 18th and to the 19th centuries, is much less clear when you take it back to the 17th century, when it wasn't a slum but a new development that the founder hoped would become fashionable.

Did Daniel Cassidy not see the Oxford English Dictionary citing the mid 17th century as the time when "Crony" was recorded by Samuel Pepys? Did he not know that the Irish slum he was referring to didn't quite exist then, so that there wasn't likely any "gangsta'" like interchange between the Irish and the college folks of that area? It gets curiouser and curiouser when you find that Pepys went to college in Cambridge, not London, in 1651-1654. Cambridge is far from London slums.

Is it that hard to believe that the term "Crony" as referring to a friend or "Cronies" referring to a group of friends, started off as academic slang? If you didn't know that his dates were totally wrong you might believe that there was something there. Please tell me how Irish slang got to Cambridge in the 17th century.

Croaker: a doctor, surgeon. DC: Crochaire (pronounced Crocheireh), a hangman, an executioner, a gallows' bird, a wretch, a villain. a doctor (Irish Traveller Cant)

"The croaker (Crochaire,pron. Crocheireh) a hangman, executioner, was the name for the doctor that the poor could not afford to see until they were already croaking. A "croaker" brought death like a hangman"


Well folks, this one is really, really, wrong. Absurdly wrong. And all it would take would have been a look in the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang" available at most University and College libraries, to see how wrong this definition is. The Random House dictionary cites the first appearance to the 17th century, referring first to the sound of frogs and then referring to people who are boastful. They "Croak" like Frogs croak. Croaker doesn't exclusively refer to doctors and it doesn't refer to executioners at all, it refers to people who talk a lot and are arrogant, which people could easily apply to doctors. Notice the note of pity that comes in with Cassidy's definition. Croakers aren't arrogant doctors, but people who the poor go to when they are in need, presumably needy poor Irish people. Oh, and a clarification: the reason why so many of these definitions go back to the 16th century is that that was when printing started to come into general use. Before that there were manuscripts and occasional wood block pamphlets and prayer booklets.

Knicknack: a curiosity; a small, unusual articl, more for ornamentation or sentimental use. DC:
Neamhghnách (Pronounced : neh'ah knák, neh'ah hunák) unusual, uncommon, uncustomary, (something) extraordinary, unusual, uncommon.

"A knicknack is an uncommon thing or curiosity. It was also considered a vulgar slang word into well into the 19th century. "Nicknacks. Toys, baubles, or curiousities." (Frances Grose, Classical dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785, (1811)."


Now this is really interesting, for several reasons. First off, and I should have mentioned this sooner, Cassidy puts an awful lot of faith in the supposed underworld origins of these words. That's why he seems to be using a book called "Classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue", which we saw cited in "Crony". However, while in that entry Cassidy puts the date as 1811, in this one he reveals that it was written in 1785 and only reprinted in 1811. Why is this important? Well, because "Vulgar" had a different meaning in the 18th century. It referred to the talk of normal people, and didn't necessarily mean vulgarity. The "Vulgate", for instance, is a version of the Bible translated from Greek into Latin. Latin was the "vulgar" tongue of the time, meaning that it wasn't the language used by scholars. So saying that a word was considered vulgar into the 19th century based on the title of a dictionary, which I really hope wasn't the source that Cassidy got this from, is an enormous error.

But it goes deeper than that. If you look in the Oxford English Dictionary you find that Knicknack isn't vulgar at all, and that in the beginning it had little to do with the unusual, the uncommon or the uncustomary. According to the OED Knicknack originally referred to a light and dainty thing. Something small, but that looked nice. They cite a source in the 17th century, and then describe a passage where they say that a woman wouldn't even consider going into a shop unless there was a knicknack displayed there. So it wasn't purely unusual, which "Neamhghnách"--Cassidy usefully breaks it down into Neamh, meaning un, non, and Gnách: common, usual, customary. Indeed, it looks like the idea that knicknacks were something other than nice little things, not necessarily that unusual, seems to come in with the creation of the word "Knicknacker", which refers to someone who's obsessed with the collection of knicknacks. The OED again cites a passage where a man is described as liking "Knicknacks, butterflies, and bugs". This also shows the idea that a knicknack was originally specifically something delicate, not just something unusual....besides, if Knicknack came from Neamhghnách, wouldn't a really big storm, or a person acting really badly qualify as being Neamhghnách? After all, it seems to mean literally not-usual or not-customary. Doesn't say anything about little things you buy at a store.

Throng: n. a crowd, a mass of people, (act of) crowding. DC: Drong (pronounced Drawngh)n. a multitude, a body of people; group; party, troop, faction, tribe, folk; a great assemblage of people. An drong dhaonna, the human race.


This, my friends, is the crown of our little exercize. Throng. Seems like a little word, but it means so much. He traces it to Drong, from Irish. The Oxford English Dictionary, which he seems to quote when he likes, gives the coup-de-gras by citing the first use of "Throng" as being in A.D. 900 in Old English, where it referred to people crushing in in a crowd, i.e. Thronging. It then goes on to cite related words in German, drängen, and Norse, although unfortunately I didn't copy down the Norse one. The original was written starting with þ, which is the Old English letter for "th". Maybe Irish has a similar word, after all they're both Indo-European languages and so share certain similarities, but on the claim that Irish was the origin for both the word "Throng" and "Thronging", both of which were documented by the OED to have been in use for centuries after the first recorded usage, is completely and totally false. As false as false can be. It's up there with saying that Ma comes from the Irish Máthair because it has an 'A' as it's first value, as opposed to the 'O' in Mother.

So there you have it. A sampling. Interestingly enough he does find several definitions that really do go back to Irish, but besides "Jazz", which I'll get to in a second, most of them are in fact confirmed by the Oxford English Dictionary and by some slang dictionaries, meaning that although obscure and hidden in large books these definitions weren't suppressed by mean "Anglo-American" dictionary makers. They were there.

Here are a few that he got right: Keister, Jerk, Shanty, Kabosh. There are probably more. But let's get into Jazz.

It's interesting, in his essay devoted to the word Jazz he skirts around the issue, although he goes into it in the actual dictionary part, of what exactly Jazz originally meant in it's likely origin. He proves that it was an adjective already in use that was applied to the African-American musical movement and not one that the performers used themselves. But what is Jazz, or Jass as it was originally spelled? Quite frankly, Jass was Horniness. You open up Chapman's "Dictionary of American Slang" and the first entry on Jazz is from someone named James T. Farrell, an Irish name, in the 19th century, and it says "To Fuck". "He Jazzed her", "It was really Jazzed up", "He did it in a really Jazzy way".all these things were derivative of Jazz's original meaning of a man being horny and brimming with sexual desire and energy. To Jazz something up was to make it sexy or to add sexy embellishments. Cassidy, at least in the essay at the front of the book, kindly renders "Jazz" as being related to an Irish word for 'heat'. This is probably right, but oh what heat! So yeah, Jazz was originally Irish, but it meant wanting to Fuck.

Here we come to the last part of this essay: the appendix. You know, when I was researching all of this I came across a Hungarian-English dictionary and I started to look through it. I was surprised to find that there were many words in Hungarian, or Magyar more properly, that had strangely similar equivalents in English. I wrote some of them down. It was shocking, and I have to say that although I've just scratched the surface I'm convinced that Hungarians invented the English Language. Yes, I know it's difficult to imagine but just look at the facts:

"How the Hungarians Invented the English Language"

Amis: not functioning properly; "something is amiss"; "has gone completely haywire"; "something is wrong with the engine"Adv. amiss - away from the correct or expected course; "something has gone awry in our plans"; "something went badly amiss in the preparations"

Magyar: Hamis, pronounced Hawmeessh-False, not Genuine

Bevel: To cut at an inclination that forms an angle other than a right angle

Magyar: Ivel, pronounced eevehl-Bend, Curve, a [curved] vault [an architectural term, not a safe].

Ears: 5. Sympathetic or favorable attention: "[The President] wavers between the two positions, depending on who last had his ear" Joseph C. Harsch. or, "Prick up your Ears!"

Magyar: Örs, pronounced ooohrssh. Patrol, Sentry. For "Prick up your ears", not the noun. Prick up your Örs means to be a Sentry because something might happen.

Eratic: 1. Having no fixed or regular course; wandering.
2. Lacking consistency, regularity, or uniformity

Magyar: Erös, pronounced ehrooossh, the root of "Eratic", meaning Strong or Vigorous, in the sense referring to something so strong that it doesn't stick to the regular course of things.

Fell: a. To cause to fall by striking; cut or knock down: fell a tree; fell an opponent in boxing.
b. To kill: was felled by an assassin's bullet.

Magyar: Efelé, pronounced ehfehlay, towards this [direction], a pointing term "it went towards there". Entered the English language in the phrase "The tree Fell by the rock", which really means "The tree Efelé the rock" or, "The tree [went] towards the rock".

Jack: jack off Vulgar Slang
To masturbate.

Magyar: Csak, pronounced Chawkh, meaning "only" or "alone", like "only him". To Jack Off really means "to alone it off", or to "while alone [masturbate] it off [to completion]".

Pasta:1. Unleavened dough, made of wheat flour, water, and sometimes eggs, that is molded into any of a variety of shapes and boiled. They say it's from Late Latin, from Paste, but we know better.

Magyar: Paszta, pronounced Pawstaw, meaning strips or sections, and don't we know that Pasta noodles often resemble strips? You know, wide noodles?

and finally,

Rack: tr.v. racked, rack·ing, racks
1. To place (billiard balls, for example) in a rack.

Magyar: Elrak, pronounced ehlrrawch (with the 'r' trilled like in Spanish): to put away, to clear.

That's obvious enough. I know what you're saying, that Hungarian isn't related to any European languages, not to English, not even to Latin, but Hungarian truly is the secret language of the crossroads, the language of the underbelly of American society. The criminal mixing of Hungarian gangsters in New York City with the other inhabitants produced this dialect, which we're still using today without even realizing it. They say Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn. Balderdash. You're already speaking it.