Saturday, May 31, 2008

Family origins: a declassé bourgeois

That reflects my family background. My family, at least the family that I grew up with, was at one time really influential and wealthy, was a mover and shaker in Macomb County Michigan politics and even to a certain extent influential on the State level of Michigan government. But it started to fall on harder and harder times, becoming more isolated from the rest of the rich people and poorer and shoddier, until by the time of my parents, my mom started to essentially be part of working class culture, eventually even marrying an auto worker, who was a step father. I grew up in these two worlds, with my mom bringing a sort of sensitivity to and awareness of elite culture but with the culture that I actually lived in and functioned in being pretty much working class, at best lower middle class, and not really connected at all with what sometimes was present at home. I think my mom thought she could pass on class by osmosis, but when the rubber hit the road we weren't plugged in to the sort of elite society that could provide that. There was always a tension between the two worlds, the world at home and the outer world, and as they say there's only so much that a well intentioned mother can do...I grew up outside of the elite culture but still exposed to it, and then, miraculously, I got the chance to finish up high school at the sort of elite school that people like my Mom would have gone to.

Barack from Counterpunch

"A taster from Kevin, on “Why Blacks Keep Quiet About Obama”:

“Black people always have to navigate race fear; the long Democratic primary season has just underlined that. Joking, comedian Jon Stewart asked Obama, if elected, “Will you pull a bait and switch and enslave the white race?” Kinda funny. Except that’s precisely the sentiment that underlies white race fear. I’ve heard the same thing said in seriousness by more than one white person. “If Obama gets the White House what will they want next?” Or, “if Obama wins, blacks will think they’re running things.”

. . .Give a listen to the corporate media, and it’s pretty clear what tune black voices are supposed to be singing. Obama is constantly called on to swear allegiance to America – to prove he isn’t swearing allegiance to blacks. The other way to say that is he’s supposed to swear allegiance to white, not black, America. Meanwhile, the back end of that deal is that black Americans are required to substitute Obama for real structural racial progress. As in, “You got your nominee. See, we’re not so racist or bad after all. Now shut up!”"

I really don't see that, or, actually, I see it a different way. Barack in my opinion is one of the whitest black politicians that have been out there, making it hard to see a fiery black nationalist in his statements. In fact, he voluntarily, not with prompting from the media but voluntarily, has distanced himself from radical black ideas that before he was elected to Congress, as a Senator, he may have supported. He's a uniter, not a divider.

But you know, he's running for the President of the United States not the President of black America. If he wants to be a real President he'll have to appeal to all Americans, not just black supporters who will vote for anyone black who's to the left of Alan Keyes and rich white Yuppies who listen to NPR and are liberal to the point of idiocy.

*on edit: it looks like there are two contradictory things going on here: Obama being a really white Black politician and him not connecting with white people although he's been straining to broaden his appeal there. The solution is that the white folks that Obama has been reaching out to aren't regular people but the upper middle class yuppie set that reads the Daily Kos. While he's done a lot to prove that he can order complex espresso drinks with the best of them he hasn't done anything to prove that, yes, he would possibly have a beer with a shot of whiskey or something. He seems to be sacrificing one of the traditional legs on which the Democratic Party has stood since FDR: organized labor.

If Obama really wants to promote racial reconciliation in America and a new progressive politics he should work on bringing African American voters and Union people together, not relying on blacks as a sure thing bloc and reaching out to whites who already agree with him.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Positive aspects of the Bolshevik party

When I read Rosa Luxemburg's critique of the Bolsheviks I can't help but think that she's somewhat naive, as well as hitting certain things right on. I think she's kind of not with it regarding the sort of organization that can actually bring about a revolution in a capitalist country. The idea of professional revolutionaries has come to mean in the U.S. members of some Marxist-Leninist sect who believe that they're the vanguard, despite being recruited to it as college students. But in Russia the idea of professional revolutionaries dovetailed with the need for an underground organization that could advance things without the vulnerabilities of a typical political party. By being transparent and fairly obvious and mainstream the Social Democrats in Germany kind of defeated their purpose because they assumed on some level that capitalist society would tolerate a group claiming to be a regular political party that wanted to overthrow its economic and political system. In this aspect of things the Bolsheviks were more in tune with reality. The Bolshevik/Menshevik split seems to have had to do with activists in Russia not wanting to organize in that manner in order to avoid a future bloodbath. When political parties of the sort that the Bolsheviks belonged to were legalized they retained their underground organization, only partially participating in the Duma. It's important to realize too that by organizing underground and only trying to get limited legitimacy it's possible to engage in more direct action in terms of strikes, demonstrations, than it would be otherwise, since the temptation to censor yourself in order to appear presentable to the world of politics is reduced considerably.

*on edit: this is why the groups that come from them that are actually effective spend their time doing stuff like participating in organizing campaigns of various sorts for social change rather than putting energy into supporting political candidates. It's also why the groups that are better at it spend less time on selling newspapers and more time really making a difference, or trying to at least.

Quite honestly I wouldn't have a problem with a "hispanic takeover" of America

Which is one of the big fears among the anti-immigration crowd. Suddenly we'll all have to speak Spanish. Even though it's divorced from reality somewhat, at least in areas that weren't part of Mexico before we seized them and incorporated them into the U.S., if it did actually happen I'd welcome it with open arms. I lived in Florida for four years, as an adult, and can tell you that in my opinion Latino culture is a heck of a lot more rational, vital, and in touch with basic reality than Anglo culture. We're completely psychotic in comparison. The culture of the U.S. today is not only rotted, rotting on the vine, but desiccated and wrong. The Bush administration and the consequences of 9/11 in their influence on the way people in the U.S. look at things are largely to blame although we've been on this course for a while. Latino culture is an extremely broad term, encompassing literally all the countries of Central and South America as well as Mexico, but I think it applies generally. Plus, Latin America is more in touch with politics as it exists in the rest of the world, both Europe and the former Third World, than the U.S. is, which is sort of in a kind of self imposed bubble of ignorance.

People down there speak a common political language that everyone else on the globe roughly understands but that is as foreign as you can possibly get to the political worldview of the U.S., which seems to think it's an exception to everything and that none but 100% American political ideas matter to it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viva la Santa de Muerte!

From the Chicago Tribune:

"While a similar shrine to a Catholic saint would likely be a source of pride, many residents are appalled at a 75-foot-tall statue of a skeleton shrouded in black, Santa Muerte (Saint Death). Although the Santa Muerte icon has existed for decades in working-class Mexican neighborhoods, never has it towered so ominously."

"Town officials say they want to respect freedom of religion but are facing pressure from constituents who say their new neighbor is literally giving them nightmares. The town has ordered the statue demolished for zoning violations but has taken no further action.

In a small chapel on the grounds, devotees place tequila, cigarettes and bowls of fruit at the feet of smaller Santa Muerte statues. Some burn special incense sticks that promise better health or a new job. Hundreds of worshipers come for Sunday prayers, many traveling long distances to this town about an hour north of Mexico City.

The temple's leader, a young man with a goatee and piercing eyes who is known as Godfather Endoque, has warned that worshipers might respond violently if the temple is shut down. Endoque said he wants peaceful coexistence, adding that town officials should realize that many of their own citizens are closeted Santa Muerte devotees.

"This isn't a figure or an image, it's a form of faith and love," Endoque said. "Let's respect each other. You can have your saints. We will have ours."


"Castaneda said he thinks the statue would be acceptable if it were about half its current height so it did not alter the character of the surrounding neighborhood so dramatically. He also said the temple must provide parking to accommodate the crush of visitors."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Understanding and Creativity/Reason

People talk about being rational and about using your mind all the time, about thinking about things and sometimes about thinking logically about things, but is all of this one activity? Continental philosophy in the 19th century made a distinction between Understanding and Reason. Understanding was the faculty of the mind that could take something that was given to it and turn it around looking at it, poking it here, there, analyzing it. It could even deduce logical consequences from it, but it was essentially passive, not being able to create ideas that weren't logically derivative from things observed. Reason with a big 'R', or Creative Reason, which is a better English language term, was thought to be the faculty that apprehended wholes and could assemble new wholes, new ideas, out of the basic material that the world and other things including the logical deductions of the understanding gave it. A good way to divide the two up is in making an argument. First, you start with the topic, then you analyze different aspects of the topic, but after that you have to come up with some sort of idea of what all of this analysis means. The understanding rules the first part, Creative Reason rules the second. It makes a lot of sense but raises some very interesting questions for American thought.

By dividing reason itself into two parts, and not counting other parts of the mind like Will and Memory, the identity of 'right' or correct with 'reasonable' takes a little bit of a beating. In which sense of reason do you mean when you make the claim that your idea is right because it's based on reason? Do you mean that you've made specific deductions from facts? If so, doesn't the presence of another part of reason suggest that completely new wholes can be built up from given sets of facts, and that your deduction isn't necessarily correct because it's logically sound within itself?

It could be very valid given the particular creative interpretation that you either consciously or unconsciously have given to the facts, but change that interpretation and your logic collapses like a house of cards. Instead, to prove truth a person who recognizes both parts of reason as existing would have to provide a combination of creative interpretation with logical deduction, where the strength of the creative interpretation against other possible creative interpretations would be the first test of whether or not you were correct. If you can make a stronger interpretation of the facts and then deduce conclusions from that interpretation of the facts that are much more solid and workable than your opponents then you have a good chance of making a case of being right-er.

In a sense, you use the faculty of Creative Reason anytime you have a conversation with someone, you use it when you come up with ideas about how to solve a problem, you use it when you engage in writing academic papers, doing research, performing music instead of just practicing, making art, writing fiction, writing non-fiction. You use it when you analyze the world and come up with ideas about the world.

The two parts of reason, interestingly enough, look like they reconcile the contradiction between deduction and induction. Rational deduction would belong to the understanding while induction from facts would belong to the creative reasoning facility.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Counterculture, culture, fringe culture, marginal culture

A podcast interview with Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey brought up a really good point about all of these qualifiers, which is that fringe or counter culture are constantly changing and shifting terms, and so really don't reflect what these people are doing. People who write or make music or do stuff about conspiracies or hidden history (or socialism), do strange art, weird religious stuff, or participate in interesting movements, usually don't set out saying "Hey! I'm going to do something really strange. Won't it be cool for me to do something really strange?" Instead, we try to excel at whatever it is we're pursuing as if this stuff was accessible through the mainstream because we feel that there's value in it and if not for the way that the media works it would be part of that culture. Someone who's doing weird art who's trying to do weird art will immediately be obvious as a fraud. You can literally see it with visual art, that this person has adopted a gimmick because they think it's cool and not because they actually believe in it. Parfrey brought up a conversation with Werner Herzog, classic director of things like "Aguirre: the wrath of god", where Herzog declared that he wasn't counter culture but "I am culture!" This goes down all the way, no matter what you're dealing with. Naive artists only work because they really believe in what they're doing. You can be inspired by naive art, it can make you think and can influence your own art, but if you try to make naive art when you don't have that mind set it won't work at all, and it will be very obvious.

Even writings and rantings by people who are considered to be severely mentally ill, not to mention art by them, fall into this category. I have a link to "In the realms of the unreal: "Insane" writings", which is about the only collection of writings by people who have been seriously institutionalized available in the English language. One of the writers in there that I really like is a guy from the early part of the century name Adolph Wölfli, who's considered to be the archetypal schizophrenic author. The reason I like him isn't that he writes weird stuff but that in all of the self delusion and strangeness there's some interesting perspectives and points of view, things that might not have come out if he wasn't in the situation he was in. He was convinced that he was doing something very serious, and if you had asked him about it and suggesting that it wasn't valuable he probably would have gotten very upset with you.

Conspiracy theorists don't do it because they want to be cool, they do it because they think that features of society can be explained via conspiracies of one sort or another. People who believe in paranormal phenomenon aren't folks who randomly believe things without any sort of basis for those beliefs, even if you yourself disagree with that. Very few people on the fringe are insincere.

And if they're sincere about their beliefs and you are sincere about your beliefs then what right do you have to automatically label them the fringe and you the mainstream? Maybe numerically, but in content you would have to prove that they're wrong, and that what you believe in is right, before any kind of label of that sort could honestly be employed.

I don't have a problem with a nuclear Iran

I remember in '98 with an aquaintance about Pakistan and India now both having nuclear weapons. The gist of his position was that it was perfectly fine for the United States and Europe to have nuclear weapons but for some unknown reason the idea of India and Pakistan having them would initiate a crisis beyond belief. After a little bit of questioning it became clear that his reasoning was that Indians and Pakistanis weren't smart enough or advanced enough to have nuclear weapons without using them against each other and starting World War III. When I hear about Iran's supposed nuclear weapons program, which after having been denied by the IAEA for months has now been miraculously confirmed, I think back to that exchange. Ahmadinejad knows that attacking Israel would lead to Iran's population being murdered. The point, I think, is to have some parity in the middle east, where Israel is allowed to have scores of nuclear weapons but no one else is. Israel is armed to the teeth and can invade countries without having any consequences because of U.S. support. A nuclear Iran might make Israel think a little before declaring war on Lebanon or Syria, and that's what both the U.S. and Israel do not want.

My opinion is that Kim Jong Il is probably more unstable and unpredictable than Ahmadinejad, who although far right and a little crazy was actually a political figure who was at least elected in a quasi-open election. Kim Jong Il straight out inherited the title of dictator from his father, and has his birthday celebrated as a national holiday. Yet South Korea hasn't been destroyed even though the North has nuclear weapons. Instead, as some people have pointed out, the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons may be a reason why the United States hasn't directed more aggression towards them, since as everyone says the North could reduce Seoul to cinders in a mater of....half an hour? Something very close to that considering how close Seoul is to the DMZ.

The problem isn't Ahmadinejad, the problem with relation to a nuclear Iran is the challenge to de facto U.S. dominance in the region. Both directly and through Israel.

They say that a nuclear Iran would make Israel hostage, but aren't Lebanon, Syria, and Iran being held hostage right now to Israel's military power, to their nuclear weapons and to their ability to attack wherever they want without consequences?

Rosa Luxemburg's "Marxism or Leninism?"

Written in 1904, objecting to the centralization of power in the Bolshevik party. She makes the interesting claim that the idea of a central committee controlling a party is actually a bourgeois concept held over from previous Russian socialist and revolutionary organizations, and that what it really represents is the idea of well off Russians creating organizations for the liberation of the working class as opposed to organizations of the working class for the liberation of the working class. She points out how this form of extreme centralism would impede regular lower level initiatives of people to do creative work, like engaging in local struggles without the permission of a central committee or just generally doing interesting organizing and outreach. The idea of "The Party" is demoted in Luxemburg's analysis because without an ultra-centralized committee controlling it the space between party and non-party members is decreased, and if members of the organization aren't required to be 'professional revolutionaries' the appeal is broadened even more, ultimately meaning that working class people actually have a chance to become part of an organization that claims to be working towards their liberation. If there's not a highly centralized party to join that could give the person joining instant status and self importance then the appeal for folks who just want to dominate things for their own purposes is lessened. There's no royal road to becoming some sort of a big shot, even if the scope of being a big shot is only within the world of small Trotskyist parties.

I like the criticism but I don't think that Luxemburg goes far enough. She still believes in Marxism with a big 'M', as an ideology that's not just something useful but as the ideology that will liberate the whole world. She also believes in the very damaging idea contained in the Communist Manifesto that many of the strands of socialism in that era were destined for the dust heap of history because only Marxist Communism was progressive and represented the wave of the future. I mean, if you think that, that's fine, but Luxemburg goes so far as to label people who believe in these strains of thought 'opportunists' and suggest that they have no place in the German Social Democratic Party, the Russian one, or any others, and that these parties themselves are the wave of the future, with other parties being lesser and theoretically incorrect. Finally, she also supports the general idea of the centralization of political parties but she believes in a more democratic way of putting that centralization into action. No central committee deciding everything, yet she argues that having on party policy and platform that's endorsed throughout the lands where the party is active is the way to go, specifically arguing against federalism as an organizational principle. Sure, the party could do things on the local level and interpret the general party line without having to ask the permission of some unaccountable central committee, but in the end it would have to fall into lock step with what the party commands.

Back to the idea of bourgeois intellectuals, opportunists as they were labeled, fucking up movements. My thought on the matter is that when they lay claim to organizational leadership of socialist movements, like the Leninists, based on the fact that people like their writings, things tend to go down hill into cults of personality and into anti-democratic territory. Just writing well has nothing to do with being able to organize well, and I would argue that trying both of those functions together: writing, theorizing, and straight out organization, puts too much power in the hands of either one person or of a small group of people. Maybe the thing to do would be to have intellectuals like myself hand out flyers while also writing stuff like what's on this blog.

Incidentally, I don't think that Lenin was the only intellectual who did this and who sabotaged a movement. Marx himself in the capacity as one of the leaders of the First International Workingmen's Association, the First International, did a similar thing when he got himself elected to the head committee and proceeded to kick out the followers of Bakunin, Proudhon, and other people who he didn't like. Then he moved the Association, which was mainly based in Europe, to New York City, after which it soon dissolved. You can even say that this behavior on the part of Marx went back to the Communist Manifesto itself in that it's content was different from what the Communist Party that he was a part of actually believed. Marx became part of the group, which was started by a Christian socialist, proceeded to change the membership rules so that only 'proletarians' could be members, and then issued his own writings in the Manifesto while pretending that they were agree upon by the whole group.

New Psychedelic Art

Psychedelic Paste Art Tago Mago

Made from Paste + Corn starch with Acrylic paint added. Then various objects used to create patterns.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bipolar: the latest internet disease

I saw the Newsweek cover about "Growing up Bipolar" and was immediately angry. Then I read the article online and was even angrier. An internet disease is something that becomes fashionable through publicity on the internet, leading to massive self diagnoses of the illness either in the individual themselves or in their children. Before there was the internet proper there was ADD and ADHD, excuses for kids that are raised wrong, with no discipline, or are just stupid. Harsh words, but lets call it like it is. ADD/ADHD served as the magic bullet for upper class families whose dear little ones looked like they wouldn't score high enough on the SAT. Just get a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder and presto! you can get extra time to complete the test.

Asperger's syndrome is probably the internet disease du jour of the moment. As high functioning autism, it's a diagnosis for being uncomfortable socially and having serious social problems, as well as not doing stuff well except that which the person is obsessed with. Autism is a terrible disease that effects both parents and children in a profound way, and tacking the idea of Asperger's on to it is sort of an insult. Autistic kids can't function at all in the world, they need special care, and they need it from a very early age. Asperger's seems to be something that people magically find out they have when they start having problems in school.

Now Bipolar is up to bat, standing in for parental neglect, lack of mental ability, and in the case of the Newsweek story serious brain damage and/or retardation. Bipolar manifests itself, usually, in people who are around age 18. It can manifest in teenagers, but a diagnosis of it in actual children is extraordinarily rare. The kid talked about in the article not only was diagnosed with it as a child but was allegedly bipolar from his baby years. What a wonderful distortion of a real disease that effects real people, that overwhelmingly develops in people who are beyond childhood.

No one wants to say, or admit, that their kid is retarded. No one wants to admit that, if not retarded, they're just not as bright as you'd like. Parents don't want to admit that their fucked up, incompetent, ways of parenting might be causing the problems and want to give their kids psychiatric meds and feel better about themselves. They also don't want to admit that their kid might be doing bad things because, for whatever reason, he's chosen to be a fuck up. And they certainly don't want to admit that he or she may be organically brain damaged. So Aspergers, ADHD, and Bipolar come into play as place holders that allow parents to get social legitimacy while claiming victimhood.

Next step: childhood schizophrenia. Even if they don't hear voices they still, like, show some sort of symptom kind of like one that schizophrenics have, so it's obvious: we have a new plague, childhood Schizophrenia. Just give them some pills and avoid looking at life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

San Francisco from less of a countercultural tourist angle

I spent most of my time in San Francisco wandering around the Mission district, walking to and in Golden Gate Park, doing a daring Commando raid through the oh so dangerous South of Market Area, seeing SFMOMA, and going to City Lights and environs.

The Mission area that I went to was that along Valencia, which is colonized by youth counter culturalists of the non-hippy variety.

Very nice. There were five stores that stuck out as places to go to. There also seems to be some really cool bars there, but I didn't go there, and a couple interesting coffee shops and a few restaurants, but I didn't go into those either.

First, there was Modern Times Book Store, a venerable political bookstore that features all shades of radical political opinion. I had thought that it went out of business, but that might have been the bookstore in L.A. known as something like Midnight Oil, Midnight Special, but interesting enough not "Midnight Notes", which seems to be a radical, anti-authoritarian, collective writing about diverse topics. Modern Times is worth the hike, one of those places that's been around so long that they have radical books that are worth reading but are currently forgotten by the mainstream of youthful radical politics.

Next on the list would be "Dog Eared Books" a combination used bookstore and new book store leaning towards avant-garde and '90s counter culture type books, but not exclusively.

Following on that is "Needles and Pens", zine store and punk art gallery.

Then we have something very, very, very good "Aquarius Records". Aquarius Records is way, way, beyond the Amoeba (Amoeba music) when it comes to obscure Krautrock, European psychedelia, and experimental music. If you like any of these your mind will be blown by the store. It also helpfully provides labels on the ultra-obscure CDs explaining what they sound like. This store is of such high caliber that it's comparable to "Other Music" in Greenwich Village, New York City, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. Both Aquarius and Other Music sell things mail order from their websites. The website of Aquarius has copies of the explanatory notes that are on their CDs. I found out about bands that I didn't know that much about but that are very popular in the revival of "La Krautoma", as Amon Düül II once referred to it as. These bands would be "Magma", "Van Der Graaf", and "Franco Battiato", although I may be partial because that's the album I bought there. "Hawkwind" appeared there too, but the jury is still out on that one. Wish I could have gotten the Greek Psychedelic album that was next to Battiato, but limited budgets do figure into these things.

Last but certainly not least is the Valencia branch of"Good Vibrations", the famous and original San Francisco sex shop that has an excellent catalog and is responsible for the "Good Vibrations Guide to Getting it On" and various other books available every where (even in chain bookstores!). The good vibrations store has products that they themselves have designed and had manufactured. HIghly recommended for the sex positive and sex adventuress.

Leaving Valencia, City Lights books was confirmed yet again as one of the best, if not the best, over all bookstore in San Francisco. Some of the bookstores, like the anarchist collectives and the Modern Times collective, and other specialized shops may have deeper selections, but City Lights on the whole has the best cross section of fiction and non-fiction around. Maybe Moe's beats them for non-radical non fiction on things like political science, but I don't think any stores hold a candle to the fiction section of City Lights.

Before going to City Lights I violated a long standing taboo by going to :"Vesuvius", the bar directly next to City Lights that hasn't totally been taken over by tourist oriented Beat nostalgia and still has quite a bit of character. Ordered a rum and coke, very strange because I never drink alone, and try not to drink much at all. The drink was very good and very well made, with a lime slice included. I pretty much quaffed it down because it was so smooth. This lead to being slightly intoxicated in City Lights. That was interesting, but it didn't have any negative consequences. I returned to sobriety standing in the non-fiction section in the basement kind of realizing that I had been acting a little strangely in the store.

Then to complete the whole thing I went to the Cafe Trieste, another beat haunt that has its' own flair, that's pretty much just a coffee shop instead of a Beat tourism cash cow. Nice ambience, but the playing out loud Italian crooners somewhat took away from it. But that's what makes it and places like it authentic; the Beats discovered this interesting Italian neighborhood of North Beach and met, talked, wrote, in places that were already existent and that served the Italian population of the neighborhood.

Finally, there was the debacle of walking from the Mission to Golden Gate Park in hopes of seeing the de Young museum, which for some reason can afford a complete redo of its architecture but can't afford to stay open beyond 5:15 monday through Thursday. I saw quite a lot of San Francisco, most of which I had seen before when I walked from downtown to the Haight by the same route, but my legs hated me for it, and still hate me for it even though it's been two days since the walk. But I'm glad that I walked the trail on the Panhandle, which was new to me, then at least walked far enough into Golden Gate Park to see the de Young museum, which was unfortunately very close to closing for the day. The park is about as big as Central park. Out of the park and down one street to the Haight, or Haight Ashbury as you might know it as, and did nothing but get some inexpensive Mexican food and get out of there.

The Haight has come to represent the ultimate worst in psychedelic hippy culture. All the trashiest, "Let's get high, man!", unintelligent, unconscious, stoner culture has glommed onto the place, making it vomit inducing even though it was the place back in the day. A good sign though was that there appeared to be a lot of collectively run businesses manifesting there. Now, to compare with the Haight, the city of Mt. Shasta way north of San Francisco could be a model of how psychedelic businesses could be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood without reducing the culture. Mt. Shasta city is small but the atmosphere is completely electric, you can almost feel it in the air. Mt. Shasta +Haight would = something nice.

That about covers it. May write some more about other stuff later but this appears to be the core of the great California experience.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Very important book "The Murder of Christ" by Wilhelm Reich

The Murder of Christ doesn't have much to do with traditional Christianity. Instead, it's radical psychologist and doctor Wilhelm Reich's last book before he died in prison, his books seized by the federal government and ordered incinerated after a trial that was hysterical in the approach of the prosecutors.

"THe murder of christ", which admittedly I've just started, is about how freedom and self determination is squashed by power structures that depend on both psychological, physical, and economic oppression in order to survive.

There's a school of thought out there that says that Reich, who had pioneered sex therapy and was a champion of sexual liberation, wasn't actually put on trial and sent to federal prison because of the sexual part of his teaching alone, or that up until 1929 he'd been a Communist. In his later years he was making breakthroughs in techniques to break through the emotional plague and restore people to psychological health in ways that would have been able to possibly change the balance of power in society that exists between the top and the bottom.

More on this later, as well as a fuller report on some cool things I did in San Francisco.

Met the challenge in South of Market district

When I was first looking into things to do around San Francisco online I found all sorts of references to this gay sex shop on Folsom street in the South of Market district that said that it was THE worst, sleaziest, cringe inducing one in all of San Francisco. Of course, this intrigued me immensely and I made it a point to go there. Hit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art first and then headed down to Folsom street, where I was half expecting crack deals to be going on on all the street corners and hookers walking up and down the sidewalks, based on what people online had written about the area. But although I'm sure that there are really bad parts and that as night falls the scene changes immensely, I found that in the light of day Folsom street isn't too bad.

The store itself, which shall remain nameless, was pretty much just your average sex store, catering to a mostly gay clientele. Besides carrying tubs of lube designed specifically for making fisting safe and easy that only thing out of the ordinary was a back room that was darkened where I think that people could, if they wanted to, meet each other and fuck. I'm sure the management doesn't condone that, but they're busy manning the front desk, so what can they do if people decide to fuck in the back without their permission? I didn't go back there and so didn't actually see any fucking, so I could be totally wrong about what goes on back there. Maybe they have a knitting club.

It was great to walk down Folsom and go into the stores that make and sell the kind of leather harnesses and gear that are featured in the Folsom Street Fair. This is the event that the conservatives on Fox love to repeat footage of. My impression, based on info gathered online as well as general experience, is that the Folsom Street Fair is intended to break the assimilationist mold of gay pride, the one that wants to portray gay folks as just like everyone else that are in relationships while denying the gay culture that's grown up for decades. Either take the whole package or don't take any of it. I like that attitude.

As can be expected they also had a wonderful BDSM supply store there, with all the crops, floggers, neurological tools for sensation play, restraints, whips, blindfolds that you could want, at good prices too! I can name the store this time, it's Leather Etc..., and you can order from them online. If you don't know much about BDSM and what's possible with it there would be worse sites to look at to get a feel for it.

The biggest misconception is that since there are stuff like restraints and blindfolds that the whole thing has to do with inflicting pain on someone against their will. That's not what this is about. Believe it or not it can be sexy to have your wrists cuffed to something, a blindfold put on you, and your back beaten with a flogger or a cane. But that's getting into a whole 'nother post, one that introduces the novel concept to people that just because you think that something might look like a bad and exploitive act doesn't mean that that's what's actually going on.

Anyways, check out Folsom street and don't be paranoid if you're walking down that part of South of Market in broad daylight. But of course be aware just like you would in any situation that's somewhat (or a lot) sketchy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How microeconomic theory fails: an example from Berkeley

In the Bay Area for a couple days. I found out that it's graduation this weekend in Berkeley and that because of it room rates have gone way up. Now, why have the rates gone up? It's because there's a huge demand and not that much supply, and when that happens the people who control the supply can charge more. Whether they choose to do so is another matter. This is what the basic facts are; microeconomic theory is just an attempt to account for those facts, not, as some people claim, a science like physics. That was actually said to me by an economics teacher. So how do microeconomic theorists rationalize price gauging by hotel operators during things like a college's graduation? According to them price is a form of rationing. There are only so many goods to go around, even if there's a really high demand and people are making plans to put more of what it is into circulation later. Somehow, those goods have to get allocated. If you really want something you're willing to pay more for it than someone who just sort of wants it. So by continually raising prices on people when there's only so much of something to go around, so the microeconomists say, you ensure that the stuff goes to the people who really want it, who are willing to pay a lot of money for it.

In the case of the UC Berkeley graduation, even though there's probably a tilt towards rich families among the people coming into town it's safe to say that a cross section of society's economic backgrounds are going to be represented. They all want to see their kids graduate. Now, with raising the prices because of the high demand and the fixed supply the hotel owners assure that the rich people who can afford to pay a lot have no trouble getting rooms while the poor people who may have just been able to afford rooms at the regular rate can no longer get them in any location close to downtown Berkeley, where the University is. Both the rich people and the poorer people want to see their kids graduate, it's very important for both of them, but because of the class system the price increase shuts one group out without requiring the other group to really be impacted in order to get a room. For one group it's just beyond their capability to pay while for the other the increase is about as distressing as giving a bigger tip at a restaurant.

Under these conditions the theory that prices in a free market serve as good devices to ration products completely breaks down, undermined by class.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why not stagger the Presidential election over a couple of days?

So that States would be able to vote one after the other. It would add drama to the Presidential election. Of course most people think that having different states vote on different days would make the process unfair, with states voting later having less of an influence over the contest than states that vote early, but that's part of the fun.

I mean, you know, that's what they say about the Primaries, that it gives drama to the process, that it means a fight that you can see. Who cares about Democracy when you have a good Spectacle that people can follow vicariously.

Monday, May 19, 2008

And now for something completely different: the sources of inspiration for Wiccan ritual in Golden Dawn and Thelema ritual

A lot of similar things have been written about this. The following is just my interpretation of how basic ritual structure in Wicca derives from the Pentagram rituals of the Golden Dawn and Crowley.

The first thing to be observed is that the casting of the circle and the calling of the quarters derives very heavily from the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. The idea that it's just a banishing rite is mistaken since the elements are invoked after they've been banished in order to restore balance to the area. Because of this it's the basic rite that ceremonial magicians do before a working, it essentially casts as circle, or can. But the presence of the Goddess and God, who are usually invoked in Wiccan ritual in order to be present can be derived from the LBRP as well.

The last part of the LBRP involves the visualization of a "Descending tongue of grace" and an "Ascending tongue of prayer", downward and upward pointing triangles, within the body of the person doing the rite, meeting in the middle. The descending flame is masculine while the ascending flame is feminine. Their union takes place in the area associated with the Sun on the Tree of Life diagram of the Kabbalah. It sort of crowns the work with the elements. The masculine flame going downward has its base on the two lower supernal sephiroth and ends on the sephiroth just above Malkuth, associated with the moon and the feminine. The ascending tongue of prayer has its base on the two sephiroth directly above Yesod, the sephiroth that the descending flame ends at, and has its top on the first sephiroth of Kether, the symbol of masculine creation. In Crowley's modification of the Kabbalistic cross the first gesture, at the head, is identified with Hadit, the point of conscious creative light infinitely small and contracted, while the second gesture, which touches the genitals, is identified with Nuit, the goddess of infinite space. The two forces meet at the sphere of Tiphareth, representing the crown and conquering child as well as the sun, with 'child' being something identified as a hermaphrodite or at least as either sex.

In the enacting of the ritual the power of the sun, of the new produced crowned and conquering child, unites the magician to the rest of the universe outside of the microcosm, which is where the energies of the elements as opposed to the planetary energies reside. The male and female basic powers could easily be called 'God' and 'Goddess', only in this scenario the God is the god of the sky and the Goddess is the Goddess of the earth, bringing forth the illuminating sun through their union.

So in the ritual of the Pentagram we have the four elements called and then the masculine or god force and the female or goddess force invoked. The only problem is that there's no equivalent of a sun god or crowned child connecting stars and earth in Wicca. Instead, throughout the wheel of the year the masculine and feminine forces interact, impregnating the Goddess, but the being the the Goddess gives birth to is a new version of the God who impregnated her and who has since died and gone to the underworld.

Crowley resolved this conflict by making an entire self sufficient cycle of positive and negative, of ascent from the underworld, height at noon, descent at sundown, and lowest point at the middle of the night, for Horus, the crowned and conquering child, that although interacting with Hadit and Nuit doesn't subsume them.

In the Great Rite of Wicca at Beltaine the impregnation of the Goddess by the God is done to create new life on the earth that will manifest through the harvest several months later that will in turn sustain the community. So in a way you could possibly say that the idea of a middle term and a concrete product from the creation of the middle term could be the life given to the earth generated from the interaction of the two deities, and that in less Wheel of the Year linked rituals the product of the symbolic Great Rite is the power of the humans that work with it and their goals and desires.

Sunset towns by James Loewen examines racism against blacks in the North and how it works

Sundown Towns deals with towns that had policies forbidding blacks from staying there after sundown as well as limiting how many blacks could have homes in the town, often forcibly expelling the black population and leaving a token family. This gets to what might be the big difference between northern and southern racism in the United States: in the North racism is more about exclusion than outward hostility, although of course that's present as well, while in the South racism is more up front and in your face.

I can imagine some of the experiences that blacks have in the north, like extra questions and suspicions while making a major purchase, like that of a car, or having an interview to get a bank loan for a house. Or even shopping for nice clothes. Moving into an area no doubt has great suspicion attached to it. Job applications and interviews are no doubt full of apprehension and doubt on the half of the interviewer, who holds the guy being interviewed to a different standard than white applicants.

Exclusion is the key that I see among all of these sorts of experiences, the fear of black people participating in communities, and a general closing of ranks against the black people who want to become part of them. Walls of silence, more hassles than others in everyday life, suspicion. I've noticed that in many situations in restaurants and elsewhere that as soon as a black person walks in many of the conversations stop and don't start again until he or she leaves. The same can be said of normal, everyday occurrences like standing at bus stops and waiting for a the light to change at a cross walk. It's the creation and reinforcement of a 'whites only' space, a kind of unique white experience consisting of regular life and interaction that blacks are denied participation in.

The laws restricting blacks in the north were never as codified and obvious as those in the south, where separate but equal was rigorously enforced and vigilante violence seems to have been a significant factor. In the north, in white society, people who start ranting and raving about blacks, especially if they use the 'N Word', aren't very popular. Unless the community you live in is deeply, overtly, racist, people like that are likely to be labeled nuts and extremists, although some lesser complaints against blacks may be sort of accepted as kind of reasonable. Yet the same people who consider these folks to be beyond the pale unconsciously do their best to marginalize blacks when they actually have a physical encounter with a black person.

I think that this attitude by whites has contributed to the ghettoization of blacks in inner cities, with economics and the economic place of blacks in society probably being the dominant factor. It's okay if blacks live someplace in the area as long as they don't go into white areas too much, or go into shopping districts that lots of white people shop at, or think of buying homes in a very white area. It's also okay if they do work that lets them be invisible to the majority of white people. Of course these are extremely low paying jobs with very low status attached to them. It's a fortress attitude.

Although unspoken, the idea seems to be that whites in the north see blacks as an invading force and do their best to make life unpleasant for them when they try to participate as full citizens in life there as opposed to citizens that lead a marginal life. Northern cities benefited from the exodus of southern blacks to their industrial sectors, but didn't want them to seriously challenge the status quo.

While whites often complain about blacks as if people who dress like 'gangsters' are the whole black population, it takes two to tango. The barriers to entry into society, white and otherwise that are put up to black people in the north are unreal. I say 'and otherwise' because whites in the north don't see their society as being 'white society' per se but as being 'normal society' in general. Blacks are considered to be outside of 'normal society' for whatever reason, usually a rationalization based on a few people in the black community who are really visible.

A sociological/political solution to racism, as opposed to the kind of economic change that would also need to happen, would have to involve whites letting their guards down, letting their apprehensions mellow, and affirming that there's a common humanity shared between blacks and whites with certain universal rights that go with it. These rights include the right to meainginful participation in public life.

Perestroika necessitated by the way that Stalin fucked up the Soviet Economy?

Perestroika refers to the economic restructuring that took place in the 1980s in the Soviet Union. One of the causes of the fall of the USSR is thought to be severe economic problems. Stalin, in his five year plans, created industries out of nothing in a very brutal way, one that took no notice of how much time or resources exactly these things that were being built would need to be fully functional at a decent level. For example, I recently saw a book of photographs detailing how the biggest car factory in the world was being built in the Soviet Union under Stalin in just 18 months.
The errors at the start of industry may have carried over and plagued the rest of Soviet economic development, ultimately leading to the crisis that Perestroika was set to correct and that opened the way for the destruction---not the reformation---of Russia as it had been for decades.

I wonder if the war on terror isn't linked to the Cold War

In terms of domestic consumption. The major idea of the War on Terror that's repeated over and over again is that they hate our freedoms and that they, the Muslim and Asian countries we don't like, are stopping at nothing to get weapons of mass destruction that they will craftily use to dominate other countries and take their freedoms away. Why exactly they don't like freedom is not specified. Maybe the leaders had bad encounters with freedom lovers as children that have left them scarred for life. In any case they just hate the idea of freedom and to even try to understand why they do is to be on their side, because their thought processes are so far out in the stratosphere beyond normalcy that they don't make any sense, and you're better off not looking at them because they might influence you too. Even though they're completely irrational. The doctrine has the appeal of not requiring any sort of an explanation of why the people and states we're targeting, if they really are working against the U.S., are doing so, leaving us with a series of options that resembles a neo-Nazi poster that surfaced in the '80s that had a gun and a swastika with the words "Violence: it's the only thing they understand". The Cold War was packaged the same way.

Yes, the Soviet Union did have huge censorship powers, it forbade opposition parties and free elections, it severely restricted artistic freedom, and didn't tolerate people who they thought were acting against the interests of the State, but the people who were enforcing all of this didn't do it for no reason, or just because they hated the free press. Their reasons for all of this weren't very good, and I think, although I can't confirm it yet, that they were holdovers from what Stalin had done to the USSR, but there were reasons. If the media in the U.S. had tried to understand the motivation for all of this on the part of the Soviets and reported on it in a critical yet informed way it could have had the effect of pushing the U.S. government into a closer engagement with them. It could have defused part of the Cold War, although not all of it.
I'm not saying that "If the government had.." because writing this it appears certain that the U.S. government wouldn't have, and that restrictions on art, democracy, and press freedom weren't what bothered them since they supported ultra-right dictatorships in South America that were as bad as the Soviets on that score. Instead, the U.S. seems to have been afraid of the redistribution of goods and of power. Anyways.

Just as Communism was unintelligible but very dangerous, threatening to put the entire world under a dictatorship so is radical Islam, plus assorted other official enemies, unintelligible but threatening to put the entire world under a dictatorship. Same shit, different name, only in this case there's even less justification because radical Islam doesn't control huge countries having over a billion citizens. Maybe the problem started with Gulf War I, where the media shifted from Cold War to Saddam War without bothering to let people know that, hey!, a lot of what we told you about the Soviets was bullshit in the way it was presented.

Now the GWOT has taken its place. Maybe we should have an amnesty for truth instead of bumbling towards more and more idiotic but deadly wars with no official reason that's in any way believable , for goals that really reflect those of big industrial capitalists.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prize for most redundant, obvious, title of an article: Hillary is White by Zillah Eisenstein

Which also includes the gem "And here lies the rub. Hillary Clinton presents herself to the electorate as a woman. She argues that she wants to break the glass ceiling of/for gender. But the truth is that she is not simply a woman but both a woman and also white."

More gems: "She presents herself as a woman but her real power here is as white. Misogyny — the fear, hatred, punishment, and discrimination towards women — ensures that Hillary’s privilege is her whiteness."

"As such, Hillary, as a (white) woman pits herself against Barack (as black) with a race so to speak. So Hillary (as a woman) is falsely, wrongly, pitted against Barack (as black)."

"She re-awakens and rewrites the history of 19th century U.S. feminism that pitted black men getting the vote before white women had that right.
More recently, women’s rights rhetoric was used to justify the bombing of the Taliban and brown people in Afghanistan and Iraq. "

If she wasn't so rambling and hysterical (oh! I used the word, so I must be sexist!), sounding like a crazed and not too intelligent radical theorist who's also an acid casualty, she might have some interesting points. That is if she bothered to flesh them out.

Hillary runs as an unspoken white woman. She lives in a misogynist society so she can't be benefiting from being a woman, yet as a woman she's reigniting a feminist tradition that our misogynist society once had.

Which one is it? And why am I bothering to write this? There are no clear answers in sight for these questions.

Things that piss me off: people who condemn intellectuals while doing nothing themselves

It seems to me that a lot of the objection to intellectuals on the Left comes from people whose only contribution to social change is getting tattoos on their forearms and going to punk rock shows.

I would agree about intellectualism having dangers on its own without incorporation into practice if the people making the criticism were actually out there advancing social change in some way, but when it comes from people whose activity is nil it's pretty meaningless. We're about on the same level, I figure.

The difference is that intellectuals are actually trying to understand the world and are trying to break the U.S. culture of hostility towards greater awareness about the past, the present, and other countries, while the people with a lot of tattoos assume that they already get it because....they have tattoos and listen to punk rock.

Hypocrisy of Mao

As manifested through the document "On New Democracy", which the title link leads to. Most of the document is fairly interesting, giving a persuasive outline of how revolution in China weakens world capitalism, but when it comes to the thing that Mao is most known for, Cultural Revolution, it falls into hemming and hawing. The document was written in 1940 while China was engaged in a war against Japanese occupation, before the Chinese Communist Party had taken over the entire country.

Mao devotes several substantive sections to culture, of which three quotations are notable:

"To advocate "wholesale westernization" [22] is wrong. China has suffered a great deal from the mechanical absorption of foreign material. Similarly, in applying Marxism to China, Chinese communists must fully and properly integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete practice of the Chinese revolution, or in other words, the universal truth of Marxism must be combined with specific national characteristics and acquire a definite national form if it is to be useful, and in no circumstances can it be applied subjectively as a mere formula. Marxists who make a fetish of formulas are simply playing the fool with Marxism and the Chinese revolution, and there is no room for them in the ranks of the Chinese revolution. Chinese culture should have its own form, its own national form. National in form and new-democratic in content--such is our new culture today. "

"New-democratic culture is scientific. Opposed as it is to all feudal and superstitious ideas, it stands for seeking truth from facts, for objective truth and for the unity of theory and practice. On this point, the possibility exists of a united front against imperialism, feudalism and superstition between the scientific thought of the Chinese proletariat and those Chinese bourgeois materialists and natural scientists who are progressive, but in no case is there a possibility of a united front with any reactionary idealism. In the field of political action Communists may form an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal united front with some idealists and even religious people, but we can never approve of their idealism or religious doctrines."

"However, respect for history means giving it its proper place as a science, respecting its dialectical development, and not eulogizing the past at the expense of the present or praising every drop of feudal poison. As far as the masses and the young students are concerned, the essential thing is to guide them to look forward and not backward."

In a sense something like this was inevitable since Mao was allied with Stalin, called Stalin his boss, but the sad thing is that it continued after Stalin's death, when countries no longer were required to parrot this sort of stuff so uncritically, although they were highly, highly, encouraged to do so. China labeled Khruschev and the reforms that he instituted revisionist, and they may indeed have been so, but at that point China could have struck out on its own, creating a new sort of mix of ideas that were less uncritical of so-called 'scientific' doctrines that were really Western cultural values in a new disguise.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ballard, a Seattle neighborhood, celebrates Norway's independence....from Denmark

Well I guess you have to have something to celebrate. Ballard is home to a large Norwegian population. The idea of Norwegian independence and celebrating it sounds a lot more dramatic when you don't know that the Danes, the evil, evil, Danes, were the group of people who Norway was subject to. I mean, it doesn't hold a candle to Finland being incorporated into the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917.

"On the Silver Globe", film by Andrzej Zulawski

Based on something called "The Lunar Trilogy" by Zulawski's great uncle Jerzej Zulawski, it's truly a hidden gem. It's a science fiction story, and one of the highest quality sci-fi films I've ever seen. The story goes like this: four astronauts on a mission to a habitable planet picked for possible colonization crash land, killing one and leaving three others, two men and one woman. They adapt to their new situation by learning to hunt fish, construct clothes out of native materials, along with shelter. From the beginning the planet's environment is so utterly different that it changes their whole view of life and of the world. The female astronaut came pregnant with the baby of the deceased astronaut and she gives birth to the child, who grows up in this different world, in the circumstances that the survivors have carved out for themselves, with earth being known to him from stories. Over time the settlement becomes more and more tribalistic, more like cultures that are found in the south pacific and elsewhere, and the female astronaut continues to conceive and to give birth in order to keep the human race going.

Eventually she enters the mythology of the group, that has now been totally immersed in the new culture for nearly a generation, as the great mother, the creator of the earth, the ancestor of all of humanity. The male astronaut who has fathered most of the children is, in a much lesser sense, is eventually also deified. Hunting, gathering, life, death, all becomes part of the new religion. The last astronaut is sort of ostracized from the community, lead by the first child, until an incident involving the leader prompts him to order him killed. After that he assumes the role of both religious leader and the general elder of the community, although other people serve as the actual day to day leaders.

This suits him very well because he was the philosopher of the group, now in a situation where his philosophy and thoughts on life can be worked with and provide food for thought for the people. The philosophy is adapted to the situation, with the people not treated as stupid but as sincere questioners who just want to understand the life that they're living. It turns out that he has fathered some of the last children with the great mother, and like Moses the line of these children becomes the priestly one, with the immediate daughter taking over and becoming a law giver.

I haven't even scratched the surface of all the stuff that happens. They find that there's a race of beings that also inhabit the planet known as Shernes, and engage in war with them, at one point being enslaved by them. Then there's another war lead by an new astronaut that's crash landed generations and generations after the start of the community. You see how the community has developed and permutated in the intervening years.

It goes on and on, beautifully produced, made, and thought out. But not quite. There was a change in the cultural department of Communist Poland during the filming and the film was ordered stopped. The footage was condemned to be destroyed but was saved by the studio. There are large gaps in the film that Zulawski at the beginning explains and that he tries to compensate for by giving a voice over explanation of what happens during these scenes.

I really, really, wish that "The Lunar Trilogy" by Jerzej Zulawski will eventually come out in an English edition, because this is really good stuff. According to Wiki it's been translated into virtually every other European language and is a big success there.

Fortunately, "On the Silver Globe" is available in U.S. DVD format all over the place, like Here.

Jack Kevorkian is a hero in Oakland County MIchigan

Where I lived during the last part of the drama. Seeing "Death with Dignity" initiative people at the University District Street Fair reminded me of it. I supported Jack Kevorkian, my family supported Jack Kevorkian, people protested with him and for him on the steps of the federal court house in Pontiac. It's strange for me to think of people not supporting him, but during all this I was fortunate enough to go to a summer writing program at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and I found that the impression of Kevorkian there was shock and disgust. He really was "Dr. Death" to them. They seemed sort of horrified when I told them that he had actual support in Michigan. Death with Dignity makes sense; the medical community is committed to keeping a person alive no matter what, no matter if they're in constant pain and have been for years, are barely functional, have no chance of recovery whatsoever, and are likely to either stay that way or slowly decline for years to come. Having physician assisted suicide or other measures gives the person them self a way out of the situation. The idea that it could lead to mass killings is sort of not tenable.

Peter Singer, maybe best known for his work on Animal Liberation, has also written about this, saying that if your motivation is to reduce the pain felt by people and increase the happiness or pleasure that death with dignity is a good idea. So is abortion. So is not keeping people alive at birth who are so severely deformed that they would have horrible lives and require constant care until they die. He attacks the notion that human life is absolutely sacred pretty forcefully, and his arguments are very applicable to the controversy surrounding abortion, in that in his opinion there's not a good idea of just what personhood. It's always a grey area. If life begins at conception than the zygote is eligible for the rights and privileges that full grown individuals have. If personhood starts when someone is a fetus who is not viable outside of the womb then abortion in totality is wrong and is tantamount to murder, even though the fetus may have spontaneously aborted later. Are miscarriages murder? Why not? The sanctity of life argument has no reference to practical realities. We want to protect all life for the sake of the principle and not for the sake of the people whose lives we are committed to saving.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Immigration policy in the United States

While the focus of the current debate on immigration revolves around poor, indigenous, laborers from Mexico the question of who exactly gets in legally now and if that's just or not goes unanswered. Immigration policy in the United States is biased against poorer people from non-white developing countries coming here. I think that with European immigration they're more flexible. But if you're from India or from Korea or from Taiwan or Japan you're much more likely to be welcomed in if you were on the top of the economic heap in your home country and are aspiring to be part of an elite profession here. The consequences of this for American society are potentially serious, not because of some threat of non-European people taking jobs but because of the ideology that many of these folks bring with them.

What I've noticed is that the people we bring over are anywhere from very conservative to pro-fascist conservative, that they not only believe in class and in the class system but believe that they're on the top and that they have the right to treat people that they perceive as being lower in the status system than they are like dirt. They support the Republican party, they support unregulated capitalism, they generally don't care that much about civil liberties, with many of them seeing advocates of civil liberties as being Communists in disguise and therefore as their enemies.

We're importing the conservative, rich, feudal scum of the third world, the people who supported right wing military dictators in Asia, while poorer people from these countries don't have as much of a chance to emigrate to the United States as before.

That, in my mind, is the problem with immigration today, along with the disproportionate number of people from Europe who get in fairly easily, much easier than their third world counterparts. People coming here from Mexico aren't on my radar screen as being any kind of a threat.

With all of this stuff from authoritarian and semi-authoritarian writers and political figures

I look at it from a historian's perspective and not from that of an ideologue. There's a lot of interesting stuff contained in these large movements that can be learned from if you view it with the skepticism that anyone looking at them from a somewhat objective standpoint should have.

* on edit: the point of this isn't just some abstract historical exercise, the point of it is to rescue valuable pieces of information that can be used to promote human freedom and social justice.

Communal property vs. economic development in controlled capitalism

A question that comes up in relation to Russia and the New Economic Plan. The theory of the Anarchists and of the Socialist Revolutionaries was that the traditional forms of collective property that still existed among peasant farmers could be used as the basis for a leap towards a collective, socialist, society. There was indeed communal property and communal decision making in some places. This is great, and fits in with the idea of adapting forms of society that have potential into a struggle for a new society instead of waiting for them to be eliminated by capitalism and after that trying to move towards a collective society. The question that I have is how economic development could advance in that situation. The collective decision making and traditions from pre-capitalist times may be good, but they're dirt poor. How exactly do you integrate some forms of economic development based on the idea of a limited market system with the basic village commune system of collectively run agriculture? I'm not sure, but it's a question that hasn't gotten a lot of attention. There's probably a lot of fertile ground to go over there.

Currently reading "On New Democracy" by Mao

This is a text that the RCP probably doesn't care much for. It was written before the propaganda blitz and dictatorial excess of the Cultural Revolution, was written in 1940 before the Chinese Communist Party won the war both against Japanese occupation and against the Nationalists of the Kuomintang. On New Democracy is a really important document because it lays out how Mao and the CCP saw a revolution coming to be in a country where the vast majority of the people were peasant farmers. The solution was to put off a total and complete revolution, say the 'Revolution from Above' that Stalin inflicted on Russia in 1928, and instead establish a kind of semi-socialist society that allows a lot of economic market freedom on the part of farmers and small business in order to facilitate economic development. This is because in that era there wasn't any economic development. The sort of stores, commercial centers, not to mention factories, largely didn't exist in China outside of a few centers, with very basic markets, small towns, and farming communities being the basis of the country. Economic development under the protection of a socialist movement would be the way to develop these features of a modern economy without having capitalism take over completely. The end point would be a transition to a fully socialist economy.

Very interesting.

This, by the way, was what the much maligned "New Economic Policy" in early Soviet Russia was aimed at doing. Russia, despite what Lenin wrote about capitalism in certain places being constructed out of the most modern methods, was an overwhelmingly agrarian society. The NEP tried to have a sort of managed capitalism that had the socialist components predominating. Stalin claimed that the NEP had gone a long ways to reestablishing capitalism in Russia, and theoretically weakening socialism, but that was part of the point. His response, even if you believe that that was a dangerous situation, or that it was somehow avoidable, was to viciously force collectivization on the large mass of peasants farmers across the USSR, leading to famines, deaths, and many people thrown into the GULAG system on the belief that they were enemies of the people who had profiteered wealth through the NEP policies.

The idea of state managed capitalism, even when the state is specifically socialist and everyone knows going into it that the socialists would be in control, brings up a lot of questions of accountability and of how exactly this sort of thing could be possible without the bureaucrats becoming the new exploiters out for their own aggrandizement.

Maybe I'll examine those questions later, comrades, but for now I'll leave the topic open. It's sort of the question of all non-spontaneous economic development.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I wonder if the surveillance society in the U.K.

Isn't there because of a profound fear by elites of social change that they can't control starting from dispossessed sections of society and going up from there. Then again I've never set foot in the UK and this might just be wishful thinking on my part.

"A government of laws, not men"

So saith John Adams about the constitutional system implemented in 1788. This doesn't jibe with the reason for not having a more parliamentary system that's often cited by supporters of the Presidential one: that you vote for individual candidates and not for a party.

The error of the deconstructionists

Or at least one error. In offering meta commentary on texts and on modes of talking and 'discourse', narratives, they assume that the texts have common features that can easily be criticized. In other words, that it's possible to construct a concrete subject-object relationship between texts and commentary. If the object that you're criticizing isn't even self consistent on the face of it, never mind in the subtext that it contains, any commentary trying to expose it as being insufficiently concrete will become hopelessly muddled and chaotic. A text may have subtexts, but if the text itself isn't unified you have the different parts of the text interacting with itself in different ways, each giving rise to its own series of subtexts, raising the combinations and permutations to a higher power, text squared by itself then multiplied by potential subtexts.

This is why deconstructive schemes that end in ambiguity and indeterminancy are doomed to failure, because you never know whether or not the text really is as indeterminate as you make it out to be and the idea that everything is at its base indeterminate cannot be concretely and totally determined.

Cutting up the text itself and reassembling it, the method of Burroughs and Gysin, is a much more honest way of trying to get to the heart of meaning than the deconstructive method, because it pulls no punches. If you can't allow the possibility that meaningless chaos might be the product of deconstruction then you can't well support the idea that everything is ultimately non-chaotically indeterminate and self referential.

The primal chaos of meaning underlies the attempts by deconstructionists to get to the bottom of things.

The Orgone Biophysical Research Lab

(title link) Wilhelm Reich related center which is run by author and scientist James de Meo. As an institution doing research it's interesting, as a web page reflecting de Meo's political concerns it's profoundly disappointing. Orgone is the biological energy that Reich discovered and that formed the core of both his later psychological work and his work with chemistry, physics, and weather modification. De Meo is one of the few people out there that actually give the later works of Reich the respect they deserve. Which is why his interpretation of Reich's politics is so hurtful.

Reich, like many psychiatrists of his age was convinced that homosexuality was caused by sex repression and was in fact a mental disorder that had potential side effects like pedophilia. He also linked hardcore Stalinists with fascism and in turn linked fascism with sex repression. That part of his thought isn't too bad, actually. Also was convinced that patriarchal social structures were responsible for the repression of spontaneous expressions of sexuality and states of sexual/mental health, effecting the whole society and leading to child abuse, domestic violence, all sorts of things. This too is pretty reasonable. Where de Meo takes all of this though isn't.

Looking through the OBRL web page's link section on politics it comes out that de Meo endorses the theory of Islamo-Fascism put forward by commentators, supports Israel over Arab countries because he feels that Israel is less patriarchal and sex negative, also supports the War on Terror in general. Labels the critics of the War on Terror as Red Fascists, endorses the theories of "The Pink Swastika" that paints homosexuality as a core feature of Nazism, links homosexuality with pedophilia and gay rights organizations with organizations supporting child sexual abuse. This last one is not an exaggeration: one of the link sections is entitled

"Human Sexuality Issues, Exposing the Pedophile-Porno Agenda"

The guy actually provides recommended links to the Little Green Footballs extreme right blog, to Michelle Malkin, and to Fox News.

What a sad irony that someone pursuing the work of Wilhelm Reich, who devoted most of his life to extending human freedom, would endorse George W. Bush.

If you're going to San Francisco....

Leaving to there for a few days in a few days. This time I'm actually going to be not quite the superficial counterculture tourist that I have been. I mean, I usually stay in Berkeley, and when I first got there Amoeba records kicked my ass all over the place, along with Moe's Books. City Lights was a favorite, as well as "Bound Together Books", the Anarchist bookstore in the Haight. City Lights continues to be incredible, because apart from the Beat stuff (which is conveniently separated from the rest of the books) it's a really great bookstore, both on the fiction and non-fiction sides. Large section on all sorts of anarchist themed left stuff. Moe's is still good as well, and the Amoeba has a good selection, but these are the sorts of things that people pick up on in the Bay Area pretty quickly. This time around I'm looking at stores and attractions that are a little more off the beaten track and are things that local bohemians and freaks, and flexible lefty politicos, go to.

I'll be reporting back.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Both black and white workers sacrificed for U.S. Imperialism

Also known as Globalization. The interesting thing is that while globalization is hollowing out the U.S. economy for workers it's largely maintaining itself for bourgeois people on the other side of the class divide, despite the restructurings that place in the '90s. The continued presence of this class, plus foreign direct investment, may be what's keeping the U.S. economy from totally collapsing. But how can there be lots of bourgeois people without the corresponding amount of workers?

The answer lies in just what jobs are being off shored and what ones are staying put. The jobs that actually involved making stuff are being transferred to other countries but the jobs that involve running the companies, planning which way the companies should expand, essentially the higher level managerial and executive jobs with all of the white collar jobs that support them, are staying put.
People can still pull down middle class salaries because the workers that they ultimately direct still exist, they're just in Asia now. Working class folks in the U.S., both white and minorities, experience loss of good jobs while wondering why the rest of the country doesn't get it. The rest of the country largely doesn't get it because large parts of the wealthier folks aren't suffering the negative effects of globalization. It cascades, too.

Core companies and industries, companies that make stuff and sell stuff, support businesses that don't directly have anything to do with them like stores, restaurants, stuff that basically consists of consumer goods, but more like boutique goods. Upscale stores in the U.S. seem to be doing pretty well, even thriving, if Seattle is any gauge (which it is for reasons that I'll get to), while more working class oriented stores and restaurants that are independent seem to be fairing pretty badly because their customers have less money than they used to. So on the surface, if you're just paying attention to areas that are well off, things seem to be going ok, and you might even think that the idea that the U.S. is in a recession are kind of overblown.

Seattle is a great example both of how bourgeois people can prosper without corresponding amounts of workers and of how this prosperity can mask what's going on beneath the surface. In Seattle's case the prosperity isn't due to offshoring of businesses so much as the fact that although it has a global market Microsoft doesn't require almost any regular workers, comparatively, to manufacture and distribute its products. Microsoft sells lots and lots of software, it's based in Redmond, just across a bridge from Seattle, and the people who work there tend to make lots of money and spend it in Seattle, where loads of them live. This in turn means that very high level, expensive, specialty stores and restaurants that would die a slow death if the economy was going bad for everyone can flourish. It's easy to see driving through the well off neighborhoods in the northern half of Seattle like Wallingford or Greenwood. Or that downtown Seattle supports two very upscale malls in the center of the business district. Or that two suburbs, Bellvue and Kirkland, home to Microsoft employees, aren't just doing well but are expanding, with Bellvue undergoing a construction boom. These communities are isolated from the general state of the U.S. economy by their links to the global economy. Places populated by people who coordinate companies that make things in the Third World and sell them in the U.S. and Europe in all likelihood experience the same prosperity.

And Imperialism and Globalization. Imperialism refers to wealthy countries dominating small ones either directly or through economic control with some behind the scenes political control to bolster it. The era of Globalization is thought to eliminate that by making nation-states not matter anymore, but to me it looks like the abolition of nation-states doesn't eliminate the division between rich and poor countries. Instead, capitalists from the United States, Europe, and Japan are finding that they have more in common with each other than with the people who make up the countries that they're formally part of and are banding together to exploit the Third World with less divisions between them. The process is still one sided--the rich exploiting the poor, since it's not like Indonesian companies are making large inroads to the U.S. economy, but it's been masked with the idea that everyone is now going to play by the same global trade rules. Theoretically the U.S. and Europe are just as open to trade as El Salvador is, but in practice El Salvador is forced to open up their economy while U.S. trade barriers are viewed as less urgently important---although not totally ignored. It's instructive that the biggest trade battles have been between Europe and the United States, as well as between the U.S. and Canada, and not between any weak countries and any strong countries.

So in my opinion it's the same old imperialism using the mask of free trade-bourgeois ideology to cover up the structural disparities of the global economy.

"Pull My Daisy", written and narrated by Jack Kerouac

A film from the early '60s. Is good for portraying the Beats in a more reasonable, human, manner than later hagiographers have. The film is pretty simple, sort of a slice of life for a small number of beatniks that are hanging out at a friends apartment. They talk, smoke pot, have dialogues on the nature of society and of art, meet the man of the house who is a sort or Burroughs like character in that he's older and dresses sort of straight. A person called "The Bishop" comes over with his mother and sister and they discuss Zen Buddhism, with the Beatniks kind of kidding him. The Bishop leaves, they talk for a little while among themselves, and then the Beatniks leave. That's the formal action.

Like I said, the film is better for being a sort of slice of life, that reveals that the Beats weren't disconnected from the sort of '40s bohemian culture of New York City, complete with Jazz of course, but were a development from it. They reference Freud, Jung, Reich, Kenneth Rexroth, William H. Auden.

The problem with how the image of the Beats has evolved is that they've gone from being people who were critical of society to people who somehow exemplified the 'true America', the America beneath appearances. "On the Road" is considered to be one of the "Great American Novels". Ginsburg is thought, through the influence of Walt Whitman, to be a poet of America, even if he was critical of it. From talking about Moloch, the Middle Eastern god that ate the young, and describing the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness he came around to a sort of tepid America worship.

In a word, many of the Beats became, in the public consciousness and in their later writings, close to the establishment. They ceased to be a critical force and became one that could be turned into a hackneyed component of college life, where "On the Road" would be something that you 'just read' as a coming of age book irrespective if you ever did anything countercultural in your life at all.

The elaboration of the Beats as prophets of America the beautiful was demonstrated to me in the preface to an edition of Walt Whitman's poems and his writing "Democratic Vistas" put out by International Publishers, the publishing wing of the Communist Party USA. In it, the editor condemns the writers of the Lost Generation for being bourgeois individualists who had nothing positive to say and mentioned Ginsburg by name as an example of the new poetry, that was more positive about American life. Strange as it may seem for a Communist to praise American life, it actually makes sense for the time frame because of the effort to anchor Communism in American traditions that started in the '30s and '40s. That era is a complex subject that the books in the sidebar under "Popular Front Communism" deal with.

So Ginsburg received approval as not being a Bohemian in a totally bourgeois individualist way, but Henry Miller and folks like that were condemned as being too radical.

Pull My Daisy demonstrates that they were closer to those so-called bourgeois individualist ideals of Bohemia than that Communist Party writer knew.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And Clinton wins West Virginia

White working class voters are not necessarily against Obama, but their treatment by the Obama campaign and in the back and forth between it and Clinton's have made the idea that Clinton has the white working class for her major support a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth of the matter is that the white working class has more members than the entire population of African-Americans in the U.S. and is probably equal or greater than the total number of minorities in the United States. It's not an inconsequential demographic. THe number of people who belong to the white working class, as defined in a previous post here is around 80,000,000. This over counts the number because the employment breakdown included both the owners of small retail businesses and their employees, as well as due to the issue of some Latinos not being counted in the "Other Race" reporting section of the Census but instead being melded in with the white statistics. It also under counts because these are employed people over the age of 16, thereby not including women who are house wives and elderly people who aren't employed, as well as kids who can't vote. But I the number is not completely off, and isn't just a random stab in the dark.

When you're talking about writing off the white working class you're talking about writing off at least eighty million people, or about a quarter of the population of the United States.

This is why the arrogance of the bloggers, progressives, and generally elite liberals who talk about Clinton appealing to the working class as being bad is extraordinarily stupid and short sighted. Obama has become the candidate who has a radical black pastor and basically calls people ignorant over God, liking guns, as well as scapegoating hispanic immigrants when the economic chips are down.

And it won't even be racial. It'll be a simple matter of Democracy. After all, don't the opinions of 80,000,000 people count?

The translation of that is liberal elitists and special interest groups who don't reflect the mainstream of Ameica walking all over them and spitting in their faces.

If Obama doesn't try to repair his relationship with working class voters before November there will probably be 25% of Americans who you can guarantee will look to McCain.

Some of what I did at NYU in '98-'99, and at Earlham in '99

Before I was force to leave for medical reasons. Leaving NYU was a very painful experience, something that I still can feel tears welling up in my eyes when I start talking to people about it.

This is from the class "Conversations of the West" and is a fragment and first draft about the Iliad and the Odyssey:

"Achilles and Odysseus: heros?

A hero is someone who fights extremely hard for something which is just and which has significance beyond himself. Beyond that a hero needs his actions to contribute to some general cause, whether other people are pursuing this cause at the time or not. If there isn’t a strand that refers to something greater in the action of the hero his actions devolve into the acting out of a personal quest alone. Odysseus doesn’t fit into the model of the hero; but neither does Achilleus, even though he fits the model better. Odysseus’s quest is the voyage home, and even though he engages in heroic acts, since it is in the service of himself they don’t qualify him as a hero. Instead, I would say that the Odyssey tells the story of what happens when myth spills over into normal life. I’ll get back to that. Achilleus is a hero, even though he was motivated by anger, because he was pursuing honor and recognition. Honor isn’t self referential, there needs to be other participants for it to exist, and to pursue it will help other people out, especially in the context of the Trojan war. It is true that the Trojan war was a battle between the kings and nobility of two different sides, but being a hero in the Trojan war still has more significance than just voyaging home and dealing with the consequences of your absence."

Earlham turned me onto many things but the administration left me with bitter, bitter, feelings. I left after one semester. Here's a paper I wrote for "International Global Political Economy". Notice the date: September 7th, several months before the WTO protests. The paper contrasts David Korten's paper in the book "The Case Against the Global Economy" with a text that provided a sort of grab bag of more economically rigorous theories about globalism. Little did I know that after leaving Earlham my life would almost be destroyed, taking years to get back to this level.

Into. to Global Political Economy
First paper
Prof. Diskin
John Madziarczyk
Sept. 7

David C. Korten, in his paper “The failures of Bretton Woods” and Pearson and Payaslian in “International Political Economy” illustrate the split that has occurred as of late in economics: namely, between the equations and the applied understanding of economics. When Pearson looks at the global economy he sees vast international markets connected by trade with states being the only force which can interfere with the ‘economics for economics sake’ attitude of the market. Korten, on the other hand, doesn’t see economic activity as set in stone; instead, throughout his article he points out where the ideas for globalism came from, how they are practically implemented. Because of his approach he sees the global economy as a stage with some restrictions where intentional actors, capitalists, define reality.
The importance of trade is only implied in Korten for example, as opposed to the several sections in Pearson which deal only with trade.To Korten, the important factor in the global economy is not the short term benefits of a good trade balance but the long term functioning of the societal structures (companies, TNC’s, factories, states) which have the power to determine the scope within which short term change occurs. Korten feels that the movement of multinational corporate assets and the mobility of capital are causing the scope to shrink and the importance of factors which individually have very little ability for long term change, like the mass of small businesses, to shrink with it. As a result the equations, which only work when dealing with a collection of factors small enough to shed the objectivity killing clothes of their individuality, are becoming over powered by more simple dynamics of a smaller number of large corporations. Along with this has come a decrease in the type of state power which can be used to oppose corporations. Without the state in between corporations and the real world they tend to objectify people and environmental resources.

However, what Korten does not pick up on is that no matter how small the arena gets, unless the state itself comes apart their will always be factors stemming from political conflicts which relate to trade, trade imbalances, and economic policy which will prove as a countervailing force against the corporations. ‘Regular’ economic activity is not inherently opposed to activity made possible by transnationals and global trade liberalization and emerging markets, but in order for those types of institutions to exist there always has to be ‘nuts and bolts’ economics there to get the job done. He fails to communicate that the choice of economic paths available isn’t Bilderberg vs. State control, but that instead the institutions
themselves can be redefined according to economic theory which doesn’t necessarily need to focus on beliefs that go along with either of them.
Pearson and Payaslian have the opposite problem. They aren’t ‘immoral’ as opposed to Korten’s ‘morality’, but they do emphasize the fact that political science is more of an attempt to solve problems than a discipline that has all the answers. Out of this comes a view in which the ‘answers’ which they feel have worked, the market and capitalism, are viewed with flexibility, because the margin of error in their functioning is small enough that more radical change isn’t viewed as necessary. International organizations, states,finance, and TNC’s are the big players, but they are criticized based on how they fit into the present market economy rather instead of criticized as abstract political entities. They see the global economy as tending towards new organization based around NGO’s and multinationals, with the state carefully controlling the power of multinat’s by GATT and the WTO. History is simplified, so that the rise of multinats and globalism is linked to advances in industry, technology, and the post WWII global order which have expanded the possibilities of the free market. Korten, on the other hand, would argue that all the things cited would not have created a bigger free market but instead opened the door for individuals to exercise further power over existing processes than before, with the current state of the global economy being just one outcome. They also ignore possible non-economic historical causes for current situations, like emphasizing America’s technological ability after WWII instead of pointing out that America was the only participant that didn’t have it’s economic infrastructure destroyed as the reason the U.S. became dominant.
Korten and Pearson’s views compliment each other, with Korten taking the neglected side of economics and Pearson balancing it out with solid theory.Korten deals with historical factors that aren’t strictly economic, but in the process leaves out what normally connects the producers to the consumers. Pearson has no problem with that on a corporate or state level, instead what is deemphasized is the origin of economic activity:real people as opposed to equations.This leaves the institutions of the global economy open to legislation fiddling with the mundane functioning rather than legislation directly limiting their functioning along moral lines. In what a reader knows about Korten from reading the essay it can be said that his theory would not be in the running without the info provided by Pearson, but Pearson’s view
could stand on it’s own without Korten. But, it must also be considered that Pearson’s is an intro text while Korten’s is not"

Baudelaire cut up #2

Of the poem "Congenial Horror" from "The Flowers of Evil"

"From this bizarre from Rome tormented by you into your vacant wind swept sands, What thought? of my pride; so black and wide. Voracious in my dreams command, for the uncertain light As Ovid did, expel my heart delights. Skies torn about like and livid sky you are the mirrors destiny, Your mourning fly

Are hearses that my, you libertine and you reflect in the Hell in which appetite and unknown paradise."

A Baudelaire cut-up

Using William S. Burroughs' and Brion Gysin's method of cutting something up into fours and reassembling it in a different order. The poem is one of my favorites, "The Enemy", from "The Flowers of Evil".

"A constant storm, the water had eroded the brilliant suns shot through and who knows if the
fruits were born in this poor sand had so much to do the food of soul to of thought at hand, I cry! I cry! Life feeds and spade to groom and that dark enemy the washed-out land battens on blood that deep as tombs When I was young I flowers in my mind though now and then like a beach will find so in my garden few a healthy start? The rain and thunder, the seasons' maw Now are the Autumn who gnaws our hearts and I must use the drips into his jaws! Rebuild and cultivate."

Very interesting. Short poems are easier to do this with, it seems, than larger sections of text.