Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Musical Find

"Oi Polloi", English Oi! punk band....nice lyrics. Like the directness, like "The Ruts", who I know about only because Henry Rollins went into a story about them in his recent spoken word performance in Olympia. Although I don't go around calling women it, "Rich Bitch" by The Ruts is one of the most direct songs I've heard.

Oi Polloi has an interesting song called "Commies and Nazis" about both just wanting to use working class people.

*on edit:, er, they're anarchists, so songs like "Punks & Skins" have nothing to do with racism.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Socialization of Property

Or the idea that individualistic property will necessarily be succeeded by a type of property that is in harmony with social justice. I don't think that that's proven.

Compared to the economy of a hundred and fifty years ago we're much more interdependent with each other and dependent on increased cooperation, but I see corporate capitalism as being a way to reconcile this state of affairs with the pre-existing social structure.

Economics again--the skills fallacy

By which I don't mean that if you have a lot of experience doing a job or start out at a job and learn a lot of other things connected with whatever job you do that take you beyond your particular role that you won't get either higher pay or preference in hiring. Instead, what I'm talking about is the idea that in the face of increasing unemployment and loss of jobs simply going into a program and learning a profession that you think will be the best will ensure you a job.

Mainstream economics says over and over again that if you want more money in the face of inequality the way to get it is to get more skills. If the country that you're a part of is poor, the best way to facilitate development is said to teach people skills.

What they leave out, or at least go a long way to get out of saying, is that that strategy only works if the skills you're learning are in professions where there's an increasing or high demand for workers. If you go to your local community college and enroll in a program that has everything you want on the face of it, that has interesting work, seems to offer a lot of money when you graduate, and it turns out that the market for the skills you have is either small or very very competitive you're sort of out of luck. The program that you've just completed is now not worth a lot since you can't actually get a job with the skills you've acquired.

The only way out of this situation is the dubious notion that given enough supply of people with skills someone will come along and start a company that makes use of them, thereby employing all of the previously screwed people who took the wrong program.

If that does happen it'll be because the amount of people with the skills has increased to the point where it's really cheap to hire them, since no one else is willing to. That would make starting a competing business an attractive proposition.

This, by the way, is the underpinning of the skills for development idea. Give people in a poor African country enough computer skills and people in the United States will find that paying the workers a hundredth of what people in the U.S. command for the same work is a good deal. Instead of just employing folks in the hypothetical country for backbreaking mining work in order to get cheap raw materials it's now profitable to be the big Bwana providing substandard wages for computer work, which will no doubt evaporate if the market forces the wages to go higher and there's an even shittier paying opportunity somewhere on the globe.

Skills can in fact contribute to development, but my unprofessional opinion is that government sponsored development projects done in a sort of socialist fashion is the best course for accomplishing it.

The long and the short of the whole thing is that although trade schools and dubious for profit educational ventures offer dreams of advancement and a good life, they make money off of you no matter whether you're able to find a job or not. Choose wisely, young padawan.

*and getting a bachelor's degree is no guarantee of escaping from the same scenario either. In fact, the idea of simply getting a bachelor's degree making a difference in earnings has lead to such a glut in people getting them that the value of one has dropped significantly, although not as much as it should. College is hugely expensive, and if what you're getting out of it is a marginally better place in a competitive job market in professions that you really don't need a degree for it's very unfair to people who have good skills in the area but not a college degree, at least if the employer really does give preference to someone with a degree just for having a college degree.

The influx of people getting bachelor's degrees has also lead to the dumbing down of the college curriculum since people want certification and are somewhat lackluster about the actual process of a college or university education. For a person to really command a higher wage according to mainstream economics, they need to actually have learned something that merits commanding a higher wage. But what people are banking on in pursuing bachelor's degrees is that it will put them on the other side of the worker/management divide, ensuring that they don't have to do lower paying working class jobs.

**the question of just what these people are studying naturally presents itself. After all, you still need to have a major to graduate from college. Even if your main activity is swilling beer and impressing girls with your extensive knowledge of sports cars you still need a major. I think I have the answer. It's a several years out of date but I remember reading that Business had become the most popular major of U.S. college students. Sort of figures. They hope that after completing their degree while laughing at all of the requirements that make them think and don't have to do directly with making money they'll be employed as managers or higher. But the glut of Business graduates means that, surprise surprise, there'll likely be many more potential managers out there than are actually needed, no matter how many people are unnecessarily hired. Meaning that their ticket to fame, fortune and the good life without any real education or understanding of the world may be short circuited some what.
They may feel bad about not learning anything when they have to really apply themselves.

At least that's what my fantasy is. In all likelihood the system will accommodate them until there's no possible freakin' way that they can justify employing more of these people, and then that fantasy may partially become a reality. Unless managers start preferring people with business degrees for working class jobs, in which case we're all fucked.

Thinking about a site name change

The last two names have really sucked. Need something more, something that doesn't make my ears hurt. No, it won't be called "Pointless masturbation by a pseudo-intellectual'.

Obama says patriotism jabs a distraction....then condemns Wright once more

Entertaining. Here's the first story:

"“When I hear people questioning my patriotism … when I see that being used to distract voters from those unpatriotic acts that are making it harder for the American people to live out the American Dream, that makes me angry. And that’s the kind of politics that we’re gonna change when I’m president of the United States of America.”

And Here's the second story. The Obama quotes are scattered through it.

"Barack Obama said the Jeremiah Wright who’s reinserted himself into the spotlight over the last few days “was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” and he condemned his former pastor’s eagerness to grab headlines with controversial statements in the most forceful language he’s used so far.

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive,” Obama said, “but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who pray on hate.”

Obama said he was particularly angered by Wright’s insinuation that his previous condemnation of the former pastor’s most controversial statements was simply a move of expedience in a heated campaign.

“If Rev. Wright thinks that is political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well,” Obama said. “And based on his remarks yesterday, well I may not know him as well as I thought either.”

Acknowledging that he was powerless to prevent more “outrageous remarks” from Rev. Wright, Obama made clear that the former pastor spoke only for himself and that his comments were antithetical to the ideals Obama holds dear and has emphasized throughout the campaign."


In other words, whatever....you know what I'm going to say.

Marxist version of wages and profit versus that of mainstream economics

They deal with common problems. The Marxist notion is that people sell their labor power to capitalists, and that labor power is reckoned as being just another input to production. Even though people do the work the ultimate control of selling the product and distributing the money gained from the sale lies with the capitalist/owner/executives/upper management or just plain management if it's a small company themselves. This allows the people on top to give workers less than what they deserve through having a greater institutional power.

The mainstream model would say that even though the workers don't own the establishment they work in that they can in fact command a higher wage and therefore a higher share of the money generated from the products that they create if they can prove that the skills that they have are valuable. Higher skills are thought to command higher wages because they're thought to be more scarce than less skilled labor, meaning that if establishments want to employ people with these skills they have to compromise a little bit with the workers. As for the actual money made off of the product, mainstream economics says that in a competitive market the profits will be reduced to a small margin, with more competition making the margins smaller, as well as making the business more subject to fluctuations in supply and demand, which could exert downward pressure on both wages and on the income taken by owners themselves. Yet there are flaws in this.

First of all is the notion that higher skills or more valuable skills are the only way to ensure a better distribution of income in the sense of it being efficient, which in mainstream economics means that it's not made through workers asserting undue power over the poor capitalists and essentially exploiting them. Well. What if you have a job where individually people don't have many skills but collectively they do, and the method that the skills are put to use seriously increases productivity, which in turn increases the amount of possible profit, which whether realized or not exists on a greater scale of magnitude than it did previously?

Mainstream economics would say that the more efficient working methods would not exist socially but would be the property of whomever invented them, who could then command a great deal of money for letting people use the method. But after a certain point these things pass into common usage, no matter if someone originally came up with them and licensed them or not. Once that happens and there is no longer a tax on the increase of productivity gained from the new methods who exactly is entitled to the bigger amount of money now made using them? The workers are the ones who learn the methods and implement them, which would theoretically increase their skill level leading them to command higher wages, but what if the scenario is a lot of people with relatively compartmentalized job functions who nonetheless work together and learn somewhat how to function in the new arrangement? This would lead to an increase in skill too, but what if the added arrangement was something that once created turned out to be pretty siple, and so was simple to implement and learn, but that increased productivity a whole lot anyways?

The thought with mainstream economics is that no matter what people do, learn, know, no matter how production process, work methods, change, that competition will always cause things to balance out. Demand fuels competition and the tendency of demand is to favor lower prices or higher quality, modified by price, forcing companies that don't implement productivity increasing innovations to scramble to produce them through loss of business. Skills command money from companies, that use the skill to produce goods, that are in turn bought or not bought by the same workers, putting a further constraint on the companies themselves. Companies themselves are thought to be neutral in all of this, not having any influence whatsoever as companies in relation to the marketing and controlling of demand on the one hand and pressure in relation to wages, conditions, and hiring on the other. There's no institutional power attributed to companies. Instead, the only function of companies, the thing that supposedly gives people in charge the power to command higher wages for themselves, is to respond to changes in the market intelligently and to continually come up with innovations that lead to higher profits either through selling more stuff or by cutting costs, which in turn is thought to enable them to sell more stuff.

There's no concept of absolute taking by companies in relation to money earned, because the market would theoretically cancel any ensured profits out, and there isn't any concept of institutional power exerted in relation to either labor or to demand and the satisfaction of demand, because again the market is thought to cancel any money made that way out. The only way that companies are thought to be able to exert that power is either in monopoly situations or oligopoly situations, with oligopoly meaning something like six or eight companies in an entire market controlling things. Any number beyond that is thought to be competitive.

Workers are thought to have power only by voting with their feet, i.e leaving jobs that don't pay what their skills would or should command and deciding not to apply for jobs in places that would pay them substandard wages in the first place. Unions are considered to be impediments to this process because through collective bargaining they are thought to interfere with the ability of workers to be hired at wages they want to be hired at, as well as costing the companies money through not letting the wages vary with the demands of the market. If there's a glut of people with the same skills as the workers in the union, so the thinking goes, employers are forbidden from decreasing the amount of wages to reflect that the skills are no longer as valuable as they were, because they're less scarce. Also, if the market for a good falls out, thereby making the skills required to make it less valuable, they can't decrease wages, and they can't fire people as easily as they could without the union.

This doesn't take into account the actual process of collective bargaining, which doesn't consist of workers just imposing their will on the poor capitalists but of a sort of compromise between workers and management that takes into account real profits made by the company as well as market conditions.

**to be continued***

On edit: If the market fails, meaning unjust inequalities exist in it, they're attributed in mainstream economics to one of four factors: workers not competently pursuing training and skills that would be useful for the job market, or being in general irresponsible as individuals, consumers not intelligently spending their money on products that best serve their needs, or else just stupidly handling their money, managers and owners not competently responding to changes in supply and demand and not innovating, or else just completely fucking up, and lastly there not being enough competition in the market.

A Marxist might say that in truth institutional inefficiencies exist on every level and in every market, compounding on each other and leading to a situation where the full functioning of the free market in the way that mainstream economists portray it is impossible to realize. Small inefficiencies also pile up into large economic trends like cyclical recessions and depressions as well as booms. They also lead to the development of the class system and to increasing inequality of wealth. The only way to counter these trends is to give up the free market model as the way to an economically just society and come up with another one that consciously addresses the problems through control of the economy. Which means planning of some sort and the subordination of business to society in general. What form the planning takes, whether it's a very top down centralized system like existed in the Soviet Union or something more participatory is an open question.

On edit #2: It's not even clear that having a broad, homogenized, free market is something that's desirable considering that it would essentially create a single world economy where efficiency could only be produced by people constantly shifting around the world in order to find the best job as well as nullifying the democratic ability of countries to pass legislation having to do with regulation of the economy, not to mention social problems and behavior of business in general. The effect would be the destruction of cultures in the service of the free market as well as the nullification of democracy. Globalization isn't just about globalized trade in products.

All this, all the globalized destruction produced by regulations attached to bodies like the WTO as well as free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, and the rest, is predicated on the ideal of the free market being something that's viable and that ultimately will lead to the best possible outcome.

Monday, April 28, 2008

God, fucking Condoleeza Rice

Every public appearance is an opportunity for cheap, transparently false, propaganda. The title link leads to a Guardian story where in supporting action taken against the militias by the Iraqi government she states the Muqtada Al-Sadr is living in Iran, and presumably leading his attacks from there.

What was the country that the U.S. wants to go to war with, again?

Jesus, her career is so fucking over that after Bush administration the only place she'll be able to get support will be from an increasingly aging society of supporters who will stay faithful to the cause like supporters of British Fascist Oswald Mosley.

Her position in history will be much like that of Bush and the Iraq war.

The Mission is stabilization, I believe

That's the official word on what exactly the point of being in Iraq and Afghanistan is now. Catching OBL was dropped a long time ago and whatever the point of going into Iraq was, they never made it clear, was dropped as soon as the useful vagueness had done the job. Was it stopping Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction against us?

Anyways, the goal now is stabilization, the creation of states in Iraq and Afghanistan that are peacefully ruled by pliant cronies, who will oversee the exploitation of both countries in service to the U.S.

The double think present in waiting until attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq as well as sectarian fighting there have stopped in order to leave is kind of amazing although not commented on in the media, alternative or otherwise. The people of Iraq are attacking soldiers because they want them to leave....but they can't leave until the situation is stable which means no more attacks on them. Something similar, if not quite as pat, could be said of the sectarian warfare going on in Iraq. The government of Nouri Al-Maliki, while not completely a rubber stamp for U.S. desires, is in structure and in fact collaborating with the United States, making attempts by it to find a solution to the violence compromised from the start. It's the fact that the government is dependent on the U.S. that's the problem, leading to violence, which in turn justifies a continued U.S. presence until the violence is gone.

And Afghanistan is a pure mess to the point where I don't think anyone seriously believes that the United States has any hope of really restoring stability there anymore. In case you hadn't heard, Hamid Karzai, the U.S. approved President and former oil company representative, and his envoy, were fired at with machine guns at a ceremony commemorating the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

We're fucking toast there and should get out along with our dear NATO allies, valiantly fighting to protect the North Atlantic Community against a very clear and present danger, as soon as possible.

So stability, yeah....

Good luck with that. Until then, well fuck, I don't know. Iraq is a more pointless war than Vietnam. At least in Vietnam there were actual Communists actually trying to win, and Communism as a phenomenon on a world scale actually existed, with people actually living in countries governed by the system. Even if it was to prop up a puppet government in South East Asia, the basic existence of an enemy that was argued to justify the war was not denied.

Saddam Hussein as the cruel dictator that was picked out of hat to be the official enemy was trying to develop nuclear weapons to use against the U.S.

Mushroom clouds. The only mushroom clouds were metaphorical ones in the synapses of the people planning the thing, causing them to hallucinate reasons for going to war to shove onto the public.

Marxist Internet Archive

Is really improving, or has really improved. I hadn't been there in a while but it seems to have moved away from being a site that mainly focusses on Trotskyist writers, with a huge selection of Marx and Engel's writing as well, to a site that includes writings from Left Marxists, Council Communists, people supporting national liberation struggles, Communist revolutionaries from the third world, and more. Impressive. They have some of the main anarchist writers as well...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The working class hungers for socialism", oh really?

I'm declaring a campaign against stilted radical language which is totally, not just partially, rhetorical. Not on technical terms like Imperialism or the various ways of describing capitalism and class, but against the over the top caricatures that some newspapers and such have fallen into. None of the actual socialist parties, whether social democratic, radical, or Leninist, or the various anarchist groups used language like that. It's high time to bring radicalism back onto the radar screen in way that actually sounds like how people actually talk and not like they've been taught to talk by some party. Anchoring these things in common experience, the sort of thing that you see when you walk out your door and that exists in world news today, would go a long way to increasing their appeal to people.

Another way to increase the appeal would be to establish a socialism out there that differed from the "In These Times" magazine type model, which is a kind of tepid Social Democratic, barely socialist, current that's not a threat to anyone. The people in power, at least in the government, as much as they're aware of In These Times and company, probably laugh at the sort of middle class yuppie radicalism contained in them.

I want socialism to be dangerous again. By that I don't mean people doing dangerous things so much as restoring things to how they were in the pre-McCarthyist era when socialist groups scared people because they really did want to accomplish fundamental social change that would rewrite the fabric of society.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Economic individualism is a luxury for rich countries

Countries with little or no constraints on their economic activity due to being subsidized by third world countries supplying cheap goods can afford to indulge in economic and work arrangements that are less collective than poorer countries. The notion of "Right to work" laws and the support that mostly rich people have stirred up for them in working class communities would be discredited if the situation that people found themselves in required collaboration with others in order to ensure survival and a decent living. The other side of it is that keeping people divided on the job and resisting cooperation between people in work probably leads to greater inefficiency, inefficiency that's balanced out by the greater profits that companies without a more cooperative structure, which could demand higher wages in general and also the formation of unions, earn. But it's still sacrificing the very thing that businesses are supposed to be pursuing, efficiency and productivity. In a truly competitive situation companies that compromised a little bit , sacrificed absolute profits in the hope of making more money through selling a better product, companies that purposely sabotaged themselves in order to make more money would be the losers. The U.S. is in a situation where it can afford to do this sort of thing because of its prominence in the world economy, but that situation can't last long. The economic downturn we're in may signal the end of the U.S.' free economic lunch and the entry of the country into a truly competitive marketplace where the rules aren't fixed in its favor.

*on edit: I should clarify that I mean competition between economies at similar levels of development. There are plenty of economies out there that are less developed than that of the U.S. that do pretty well with being pretty exploitative. While the sorts of pressures I talked about may be present there they probably aren't to the same extent as in the U.S. While they surely can benefit from these sorts of things, and really should fight for them to be implemented through trade unions and social movements, in the U.S. there's no way to avoid confronting the problem unless we want to go back to the sort of industrialism present in the early part of the 20th century, which most people are glad we moved away from.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Israeli tests Ecstasy on soldiers with PTSD, Palestinians starve

And have their electricity and water cut off, on top of the food blockade. Title link leads to article about the drug test. But it's almost understandable, after all Israel is a colony of the West and Westerners are entitled to things like taking recreational drugs to treat their wounds, while Middle Easterners are subhuman scum.

Crimes

Someone once said that the measure of justice in society isn't how it treats its best people but how it treats its worst people. By those standards the U.S. is doing pretty poorly. Take sex crimes for instance. Probably some of the worst things that can happen to a person. Despite the fact that most sex crimes, whether they're child molestation or rape of some kind, are committed by someone connected to the victim society has become paranoid that lurking around every corner are pedophiles just waiting to abduct and molest children, and to a lesser extent rapists lurking behind every face that people think is not quite ok. Once actual child molesters or rapists, not just gay people or people who are socially awkward who are suddenly given the label of potential rapist, are caught and tried the sentencing aspect becomes such that judges and juries try to outdo each other in how draconian a sentence they can pass down. The seriousness of the crimes necessitates that people who have done these things get more time than people who deliver multiple shots to the chests of rivals.

Let's try a thought experiment for a second. Given that people are understandably extraordinarily upset about these crimes, if there was no limit on what could be done to people convicted would anything be off limits?

For example, would hanging someone from a ceiling with meat hooks through their back and then burning off their skin with a torch, peeling it off after it was charred, and then putting out their eyeballs with hot pokers be acceptable? What about having your limbs cut off in front of you? Do you think that's barbaric? Let's say you do. It seems that you admit that there are some limits to what you think is acceptable to do to people who commit these things. So why do you believe that?

If you believe that singeing someone's skin off is not acceptable what about pulling people's finger nails off and electrocuting their genitals? Still object? Hmm... Seems you really do have some limits on what punishment you consider just after all.

Where exactly, then, is the line between what should be considered unacceptable punishment for these things and what should be permissible punishment?

Do people, even rapists and child molesters, have basic rights that shouldn't be violated?

It gets back in a way to other people put into the black box of doing things that society considers maximally abhorrent like accused terrorists. According to Bush and company the people at Guantanamo bay deserve torture and beatings because they're the "worst of the worst". They shouldn't be allowed conventional trials, they shouldn't be allowed conventional standards of evidence, they're supposedly such a danger that it's justified holding them for years without even being charged while consistently being interrogated. Do they have rights, even though they're so-called "Enemy Combatants"?

If they do then why not people who commit very, very bad crimes within the U.S.?

Is the West decadent?

In certain ways yes, in certain ways no. By the west I primarily mean that United States, but also Europe and European originated countries in North America and Australasia (big words!).

The idea of decadence is connected to that of being degenerate or of having a lot of people in a society becoming degenerates. A degenerate was/is thought to be someone who in breaking a kind of moral or social code descends in terms of character to the lower levels. Like someone starts out doing something seemingly innocuous but somewhat bad and then goes through a downward spiral of temptation into self destruction and crime.

While I know that this does in fact happen to some people, the history of the 20th century and 20th century social movements reflects the idea that things that were once considered degenerate can be enjoyed in a healthy way without leading to the final consequence of being, say, a bum on the street who's a petty criminal, which is sort of the example people who make the argument about degeneration point to.

Sexual freedom has been proven not to lead to degeneracy when done in a positive way. Women's liberation doesn't lead to degeneracy. Having a system of government not based on religion and not based on enforcing moral codes has been proven not to lead to degeneracy. Drugs, when used in a responsible and non-self destructive way, do not lead to degeneracy. Freedom of speech in terms of writings that push the boundaries of language and of portrayal of subject matter don't cause mass degeneracy. Dancing erotically doesn't cause degeneracy. Pornography doesn't cause degeneracy. Neither does rock music. Or gay rights.


On the other hand there no doubt is a lot of behavior in the U.S. that is unhealthy and degenerate, ultimately leading to really bad cultural currents that are exploitative and anti-human liberation in their destructive behavior. But I don't think that unleashing this sort of liberation has caused this. The cause is probably something outside of it, and here I'm thinking of the ethos of just getting really fucked up, treating women like shit, and being intentionally violent in the hope of being manly or something. People who are like this aren't the poster children for liberation, instead they frequently oppose quite a bit of the liberatory currents that have been produced.

Because of that I think that there must be outside reasons for why they act like that. Looking at the social structure of society as well as people's opportunities could probably explain a lot.

Ten Commandments Commisssion

Established to make a Ten Commandments day. Here's the Cursor.org article about it. The basic idea is to get Congress to designate a day as an official Ten Commandments day in order to do something about affirming moral absolutes or something, which the commission thinks that America has gone woefully away from.

What's really sad is that one of the movers and shakers behind the commission is a Rabbi. One thing about Judaism that I really respect is the Talmudic tradition of discussion and analysis, which emphasizes variant reading and a very nuanced and sophisticated interpretation of things. The Christian ministers connected with the commission seem to be representatives of the typical fundamentalist Christian over simplification of things, using the idea of the Ten Commandments as a blunt instrument to beat the heads of people who don't agree with the idea of Christianity as being a foundation of the American state.

So moral absolutes, right? Ok, let's look at the least controversial of them, "Though shalt not kill". What if someone is attacking you with a knife trying to kill you and you kill the person in self defense? Does that violate the commandment? What if a person is a soldier in a war and kills another soldier, does that violate the commandment? If so, are there any situations like this where it wouldn't? What about accidental killing? Just because something is an accident doesn't mean that the person is automatically blameless. A person could be acting in a reckless and negligent way that leads to the death of someone, in which case they would be guilty, but even so it would still not be saying "Hey, I want to kill you". What about people who do things that contribute to the death of people when combined with the actions of others? Are they guilty of violating the commandment? For instance if a factory dumps toxins in water that while not lethal by themselves become lethal once combined with the toxins released by other factories.

I think revenge killings and honor killings are pretty much outlawed by the tradition, but what about capital punishment? If you admit that capital punishment is justified what exactly would and would not warrant it?


These are basic legal questions, not rocket science, but they point out just how much ambiguity there is in the simple commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Even though the basic principle is great, it isn't the end all and be all; besides, I would say that every culture on the planet has rules about this. It isn't like the Ten Commandments are the only source for moral justice here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Irish in America yet again

I think that the reason that books like "How the Irish Invented Slang", which is demonstrably false, piss me off so much is that they give the Irish privileged minority status while looking over the fact that there are a hell of a lot of Irish people in the United States that hate blacks, hispanics, Asians, you name it, just like any other European group. The Irish were the enforcers in the NYPD, they ran the machine in Chicago during the time that Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was shot, their are proud Irishmen out there like Pat Buchanan, anti-immigrant provacateur extraordinaire, and in the past Bull Conner of Birmingham, Alabama who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and who was the official responsible for sicking dogs on Martin Luther King Jr. and company.

No one points out this history, but the idea of Ireland as a special place that provides people with a totally separate identity from the rest of mainstream America, although their experience of it might be limited to watching a performance of Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" endures.

Scot-o-philia is possibly the only thing that tops the love of all things Irish by ordinary white folks with ordinary white prejudices in hypocrisy.

Daniel Cassidy and company provide a narrative of oppression that people can identify with in order to feel less white guilt.

* on edit: I should add a couple names. Irish politicians in the U.S. aren't represented just by John F. Kennedy but also by Joe Kennedy, his father, who while ambassador to England was part of a pro-fascist and pro-nazi group of grandees and was purportedly, although logically, anti-semitic as well. Also, Father Coughlin of Michigan, a radio priest broadcasting during the '30s whose show became increasingly anti-semitic to the point where he was literally selling small swastika flags during his open air broadcasts and repeating Nazi talking points. Coughlin wasn't just a local Detroit phenomenon, he reached a good deal of the United States through his broadcasts, which were rebroadcasted on CBS radio, and authored several books outlining his philosophy.

Adventures

That are really impossible at the moment for many reasons. One in particular. Reading Ted Rall's interview with a French publication (in English) reminded me of something I've been thinking about. It focusses a lot on Central Asia, and there's a particular place in Central Asia that is of interest. Some people might think I'm crazy for it but I'm interested in finding the school known as the Sarmoun Brotherhood, a secret esoteric monastary that Georges Gurdjieff, reknowned mystic, studied at.

It was rumored to be on the frontier between China, Tibet, Central Asia, South Asia close to the Silk Road. Turns out that there is a place that fits that description and that does in fact have an interesting esoteric tradition. It's the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan. Thought to be the model for James Hilton's book "Lost Horizon", the Hunza valley is also and quite uniquely Ismailii, the offshoot of Shi'ism that Hassan-I-Sabbah was part of and that is probably the most esoteric branch of Islam, although certain Alevi sects may place up there are well. There's even a place near that's called in the traditional language, which is an isolate not connected to any Indic, Persian, Turkish or Sino-Tibetan language, is called "Sargan".

The valley, however, in in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, which are basically Pakistani Kashmir, heavily disputed with civil war going on against Pakistan, India warring with Pakistan over it, and Kashmiris in India wanting independence as well. The Northern areas were the subject of a scorched earth campaign by India known as the Operation Kargil.

The province as a whole borders Afghanistan and is of course close to the countries of Central Asia.

Ted Rall mentioned in the article travelling in the Northern Areas and having his bus hijacked by Taliban fighters who threatened to execute him. I take that as an indication that the place is not safe to travel to.

But, maybe someday. I'll show up, ask some stupid questions, be met with a stony silence, and drink a lot of tea.

*****I suppose I should Google-fi this by putting in the quotation "Where is the Sarmoun Brotherhood?"******

*on edit: Silly me, I got some of the facts of the Jammu-Kashmir issue wrong. There isn't an insurgency against Pakistan going on. Instead, Pakistan is pro-Kashmiri independence although it denies giving actual aid to the insurgents. "Operation Kargil" is more accurately called the Kargil war and was by all accounts started by Pakistan against India. The Indian army didn't conduct a scorched earth campaign. On that I confused Kargil with "Operation Bluestar", where the Golden Temple of Sikhism was destroyed along with the many people inside defending it against the Indian Army. Operation Bluestar also happened fifteen years before Kargil. Nevertheless, there have been many skirmishes between Pakistan and India regarding Jammu and Kashmir, which lie directly south east of the Northern Areas.

The promise of alternative technology

Or at least very high efficiency technology. The idea started after World War II that if efficiency in manufacturing processes could be increased by working more intelligently and designing things according to an increasing sophistication instead of through brute force. People's skill and creativity could be applied in a cooperative way, including workers giving input and collaborating on solving problems with the engineers and other people in the hierarchy. By working smarter, not harder, to use a cliche, it would be possible to design products and production processes that were inherently ecologically sound without compromising efficiency. Computers were thought to be very good potential aids to the process through the capability of them to manage processes through cybernetics, which despite the sci-fi name just refers to a sort of automated control and production management system. Of course, the ideas relating to scientific management that could be used to potentially make things easier could be used to further enslave people, like the time and motion studies of Taylor in the early 20th century that turned people into more thorough cogs in the machine. It could also lead to permanent technological unemployment if not done in such a way that people still had employment after the efficiency increased to the point where not as many people were needed. I think some sort a compromise could be reached with workers in charge of the processes in general and the computer principles having a lesser part. Now that I'm thinking of it, the automation is potentially really bad in that a shift towards more computer management could also shut workers out of control of the production process and making it harder for them to have real control over their jobs. But it could potentially work, I hope.

Anyways, the thought was to combine all this with social values like decentralization and some sort of enforced limitation of hours worked without a reduction in pay as well as social benefits so that competition would be kind of short circuited, meaning that the new technology wouldn't be able to be used to viciously throw people out of jobs and fund a sort of social darwinist society without any sort of popularly controlled social structure.

Well, all this sort of, isn't what I was aiming for. People have called this state a post-industrial economy or a post-modern economy, with a typical hard core modernist economy being based on heavy industry from the less sophisticated technology of the industrial revolution. Although some people say we're there in the United States it's largely a lie since industry has just been off shored. We haven't gotten past it, it's just someplace else, which leaves tech jobs more visible here than they otherwise would be. To really implement it in a productive way we'd need to combine new production processes with industry started to provide jobs while being protected from complete free trade.

*on edit: there appear to be two or possibly three major problems or contradictions that flow from increased technological efficiency in the sense described.

The first one deals with the power that an increasingly technology dependent society, even one where the technology is used for good purposes, gives to the engineers who design it. Workers are potentially disempowered, but the status of engineers and to a certain extent scientists is boosted considerably by this arrangement, leading to increased self realization on their part without necessarily empowering society in the same way. Some people have suggested that Technocracy is the appropriate form of government in this situation, which would mean letting the engineers decide everything to the detriment of the people. The opposite, though would probably be the best case: let technology and development be subordinated to social goals that are democratically decided on. This would also have to be socialist in orientation as well because ultimately in our society the engineers are subordinated to capitalism in regards to what they produce, making the inventions that come out oriented towards making money rather than purely serving human needs.

Secondly, the technology is potentially alienating to consumers themselves. Technology can be set up in such a way that it actually reduces the potential for self reliance that people have by shutting them out of using the new devices in ways that they choose. Instead, things can be dumbed down so that instead of having people take advantage of the tech to do interesting stuff they're reduced to pressing a button and getting a uniform result, with no other options. The computerization of cars is an example of this in that it's harder these days to work on cars yourself in the way that people used to. Instead, garages have more power over people's lives to the extent that they use newer cars. But cars these days are undoubtedly much more efficient and cleaner in their functioning than the sort of muscle cars that typify the do it yourself ethic. There are benefits but there's also an increasing sense of alienation, one that could be reduced by purposely making products with more sophisticated user input in mind. The same could be said of production processes that are increasingly technologized.

The final problem is more abstract, and consists of the scientific paradigm that engineering exists under. To some extent it's dominated by the sort of mechanistic Enlightenment worldview that emerged in the 18th century and that has exerted an enormous influence on American life. The absence of alternative models of the universe shuts off access to potentially helpful solutions as well as to holistic oriented solutions that might be more in harmony with ecological consciousness. The benefits could go beyond ecology, though. In Russia after the Revolution the fact that a non-Enlightenment materialism which was more flexible to alternative ideas, based on ideas derived from Marxism, took hold lead to innovations both in theory and in practice that are still being felt, for instance the proto-systems theory known as Tektology developed by Alexandr Bogdanov and the ideas behind modern rocketry.

*on edit: the idea of people getting control of technology has been taken to its ultimate conclusion, or at least one of them, by people who have applied the Paulo Freire model of popular education to technology by going into communities, when invited, and brainstorming on common problems then bringing in experts who collaborate with people in order to find an application that solves the common problem that they can use. A more direct way, or another way, to boost popular participation would be to spread technical education around to the point where people were competent on basic mechanics and engineering, complemented by making tech more open to people who don't have a hyper specific understanding of the stuff. This would ideally be a combination of competency in computers, in some technological area, and in basic stuff that makes up traditional working class occupations like carpentry and building trades.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lipstick Traces thesis

I'm pretty skeptical of it. Before going on I should clarify that although I like a few bands I've picked up here and there I wouldn't by any stretch of the imagination be called a punk rocker. I like industrial and post-punk as well..... That said, the Lipstick Traces thesis is the idea outlined by music writer Greil Marcus that the punk rock aesthetic and ethos was heavily influenced by ideas from the Situationists, a radical theory group of folks who were stridently anti-consumerism. Touchstone of their philosophy was "Society of the Spectacle" by Guy Debord, with "The Revolution of Everyday Life" by Raul Vaneigem being the second biggest text. While their ideas are interesting in their own right and insightful the idea that the ethos was created by Malcolm MacLaren, who was a member of the London group, through the agency of the Sex Pistols who he managed is a little far fetched. One of the reasons I think that is that the story of how punk rock evolved is pretty much ironed out.

You can chart the rise of a sort of hard, garage band sound rock from The Stooges through to Alice Cooper, from there to the New York Dolls, to the Ramones, with a detour for David Bowie and another side trip into the Velvet Underground, that eventually turns into punk. The sort of hard ass fifties aesthetic in the U.S. blended with a kind of glam rock heavy sound, modified by garage band rock.....with KISS probably belonging to the proto-punk group as well, and the MC5 being in there too. Very U.S. centric, I know, but my guess is that the same kind of progression followed in the UK, starting from first British invasion bands that liked the roughness of the blues on through the Yard Birds, the Rolling Stones, Bowie, The Who and then onwards. Some sort of entry someplace named The Deviants as being an influence, but I can't find any of their music online.... I haven't heard any music by Marc Bolan and Gary Glitter, so I can't really speak to them either. But in general it looks like the UK followed the same sort of evolution as the U.S. Which makes the idea of Situ-inspired politics leading to a punk ethos kind of suspect.

More so is the idea that people couldn't have become anti-consumerist without the Situationists. The idea that the music industry basically creates stars and markets them while laughing all the way to the bank doesn't need radical theory to make it work. Neither does an impulse to kind of get back to basics by doing music yourself and getting back to basics without a lot of the kind of mass marketed pumped up flash of pop stardom..although you know "Rock the Casbah" wasn't exactly an unknown song....any ways...questioning all this stuff and then going towards do it yourself and a sort of anarchist ethics doesn't need radical inspiration to happen. My idea is that some of the stuff was in the air but that people involved found out about the situationists, and about radical politics, specifically anarchism, later when they tried to make sense of what they were doing and find people who had been doing similar things.

In a way the fact that a good number of punks aren't politicized, but have the general ethos of nihilistic anarchist tendencies and wanting to do things themselves, indicates that whatever influence the idea of Situationism or of straight up anarchism may have had they weren't decisive defining influences when stacked against the general style coming from the musical roots of punk rock.

At worst, the Situationism idea is used by elite people who would normally be the folks that would targeted by punk rockers to try to co-opt the idea into their own framework.

I maybe wrong on all this, though.

*on edit: I'm sure that left wing zeal crept in during this time too. If nothing else the idea that beer swilling arena rock was self defeating and stupid and that people should do something more relevant to actual reality would be enough to push people over the edge...

Food Rationing in the U.S.

Stories are coming out of people in the U.S. stocking up on rice and floor, basic staple foods, because they're afraid that the global food crisis that's happening will reach them soon. But that's the great thing about Imperialism, poor people starve and riot while people in the U.S. do fine. The idea that people in the United States will feel the food crisis any time soon is delusional, but then U.S. citizens aren't very objective about what they're status is in relation to the rest of the world. Things will have to get quite a deal worse before any of that happens, and pressure to secure the food supply will likely follow the pattern regarding oil in the Middle East: the powers that be will fight tooth and nail to stave off the consequences of tight food supplies and will do anything up to war to prevent them from feeling the crunch.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weather Underground, power and privilege

Because of Bill Ayers of the former Weather Underground knows Obama's pastor the group has come back into the news, on the Left news as well as the mainstream. After David Lindorff on Counterpunch wrote an excellent short article about Bill Ayers, fellow Counterpuncher Daniel Cassidy replied with the frequently repeated charge that the Weather Underground represented the middle and upper classes and had no organic connection with the working class. After hearing this over and over my response has become "You mean as opposed to the rest of SDS?" SDS was founded on the most elite college campuses in the country, starting among other places at Harvard, being strong at Columbia, and present in the crown jewels of state university systems like the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley. There was so little connection between the student movement and the working class that several theorists tried to prove that the students were the new proletariat. Before the final days of SDS, when the idea of people setting up student-worker committees came into play, there was no presence whatsoever of SDS in working class communities at all, and as far as I know the members of SDS who came from more working class backgrounds didn't press their case as members of the working class. They remained students involved in college.

So suddenly there's a charge of a faction of SDS, which is what Weather started out as, was disconnected from the working class and contained a lot of people of middle and upper class backgrounds. It seems to me like it's the pot calling the kettle black, and possibly thinking up excuses for not buying into Weather's ideology and strategy besides those produced by honest criticism.

Currently listening to as I go about my day

"Raw Power" by the Stooges and "Damaged" by Black Flag on one CD. Talk about an intense combination. It's like aural amphetamine. I was tired but I guess I don't need that coffee now... WE ARE BORN WITH A CHANCE, RISE ABOVE! WE'RE GONNA RISE ABOVE!....I'm fully awake now.

"A State of Mind" and "Crossing the Line"

Two rare movies actually shot in North Korea recently. Although they were made by the same team they couldn't be more different, and the reason is that one of them was made for the U.S. market while the other one was made for the UK and Europe. A State of Mind is the one produced for the UK, Crossing the Line is the one made for American audiences.

Crossing the line is about James Dresnok, an American who was stationed in the DMZ in the early '60s who defected to North Korea, where he's lived ever since. The movie comes off as being so concerned with not appearing to be biased towards North Korea that it goes in the other direction, presenting the events in such a far right context that it could have been made by the John Birch Society. It's unpleasant to watch because of this. They don't just try to tell the story of the guy through interviews but frame it in such a way that everything he did comes out being condemned. I mean, I can understand their trepidation in marketing it to the U.S. but come on, this is excessive in the extreme.

"A State of Mind" is much better. The demands for ideological correctness regarding the Global War on Terror are lifted an an objective film can now shine through. A State of Mind follows the lives of two Korean girls preparing for something known as the Mass Games, a gymnastics exhibition that happens in North Korea on special occasions and that's a sort of national festival. Combines stunning and colorful gymnastics with interesting backdrops in stadiums generated by people holding colored placards and changing them in sync.

The girls live in Pyongyang, the capitol, and are part of privileged families, although not party members from what I gather, meaning that they're the equivalent of folks living in Moscow during the Soviet Union. Standards of living are higher and there isn't evidence of mass starvation.

The very interesting thing is how the movie actually humanizes the people involved. The families of the girls are revealed to be just regular families, albeit families that think very highly of the State and try to inculcate that somewhat in the kids. The celebrations of Kim Jong-Il's birthday (he's known as The General), as well as Kim Il-Sung's are recorded, and things like the daily pledge of allegiance to Kim Jong-Il and to socialism are on tape as well. The presence of the Party and of the celebration of the State are there in full form, but also how elite members of North Korean society understand these things, which is that they're at least partially justified. North Koreans aren't portrayed as mindless Asian robots, which tends to be the trend when reporting on Communism in Asia.

What's apparent is that the Revolution and the Korean War, either accidentally or on purpose contributed to a destruction of previous cultural patterns that left a very large vacuum that has been filled by state ideology praising Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, the Party, and the socialist state itself. North Korea probably got this from the Soviet Union, where Stalin was alive and in charge during the formative days of the Republic. In "Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army", by Catherine Merridale, an excellent book about the average Russian experience during World War II, the point is made after outlining how the Politruks or Political Officers who were assigned to each contingent of soldiers stirred people up with constant speeches and celebrations praising the Soviet Union that the kids experiencing this never knew anything else. Stalin became a sort of hero that people lived through, that people saw themselves in, because there was little else and this was presented as an official story.

The movie shows people who are in an unfortunate situation but who are also proud of their country, although there's only one scene where the families leave Pyongyang and venture out into the countryside.

Romeo, Michigan

The place where I'm from originally. Romeo is an interesting town. It's on the northern border of Macomb county, which is part of the tri-county Detroit area. Macomb is the working class county, with Oakland county being the much more bourgeois one and Wayne county being the one consisting of Detroit and down river, being mostly very poor and black, with some industry south of the city.

Van Dyke is the main highway and road connecting Romeo to the rest of Macomb county, with the order of towns going north being Detroit, Warren, Sterling Heights, then Shelby/Washington, then Romeo.

Romeo wasn't really incorporated into suburbia until fairly recently, but was founded in the mid 19th century. The people who founded Romeo were folks from New England and New York state who had pushed west down across western Pennsylvania and northern Ohio and then up into Michigan. This was the trend of migration, which started with western New York state being colonized by people from the area forming new towns. Romeo became the headquarters for the timber industry in the area, leading to the construction of large Victorian mansions and very ornate Victorian homes that have since been designated as part of a official historic district, protected by law.

The timber industry in Michigan is one of the tragedies of westward expansion. Originally, Michigan was stacked full of old growth trees, but indiscriminate logging completely leveled the tree population, leading to only one patch of old growth trees existing in the whole state, in northern Michigan up by Grayling. While it lasted, though, timber products like furniture and paper were some of Michigan's biggest products, and Romeo profited from them. Then the industry collapsed.

Folks who founded Romeo seem to have been somewhat progressive in their ideas for the time, a feature of people who pressed on from western New York state. Western New York state was known as the "burnt over district" because of the multitude of new religions, revivals, communes, and general radicalism that existed there in the mid 19th century. The Republican Party, which in those days was progressive in that it supported abolition of slavery and had an ethos later represented by Teddy Roosevelt's style of trust busting, was founded in Jackson in southern Michigan. Romeo became a stop over on the underground railroad leading to Canada, and in consequence actually has African Americans living there, which is impressive considering that Macomb county is largely a product of white flight from Detroit.

There are indications that this radicalism in Romeo back in the day didn't extend just to politics. Sifting through things I found out that a chapter of the masonic Ancient & Primitive Rite of Memphis was founded in Romeo by Calvin Burt, the American leader of the Rite who also lived in Michigan. The Rite of Memphis, with I believe 97 degrees, was an explicitly esoteric rite of Masonry. I have some of the documents relating to it and right there in the beginning they state that the original three degrees of masonry derived from the mysteries of Isis, Serapis, and Osiris respectively. It was an explicitly pagan rite, declaring that the story of the resurrection of Christ was just another incarnation of the mysteries of Osiris. Of course I think all of this is really awesome. I like masonry but think that the big high degree rite, the Scottish Rite, which is the 33 degree one, is way too connected to a mindless ra ra America conservatism. Which is a shame....someone should rewrite those rituals... Anyways, many of the founders of Romeo were also masons but probably of the conventional kind. Yet the rite of Memphis being practiced in Romeo is absolutely mind blowing.

These days Romeo is a bed room community but for the present Detroit economy. Most of the commuters living in Romeo are working class folks whose jobs are down the road in either Sterling Heights or Warren, which are from fifteen to twenty minutes away. There are also white collar folks who commute but at least when I lived there they weren't the dominant force. The economy these days in the Romeo itself consists, beyond service jobs, of a couple of small factories making auto parts outside the city limits and apple and peach orchards.

Romeo is known for its apple orchards, and they're everywhere, with evidence of them being right outside of town. One of the really great things growing up there was being able to go to cider mills and get fresh cider pressed right in front of you. The mills were just outside of town. Unfortunately the apples are harvested just like fruit is harvested everywhere, by migrant labor, leading to a small and until really recently invisible hispanic population in the area. Since I left Romeo a music store specializing in Spanish language CDs has opened up on Main Street, which is a very good sign. The conditions of the pickers, as they were known, was/is identical to that of other places: small badly painted shacks made out boards and not much else. We have peaches too, and even the Peach Festival, which is a great fair that happens once a year with rides and games and things like that.

Ethnically the place is really interesting because the residents of Romeo are the descendants of immigrants who came to work in the factories in Detroit. This means that there's a large Italian population, a large Polish population, and many people of miscellaneous southern and eastern European descent, with Greeks being a kind of visible presence, sort of. The funny thing is that in the next town up, which is located across the invisible border separating the Detroit area from red neck ville, the folks who drive big trucks and listen to country music are likely to be of Polish and Italian descent. It's true. In the one misguided attempt to teach me line dancing the protagonists were some girls who were Italian. Too bad that they'd be considered not white enough by the real rednecks in rural areas.

Romeo is a nice place, good to grow up there. I didn't seriously have any problems until I moved farther away from it into the country, where although just a few miles separated me from Romeo the people tended to see me as a foreign alien creature who was a threat to their very existence. Back in Romeo I was more or less normal, if a little on the eccentric side.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Funny

You constantly hear pro free traders say that people in places like Indonesia and China wouldn't move to cities and work at sweatshops if they didn't present a better standard of living than agriculture. Which means that anything is OK if it's marginally better than subsistence or low yield agriculture, because the notion that there are limits to what people should have to endure, even in less developed countries, is totally tossed in this idea. Ideas of different working hours and conditions being unjust or just, those seem to not apply when the people involved are non-white people from the Third World. Because, you know, we're really for development, and if you who are condemning sweatshops weren't such an elitist you might be sympathetic to their plight. In which case anything would be justified as long as it helped development even an iota. It's not that they're advocating a juggling around of ideas of what's just and not but that they're advocating no restrictions on hours or conditions whatsoever that shows where their allegiances really are.

And about that elitism, which is initially what was 'funny', in a particular sense; who's more elitist, the person living in a first world country, particularly in the United States, who believes that people in less developed countries should have benefits and laws similar to what he or she has, or people in the same country, driving SUVs, with their big screen TVs, living in large homes, suggesting that people who slave away for twelve hours a day or more really want to do it?

I could add the glaring fact that these people who applaud ultra-long hours and living in bunk houses are consumers of the stuff that the workers they're talking about make. Without those workers being paid that little their lifestyle would become more expensive.

To some extent, the very fact that a person lives in the United States, regardless of other factors, condemns them, but people on the upper end of the income spectrum, involved with either business or with economics, who benefit from all of this and then glibly endorse near slave labor are a hell of a lot more hypocritical than most.

Christopher Hedges article: "The Left Has Lost Its Nerve and Its Direction"

(title link)

"The failure of the American left is a failure of nerve. It has been neutralized and rendered ineffectual as a political force because of its refusal to hold fast on core issues, from universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans, to the steadfast protection of workers’ rights, to an immediate withdrawal from the failed occupation of Iraq to a fight against a militarized economy that is hollowing the country out from the inside.

Let the politicians compromise. This is their job. It is not ours. If the left wants to regain influence in the nation’s political life, it must be willing to walk away from the Democratic Party, even if Barack Obama is the nominee, and back progressive, third-party candidates until the Democrats feel enough heat to adopt our agenda. We must be willing to say no. If not, we become slaves.

Political and social change, as the radical Christian right and the array of corporate-funded neocon think tanks have demonstrated, are created by the building of movements. This is a lesson American progressives have forgotten. The object of a movement is not to achieve political power at any price. It is to create pressure and mobilize citizens around core issues of justice. It is to force politicians and parties to respond to our demands. It is about rewarding, through support and votes, those who champion progressive ideals and punishing those who refuse. And the current Democratic Party, as any worker in a former manufacturing town in Pennsylvania can tell you, has betrayed us.

“The mistake of the former left-wingers, from Tom Hayden to Todd Gitlin, is that they want to be players in the Democratic Party and academia,” said John R. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s magazine, speaking of two prominent 1960s activists. “This is not what the left is supposed to be. The left is supposed to be outside the system. The attempt by the left to take control of the Democratic Party failed with [Eugene] McCarthy and George McGovern. The left, at that point, should have gone back to organizing, street protests, building labor unions, and the mobilization of grassroots activists. Instead, it went for respectability.”

More at title link

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A question for our French readers out there

If there was a guy who was partially of Arab descent on the Socialist Party ticket, who was somewhat on the left end of the party, and the French Left started rallying around him treating him like he was a candidate from the alliance that existed between the Greens and the constellation of Trotskyist parties, would you say that the French Left was deluded? This is essentially how I feel about the adoration given to Barack Obama by people to the left here in the United States, even by some socialists like Barbara Ehrenreich, although not by many of what would be considered to be the 'Left' in Europe, who have a lot less numbers here in the United States.

Jaguars are in danger

Of no longer being designated endangered.

I personally think that big cats that can take down humans should not only be protected but encouraged to reproduce in the wild; it gives nature a fighting chance of her own against people.

Stupidity is an American luxury

By that I don't mean just garden variety stupidity but the willful stupidity of people, particularly younger people, towards anything not having to do with their immediate experience. Politics in a form beyond Student-Government style idiocy, history in pretty much any form, not to mention other social sciences, not to mention stuff like philosophy, is treated as, like, such a downer. Why care about that stuff, which can't get you a good job anyways, when you can study business and think about cool things you can buy for your car.

Incuriosity about the world around you, just not giving a damn, while expecting to be some other place besides the bottom of the social pecking order, would be considered completely irrational in any other society besides the U.S. Which isn't to say that in other countries, particularly other English speaking countries, there's some sort of social order where people don't get ahead purely from having a lot of money to start with, but in the case of the United States we've taken the concept and raised it to an art form, where people from the middle of the middle class on up can literally be as thick as blocks of wood with regards to almost any substantive issue around them and yet still end up making loads and loads of money.

I think the reason that people get away with it here is that we're on top of the world financially, at least at the moment, and so there aren't any constraints that people have to reckon against if they take that particular sort of career path. People above the working class-management career divide don't have to put to much effort into negotiating the world around them because our economy has been so strong that you can be a complete moron, an average "Ugly American", and still be a success.

Why have knowledge, why have some understanding of the past or some kind of analysis of the present, if there's no immediate use for it?

But things are changing now. The slow meltdown of the U.S. economy is going to lead to people not being able to skate by on no real understanding of the world around them. They're going to be competing against countries whose people are actually educated, in both Europe and Asia, and a strong currency and a large army isn't going to be enough to mitigate utter idiocy and offensiveness.

That luxury is going to run out pretty soon, and once it does and people start looking around them to see what happened, subjects like history, non-bullshit presentations of politics, and sociology aren't going to look so completely useless.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Another Hipster thing...

From the extensive source material of my misadventure living with 2.5 of them. One was really only halfway there.

Asked one of them, in a conversation trying to ascertain what exactly they liked musically from before the '90s, if there was anyone from the '70s they thought was worth listening to (they had shot down numerous groups). The answer was a skeptical "Richard Hell?"

Looking at this now I find this really funny because Richard Hell & the Voidoids have turned out to be a seminal early punk band, a pre Sex Pistols punk band. These were people whose most radical action had been to read W.G. Sebald novels because someone told them they were cool, or at least "the thing to read". I seriously doubt that if someone hadn't been whispering in their ears saying "You know, Richard Hell was one of the best unappreciated artists of the '70s, and one of the best ones (right up there with Nick Drake)" that they would have even listened to him more than once.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Joseph Stalin, Democratic Centralism, Vanguard, Party, Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Finished reading Stalin's "Foundations of Leninism". It isn't a long book and it's not particularly hard to read. What to say about the writings of a mass murderer? Remarkably, the book avoids what we generally think of as 'Stalinism' until the chapter on "The Party" and the chapter on "Style in Work", which are the last two chapters. In it the man argues for absolute obedience to the Party, the necessity of the Party expelling people who deviate from its official opinions, the Party as rightfully being the final authority in society, and the Party itself as constituting the 'vanguard of the Proletariat'. 'Style and Work' contains intimations of what was happening at the time by recommending Party members to do their work with ideological zeal combined with ruthless 'American efficiency'. 'American efficiency' is a direct quote.

If you read this book not knowing what was going on in Soviet Russia at the time you might not know that a famine had been created in the Ukraine, that it in turn was the product of forced collectivization of agricultural, which lead to many people being arrested and either sent to gulags or executed. Might not know that Stalin had ordered the arrest, show trials, and executions of early Bolsheviks who helped to organize the Revolution but who dissented against Stalin, with dissent in this case consisting at times of saying the wrong thing to Stalin in a conversation. Leading to arrest and execution.

So if you look directly at the ideas contained in the little book, knowing that they cover up the bloody truth about what was going on in Soviet Russia at the time, how do they stand up?

Want to focus on vanguard, dictatorship of the Proletariat, Party, Vanguard Party, and Democratic Centralism, as well as the inevitable consequence of Democratic Centralism.

He defines the Vanguard of the working class first as being basically the politicized and conscious workers, not necessarily part of a Party. If this is a definition of what a vanguard is a better definition might be 'movement', and the possibility allowed that multiple movements based on different political ideologies and may exist pushing for radical social change. But there's only the vanguard in his opinion.

"Dictatorship of the Proletariat", as described by him is the hegemony of the working class over society, manifested through the creation of alternative structures of government. Hegemony means having other classes excluded from power. Alternative structure in this sense means something similar to what anarchists advocate in the form of councils, with councils of councils, and a broad kind of distribution of these things. Seen as the real form of both working class and future organization.

Unlike other people, Stalin defines 'Dictatorship' as 'Dictatorship', without trying to play linguistic games. He quotes Lenin to the effect that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat should have unlimited power over society. If you're going to have a revolution against someone or something it follows that for a period of time the people who you made the revolution against shouldn't have the same sorts of power that the people who the revolution was for have, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be checks and balances on what the revolutionary organization can do to people. Even in a revolution people have basic rights that shouldn't be infringed upon, and there should be some way for people who have had those rights violated to experience redress from the people in charge. Then, though, it wouldn't be so much a dictatorship, which is a good thing. The question comes up too about how and when the dictatorship of the proletariat will wither away, leaving a society where you don't have to partially disenfranchise some people and partially exalt others. This is extremely important in relation to Stalin because he defines the Soviet state as being a transition to communism through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and defines the Party as necessary during it, stating that after the job of social transformation is finished that both Party and Dictatorship will wither away.

Which brings up the idea of the Party, which is at least honest in saying that the Party constitutes the leadership of his socialist society. The thing about Stalin's conception of the Party is that it duplicates functions that would be part of the normal organization of things through different councils or Soviets, the Soviets being in turn the form of government that the non-Dictatorship based Communist society would be based on. He gives examples of lesser organizations, like trade unions, educational organizations, parliamentary groups, cooperatives, particular factory and workplace groups, and talks about the need to organize them so that in some way there's some sort of unity behind them. Brushing over the fact that trade unions are put on the same level as educational organizations, the concept leads to the undermining of independent organizations before socialism, and to a duplication of power in socialist society that's very dangerous. Basically, the question is why in a socialist society there should be two forms of organization, the Soviets and the Party, and why the Party as such shouldn't be nationalized, becoming part of the Soviet or council structure of decision making and implementation, in other words not being a Party anymore but something else.

An example of this would have to do with, say, educational organizations, where people want to establish some kind of basic unity about what they plan on doing. Something like this would get funding from the Soviet, and so be paid for by society. If the work of establishing points of unity in these organizations through a higher organization that they're members of is so important , why can't the process be opened up to people in general, making the system transparent? Why have what essentially is a private organization that's not directly accountable to people make decisions that have to do with public business? If it's public business, why not integrate the decision making body into the structure of the public council, Soviet, whatever you want to call it as some sort of working group that people can put in their two cents about?

If the Party is so important as a body that thinks about where society is and where society should be going, as well as establishing policy, shouldn't those functions be the concern of society in general? If there's going to be a debate about the fundamental nature of society shouldn't it be integrated into a public process where people can discuss it themselves and register their votes or opinions about where society should be headed? Stalin describes the Party as having different congresses on different levels to decided on different aspects of policy that in turn will be implemented through non-Party organizations through the leadership of Party people in these organizations....shouldn't this process be opened up and the leadership shifted from a shadowy informal style to something concrete and formal, connected to the democratic organs of public decision making and implementation?

Which goes to the role of Democratic Centralism in the decision making of the Party. Democratic Centralism means that people meet for congresses, elect officers, select a party platform, and then are bound by the decisions of the people who they elected, who can make decisions about policy without any sort of feedback from the Party members, who should therefore submit and not complain once something comes down from on high about what they should do. Stalin argues that all bodies that make decisions and carry them out are bound by the decisions of some people, but Democratic Centralism takes away most of the necessary discussions needed to truly come to a consensus on things in a democratic manner. It also establishes the Party Line.

The Party Line wasn't always a part of the Bolshevik Party but was introduced by Lenin and his cronies after Alexandr Bogdanov, who was pretty much the strongest party member actually living in Russia and doing underground work at this time, challenged him for leadership. Lenin, living in exile, defeated the challenge and decreed that from that time on there'd be much less debate about policy issues on lower levels, which was great for Lenin because he was on the top.

Democratic Centralism empowers small groups of leaders who become increasingly immune to criticism and who eventually end up being perpetually elected to office, dominating the Party through now legal means.

The final stage of where Democratic Centralism, the Party as conceived by Stalin, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as conceived by Stalin, and the Vanguard as conceived by Stalin, is going or could go is one man rule in the form of a dictator who has seized control of the Party and who defines himself as the leader of the Revolution and therefore of socialist society itself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My God, Maoists democratically win Nepal's election

My first reaction is that this is a really good thing. A grass roots socialist group coming to power in an election while still being radical and presumably committed to creating real transformations in society.

(sigh) You don't need to use distortions to win an argument

Ever since the Obama elitist comment Rawstory has been scrambling to put together all the pro-Obama coverage relating to Pennsylvania that they can come up with. However, cherry picking stories that seem to have something positive to say about the candidate and then putting them together doesn't thereby disprove that the underlying issue is still there. Case in point, the article about how a hunters' group has come out in support of Obama in the wake of him saying that when times are hard people (in small towns presumably) turn to God, guns, and to scapegoating immigrants.

This is a link to " 'Hunters & Shooters' endorse Obama, group says he supports gun rights"

The group they're referring to is the American Hunters and Shooters Association. Looks great, right? A group of hunters and gun enthusiasts supporting Obama? A look to ye olde Wikipedia, the source for all knowledge, complicates things a little bit:

The entry says that this group was started in June 2006, making it less than two years old. On Their website they feature a blurb from a Washington Post article about them on their website declaring that they hope to take away members from the NRA, and a full copy of the article one click away.

It ends:

"Unfortunately for Schoenke, the Brady Campaign basically agrees with the NRA. "I see our issues as complementary to theirs," Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign, says about Schoenke's association. "They're a positive group."

Helmke even contends that the two organizations are not far apart in approach. Helmke says he, too, shot guns as a boy and is as Middle American as he can be -- a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind. "The Brady Campaign is not just East Coast liberal Democrats," he says."

They included the article, complete with criticism, on their own website.

The thing about the Brady Campaign is that they've sponsored legislation that's factually wrong. The assault weapons ban is a good example of this. Part of the ban focussed on the look and accessories of a gun as opposed to whether it was, in the classic sense, a military assault weapon. There was a helpful presentation when this was being debated showing how a regular rifle could be miraculously turned into an assault weapon by adding extra accessories which considered individually wouldn't be controversial but that would make the rifle look bad ass and threatening when put together. This included the ever impressive banana clip, which in this case was just an expanded clip for a rifle and not something capable of generating the kind of M-16 fire associated with movies.

For every position like wanting to ban .55 caliber rifles, very very large and powerful guns, that seem sensible (which Hunters and Shooters support), there are usually several more from the anti-gun lobby that are based on a flawed understanding of the basic issues.

Hunters and Shooters seems to be allying itself with the people who put out proposals like this.

So....does the fact that a new, liberal, gun group endorses Obama mean that they're reflective of opinion at the bottom?

That would appear to be what the editors at Rawstory are saying, thereby making everything groovy and cool between Obama and hunters.

*on edit: this issue is one of the reasons that Jello Biafra sucks.

On the side project with Ministry entitled "Lard", on the album "Pure Chewing Satisfaction", which is otherwise a pretty good record, there's a song titled "Foreskin of Liberty", which is about a dude talking about how "They're trying to take my guns."

The song kind of shoes in all supporters of gun rights into the category of mouth breathing red necks, not taking into account the possibility that some people may support them for actual reasons and not out of pure, mindless, reactionary impulses.

Stalin

In my quest to read absolutely everything political I'm now reading "Foundations of Leninism" by Joseph Stalin. Although I'm not far into it one thing is embarrassingly clear: Stalin himself was less inflexibly dogmatic and stilted in his writings than are some of the smaller Trotskyist sects.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama's response to the elitism thing seems to be 'I know you are but what am I'

Because A is B does not mean that C is not B, if C has been accused of being B by A. Hillary is a corporate elite, but that has no bearing over whether Obama is an elitist or not.

13th Floor Elevators

Who are a band rediscovered by Hipsters and now viewed as one of the lost classics of the '60s. Kind of annoyed by the whole thing I tracked down some of their music. As far as they're a proto-punk garage band resembling The Stooges they're pretty interesting, but the claims for them being somehow psychedelically profound are absurd. The songs where they try to describe the psychedelic experience are some of the worst lyrics of their kind out there, with the lyrics considered just as song lyrics being pitifully bad. I think they're on the level of the Amboy Duke's song "Center of the Mind", which is a staple cheese psychedelic song that's entered the cannon as something that you do not want to aspire to.

I mean, I thought that Quicksilver Messenger Service was somewhat bad in writing lyrics, but they appear benign if superficial compared to the 13th Floor Elevators. Man.

If you're looking for an underground psychedelic sound from the era, albeit one that wasn't quite as garage rock based, you're better off looking up The Fugs.

I was originally going to merge this article with the below article, comparing a hipster treasure of rediscovery with something more worthwhile that they haven't had much awareness of, but...turned into two articles.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Fugs

Because they contributed one very funny political song to Dusan Makavejev's film "Wilhelm Reich: Mysteries of the Organism" *on edit: it turns out it was "Kill for Peace" (see below)I decided to look up The Fugs. It was a very good move. Although I'd been aware of this band out there, from the sixties in New York City, called "The Fugs" it was not something that I looked into. Turns out it was founded by two Beatniks, Tuli Kupferberg and Ed Sanders, and featured psychedelic music that was also irreverent while being intelligent. They sound, at least from what I've heard, like a more grown up Frank Zappa, managing to push some of the same boundaries while not sounding like they're frustrated middle schoolers. From what I understand Kupferberg is still out there in New York City, still part of the counter culture, explicitly linking himself with anarchism.

Here's a short piece called "Life is Funny"

"Throw me into the quicksand

Beat me with Armadillo Tails

Let me be eaten by starving baby elephants

If I can't have you

If I can't have you"

Then there's the operatic piece "Claude Pelieu and JJ Lebel Discuss the Early Verlaine Breadcrust Fragments"

* Kill for Peace (1966):

Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Near or middle or very far east
Far or near or very middle east
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

If you don't like the people
or the way that they talk
If you don't like their manners
or they way that they walk,
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

If you don't kill them
then the Chinese will
If you don't want America
to play second fiddle,
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

If you let them live
they might support the Russians
If you let them live
they might love the Russians
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

(spoken) Kill 'em, kill 'em, strafe those gook creeps!

The only gook an
American can trust
Is a gook that's got
his yellow head bust.
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

Kill, kill, it'll
feel so good,
like my captain
said it should
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace

Kill it will give
you a mental ease
kill it will give
you a big release
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace
Kill, kill, kill for peace"

Is Barack Obama fucking insane?

The comment about small town Pennsylvania that when people experience hard times they turn to God, guns, and scapegoating immigrants, is such a stupid move that Rush Limbaugh probably couldn't come up with a better phrase to destroy his candidacy. It's not just Clinton, but the fact that these very things, God, guns, and immigration, are the exact things that conservative radio hosts and writers have been attacking liberals on, calling them out of touch elitists, for years and years and years. And in the time after 9/11 the intensity of the attacks has reached a fever pitch. There have been books written exactly on this theme, arguing that liberals are secret authoritarians who are godless, want to take people's guns, and who don't take the question of illegal immigration seriously. If he had just kept it to people making immigrants scapegoats when bad economic times hit he would have been fine, but combining that with god and guns sets off alarms in conservatives minds, especially in working class folks who aren't conservative per se but who side with the Rush Limbaughs because they feel that liberal elitists hate them and hold them in contempt.

If Obama wins the nomination this is going to be a sound bite that's going to be endlessly repeated by McCain, and also by the conservative media. On and on and on.

"Carter Defends Plan To Meet Hamas Despite Israel Criticism"

Another example of how the U.S. likes democracy except in cases where people it doesn't like get elected.

"Media reports that Carter plans to hold talks with Meshaal in Damascus sparked furore in the United States. Carter’s office would neither confirm nor deny the reports, and the former president has remained vague about the details.

“I’ve not confirmed our itinerary yet for the Syrian visit, but it’s likely that I will be meeting with the Hamas leaders,” Carter said in the interview.

Israel on Sunday urged Carter not to meet Meshaal.

“Such a meeting would be all the more shameful as Jimmy Carter symbolises peace,” senior Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad told military radio.

He was referring to Carter’s role as the architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty and the fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002."

The fact is that Hamas was elected as the government of Palestine, pure and simple, and suggesting that because of the character of Hamas no talks are possible means that the Palestinian government is essentially rendered null and void in the opinion of Israel and the U.S. A person from Fatah may formally be at the head of the government, because of the actions of the U.S. and Israel, but Hamas is where the popular support lies.

The recent incursion in Gaza as well as the general cutting off of food, water, electricity to it are examples of the extreme nature of Israeli hypocrisy, at least in justifications. When Israel intervenes with extreme force in Palestine they claim it's not because of geopolitical concerns but because a single soldier or military vehicle was injured by Palestinian rocket fire. Think of the children, or of the puppies. It's sad that people die in the conflict, but it's being used as a lame excuse with the syrupy content of a Hallmark card. The real motivations can't be stated because they'd call into question the basis, the founding myth, of the Israeli state.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Wilhelm Reich: Mysteries of the Organism", film by Dusan Makavejev

Very good experimental/hippy film by Yugoslavian director about Wilhelm Reich, with a lot of attention devoted to the political ideas connected to the sexual ideas. Takes an irreverent and critical idea both to the relationship of Reich to his political ideas and the relationship of those ideas to Yugoslavia and in turn the relation of Yugoslavia to the Stalinist and Post-Stalinist USSR.

Funny, featuring a very strange Tupi Kupferberg from "The Fugs", as well as psychedelic imagery.

Interviews Reich's widow Eva, goes to Rangley Maine and examines "Organon", the laboratory that Reich established for his energy theories. Also interviews Reich biographer Myron Sharaf, Reich's son, and some of the people of Rangley. Then goes on to show therapy in action via Alexander Lowen, founder of the neo-Reichian "Bioenergetics", who studied with Reich. Contextualizes Reich's ideas as well as his persecution and final death due to the U.S. government.

That's the first half.

The second is composed of a film called "Sex Pol" which follows a devoted Reichian Communist in Yugoslavia as she attempts to spread the message, with fun being poked at her constantly through her giving speeches about sexual liberation and its relationship to socialism while her room mate fucks random guys. This is the part that examines the bigger political implications of Reich's ideas as seen from people who grew up and lived under a socialist society.

Incidentally, the film was made in 1971, while Tito was still alive, and is an interesting testament to how free expression was in Yugoslavia during that time, since in the U.S. it would still, in today's day and age, be considered too controversial and experimental to be released.
People would rise up and protest this film in the U.S. if it hit a wide release today, yet it was made by a director living in a Communist country, and was partially filmed there as well.

The problem with getting this is that formally it's completely unavailable, completely and totally, with not even collectors of obscure films like Scarecrow Video having copies but....
Informally I hear that it can be acquired through certain sites based in Northern Continental Europe that provide links to things while not actually hosting files.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Summertime, and the living is easy

Ah, a staple of NPR. Endlessly repeated. To the point where I very, very, strongly suspect that the very white, shall we call it "NPR White", to distinguish it from regular Euro-Americans, people who like the song have never actually read the lyrics.

If they had, they might see that the speaker is a black servant rocking the kid of the master and singing to it. It's not a happy song, it's a song about how the kids' parents are rich and good looking, and how eventually the kid will take to the sky, but how the servant will still be where she is at the end of it.

Your daddy's rich, Your ma is good looking...Nothing can harm you with daddy and mammy standin' by.

Mammy is the woman singing the song, not ma.

So let's sing a song of segregation about the Summer, and now "Fresh Air".

Well, there goes my chance for ironic detachment in relation to the Democratic primary

"Hillary Clinton on Friday accused President George W. Bush of spending billions of dollars to police Iraq's "civil war" while cutting crime fighting in dangerous US inner cities.

The Democratic hopeful vowed to cut the murder rate in big cities by half if she becomes president, promised 100,000 new police officers on the streets, and laid out steps to cut America's huge prison population.

"It is a sad day in America when the president can find hundreds of billions of dollars to police another country's civil war, but cuts funding for police officers right here at home.""

Shit. Hillary has gone from predictable corporate stooge to actual threat, which means like in so many other election years the option will be, if you choose to vote Democratic, to support the default candidate.

Yay! Support Barack, he's not so crazy as to fund 100,000 cops with money saved from the Iraq war.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Funny, funny

A certain Thelemic organization in America whose name begins with Ordo, or at least some very vocal members, are complaining in the occult community about The Pirate Bay offering links to files of their so-called secret rituals, which were published by the rival organization in England. This is funny because this "Ordo" is known for sending out legal threats to occult personalities, organizations, and publishing houses for using material that's really in the public domain but that they feel is their property. Well folks, the Pirate Bay doesn't cave into Microsoft and the RIAA. They aren't an occult publisher barely making it, neither are they a small religious organization that doesn't have funds to defend itself. If they're taking on Microsoft there's no fucking way they're going to care about you.

The Ordo-TO feels like it's the top cock in the occult demimonde of North America, and that this translates out into some kind of power in the real world, but honestly most people view the organization as composed of many of the same occultnik losers who populate other groups like it and not as some exalted order.