Thursday, October 30, 2008

India facing potential layoffs related to U.S. economic downturn

According to the Wall Street Journal via Rawstory. Well, this is what happens if you peg your development on a neo-colonial relationship with a superpower; once they start doing badly you start doing badly. Import-Substitution, on the other hand, where countries develop products for both their internal markets and for export where the money and the control stays within the country itself are immune to downturns like this.

Another deal maker for Obama

I don't mind that derisively. Raw Story reports that "The Economist" is now whole heartedly embracing Obama. The Economist is a sophisticated yet pro-free trade magazine out of England. That it has embraced Obama, who has an interventionist plan for the American economy, is more evidence that the powers that be feel that Obama is a chance they have to take in order to ensure global economic stability---something that they feel that McCain has no hope in doing. The Economist endorsement follows on the trail of the endorsement by the Financial Times of Obama.

In other words, even the conservative elites who run the world don't want McCain in office.

*on edit: The "Economist" and "Financial Times" endorsements could also be seen as a final rejection of Bush's policies and of Bush style political leadership after eight years.

"Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" by Errol Morris---a fucking waste of time

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, a documentary by Errol Morris, resembles something a first year film student shit out using iMovie instead of Final Cut Pro for some reason. It's a failure as a film, as a piece of art, and as a documentary. Which is a shame because the three main characters that they interview have interesting things to say.

The film centers on four characters: a guy who works with naked mole rats studying their behavior and their society, a guy who builds robots at MIT, a wild animal trainer for a circus, and a topiary gardener. The first three people have surprising interconnections between them due to their insights on animal behavior, artificial intelligence, and how that ties into human society. The guy who who's a gardener doesn't have anything to say about any of it and is just stuck on their talking about how he like to garden and likes taking care of topiaries.

Within the interviews there are montages of stock archival footage that are put there for no reason. Nothing is gained from them. There are also intercut shots of different interviewee's subject matter, like circus shots during a naked mole rat guy interview, that similarly have nothing to do with what is being said. Now, understand that these clips have nothing to offer either as subtle commentary, ironic commentary, or straightforward commentary on the interviews at hand. They're just the equivalent of bean curd stuck in there for no purpose. And there's more

It looks like Errol Morris had a hard on about high quality digital filming when he made this movie, because many scenes that are totally inconsequential to the story are filmed in slo-mo in ways that portray them as the most beautiful things on earth. You have to ask yourself after a while: what exactly is the point of this beauty? Why? What does it add to the picture besides prettiness? The answer is often nothing. Towards the end you half expect there to be a slow motion examination of an elephant shitting done in a perfectly lighted, very beautiful, way, portraying the majesty of, um....an interviewee talking about robots?

If I was a producer on this I would have shit canned the film in a second once it became clear what the director was trying to do with it. Waste of money, waste of time.

And like every independent student film it ends with a dedication to his parents, or to the memory of his parents. Aww....

So his parents are responsible for his fucking up and not knowing how to make a documentary movie despite him being one of the 'big names'?

I think not.

Time to take Errol Morris away from the expensive equipment before he hurts himself.

*on edit: yep, even the title has nothing to do with the movie. Beyond it being a reference to '50s and '60s style pulp exploitation films, the phrase "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control" appears in the movie as the name of an article written by a scientist on the potential future of robots. The idea in that was that small robots who were artificially intelligent may become cheap and out of our control (because they're smart) as well as fast. What does this have to do with the themes that the robot scientist, the naked mole rat guy, the animal trainer, and especially the topiary gardener, touch on? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There were four empire in Europe before World War I, after it only a single Empire remained intact

World War I actually did have an effect, but there are complicating factors**. The four Empires that reigned in Europe were the German Empire, also known as Prussia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire*, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire. Collectively they controlled almost all of Central and Eastern Europe. The revolutions of 1848 saw some gains for certain countries, with the events leading to the independence of Italy for one, but didn't really change the situation by forcing self determination for countries that were formally incorporated under bigger political dynasties. The definition of "Empire" is closely related to the term "Emperor", with an Emperor being a king who controls other kings, much as a king is a lord who controls many lords. The German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires were smashed by World War I and their subject nationalities liberated, but the Russian Empire remained, although the social system was changed by the Revolution.

The Revolution, while doing many things, didn't grant independence to Central Asia, or to the Baltic States and Poland, who had to fight against Russia to get their interwar independence. Neither did the countries of the Caucuses gain independence, or the Ukraine. Some of these countries had significant socialist movements who did want to be affiliated with the Russian Revolution, therefore complicating issues, but many did not.

The Russian Soviet Federal Republic, Russia itself, contained many autonomous Republics within it that were composed of ethnic minorities who were granted autonomy within Russia but not either independence or the possibility of independence even though these peoples were frequently those conquered by the Russian Empire during Tsarist times. Instead, they experienced internal colonialism as the natural resources of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics were exploited for the benefit of areas dominated by ethnic Russians.


*on edit: it's important to emphasize that the Austro-Hungarian Empire really was both Austrian and Hungarian. Although Hungarians are an ethnicity who are very unique in Europe because of their extra-European origins, they too dominated over subject nationalities in central Europe, like Slovakia and Croatia. This is important today because there's an ultra-nationalist movement in Hungary that wants to restore "Greater Hungary", which was Hungary before people like the Slovaks and Croats became independent. Without realizing that although Hungarians are a linguistic and cultural minority in Europe that they were still aggressors in Central Europe is important to understanding this political movement today.

**The complicating factor is that documents found in the Russian foreign office after the Revolution reportedly suggested that after the war Britain and Russia, and France, would each carve out spheres of influence in Europe. A similar plan was actually implemented in the areas of the Middle East that were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire.

You know what would be a good artistic strategy?

A good artistic strategy would be to combine the subject matter of social realism, or even some socialist realism, with the techniques of abstraction that were developed during the 20th century.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It appears to be the economy---stupid.

Here is a useful, handy, chart from Electoral Vote.Com showing the electoral votes of the Obama and McCain campaigns in relation to major events that have happened along the way:




Click through for a full sized rendering.

A good article that sums up my personal worldview--"Triple exthnics", about Jews in Pornography

Not an anti-semitic article but actually published in the Jewish Quarterly. I'm not Jewish, although I've sometimes joked that if you go by DNA I'm probably more related to Jews from Central Europe than to WASPS. Nope, I'm half Anglo actually then Italian/Polish/some Hungarian on the other side. I have indeed had the difference of my identity thrown in my face, though, by WASP purists who don't view me as one of them and who distrust me. It's a difference known by the consequences rather than by abstractly thinking about my heritage.

Anyways. The article talks about different motivations for Jews to get involved in the pornography industry like so:

"Sexual revolutionaries

Extending the subversive thesis, Jewish involvement in the X-rated industry can be seen as a proverbial two fingers to the entire WASP establishment in America. Some porn stars viewed themselves as frontline fighters in the spiritual battle between Christian America and secular humanism. According to Ford, Jewish X-rated actors often brag about their ‘joy in being anarchic, sexual gadflies to the puritanical beast’. Jewish involvement in porn, by this argument, is the result of an atavistic hatred of Christian authority: they are trying to weaken the dominant culture in America by moral subversion. Astyr remembers having ‘to run or fight for it in grammar school because I was a Jew. It could very well be that part of my porn career is an “up yours” to these people’. Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw, said (on lukeford.net), ‘The only reason that Jews are in pornography is that we think that Christ sucks. Catholicism sucks. We don’t believe in authoritarianism.’ Pornography thus becomes a way of defiling Christian culture and, as it penetrates to the very heart of the American mainstream (and is no doubt consumed by those very same WASPs), its subversive character becomes more charged. Porn is no longer of the ‘what the Butler saw’ voyeuristic type; instead, it is driven to new extremes of portrayal that stretch the boundaries of the porn aesthetic. As new sexual positions are portrayed, the desire to shock (as well as entertain) seems clear."

I have the same feelings for Christian and WASP culture, but have not had the cultural label with which to make such a "me and them" distinction. But yeah.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Financial Times has endorsed Obama, greatly increasing his chances of winning

The confirmation comes from Raw Story. Although it's based in the UK, the Financial Times is a good bellwether for elite opinion both in the United States and abroad, especially abroad. It's endorsement, which is terse and grudging, likely hides a great fear that shit is coming out of control and that bottom lines may be jeopardized soon, and that McCain is a fucking lunatic in his ideas for addressing the crisis.

These are the people who control the world. They don't vote Democrat or Republican, as Chomsky and many others have observed, they vote their bottom lines. And party affiliation is fluid when it's an issue of money. They're the ones who own the politicians, who ultimately pull the strings that make them jump, and a shift in their support indicates that they have no confidence in McCain to do something that will realistically lead to financial stability. Even though Obama may in some ways impinge on their bottom line, having him in office and having some of that bottom line saved is better than having McCain in office and having it be lost.

Ideology is secondary here. They may even be congratulating themselves on their broadness of mind for deciding to select a Democrat instead of a Republican.

Labor creates all wealth....a better rendition might be labor builds society

Because in the english language the phrase "Labor Creates all Wealth" doesn't make obvious sense because it's not clear what "Wealth" refers to. It could mean "labor creates all of rich people's money" or it could mean "Labor creates the wealth of society", but what is the wealth of society? It's an indeterminate term. Saying that Labor builds society is more straightforward because that's what we're talking about, how workers have literally been the ones to build society and the ones that keep it going through their jobs.

There are two parts to a simple conception of an economy: the natural endowment of the land and the labor that's present that takes the natural endowment's and modifies them. Natural endowment means natural resources, with lakes and rivers considered as natural resources. In the U.S. most of these resources are ours, i.e. the non-Native citizens of the United States, because we stole them from the Native Americans during the conquest. And labor refers to both free and unfree labor, both of which have contributed to the wealth of the country. In a post-slavery era whether in a fairer or less fair situation, whether shunted into certain jobs by racial discimination, all workers contribute to this country.

Am going to be reading "We Are Optimists" by Leonid Brezhnev

Strangely enough, I felt profoundly pessimistic while purchasing this book. It's an extended report/speech at a Party Congress.
I can predict the contents: Brezhnev will declare that the eyebrows on his head are really caterpillars with super powers that will climb down off of him and work at a power generating plant in the Soviet Union, thereby helping to achieve the five year plan. I kid, I kid; in all probability I'll have Brezhnev like eyebrows myself in thirty years.

Why the Socialist and Communist gambit by McCain and Palin will not work

First of all, I am in fact sympathetic to certain forms of Communism, particularly the one that existed in Yugoslavia before the breakup and the one promoted by the former Italian Communist Party or PCI, which has since split in two. Obama is not really a socialist although there may be some socialistic rhetoric in his domestic policy and he's certainly not a Communist. But that aside I'm predicting that the new strategy by McCain and Palin will backfire for one simple reason: for the last seven years we've been inundated with propaganda regarding Muslims, Iraq, and terrorism motivated by Islam, and McCain/Palin are trying to resurrect a propaganda point that's been missing in action not just since 9/11 but since the Clinton presidency; two weeks trying to bring back Cold War rhetoric in order to scare people is not going to be enough time to produce meaningful results. It's shifting gears in midstream and time will run out before it will have the potential to make a real difference. People know what Terrorism as the administration has presented it is; they're not as familiar as McCain and Palin think about the scare tactics of what Communism is.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A very good point from Johann Gotlieb Fichte

Something that proves the worth of reading this person who is generally forgotten and unknown in the English speaking world.
The point is from the first introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte's most major philosophical work.

Picture the thing that Western philosophy, specifically Anglo and French philosophy, have taken as their jumping off point for centuries, Descarte's "I think therefore I am", "Cogito Ergo Sum". Fichte makes the case that if you focus on exploring a concrete "I", taking that as your base, then you have to buy into determinism for the self. The reason is that the more the "I" is concretely defined the more subject it is to both internal and external laws. Take Utilitarianism, for instance. By defining humans as motivated purely by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, human nature that does not fit into that box is rendered non-existent. The pleasure-pain concept determines the character of the self and puts human beings in a social universe where the working out of pleasure and pain relationships can predict in large part what your life and the life of society as a whole is going to look like, in a general sense, even though there are variations regarding people's individual tastes and individual interpretations of what pleasure and pain really are. Free will becomes a constant problem, then, partially because of the attempt to give concrete meaning to the self. That is the self isolated from reality.

Fichte argues that a way out of this is to start from our sense perceptions and work inward. The reason he does this is because he sees the individual, and what we call the self, floating in a see of contextual meaning, floating in a world of experience that goes far beyond what we comprehend when we look inward only. He bargains that if we can figure out the basic universe in which the self is situated that we can therefore comprehend what we call the self more easily. By self he means the mind examining itself in a self conscious way, giving an illusion that there's a concrete self when it's only a kind of self reflection of the mind. That means, in turn, that to really look at what we mean by self we need to examine the deeper workings of the mind, which knowledge of experience will no doubt help to do.

The model of the person, the mind, floating in a sea of experience guarantees freedom, then, because it leaves open the question of the working of the outside world. The self, then, only has to reckon with the traditional questions of things like free will once the understanding of experience has been worked out, and by that time questions like "free will" may well prove to be culturally determined instead of truly valid and these questions may be seen as aspects of other, more complex, questions, that we are barely aware of now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm voting for a black man for President and a gay man for my State Representative

And it feels good. I live in the 43rd district of Seattle, the very liberal core, which includes Capitol Hill, the gay center of the city. Jamie Pedersen is the current rep and is up for reelection.

Despite the vitriol unleashed on Obama previously by me it's more important to defeat McCain than to protest the cultishness of some Obama supporters by not casting your vote for him. I'm not an Obama-maniac, or a converted believer, but I do believe that it's essential to defeat McCain and take back the White House. Plus, he's gotten better in his public statements about economics, with an actual sense of populist values, and appears to have an idea of how to fix the economic crisis, or at least part of it, while McCain's idea is a counter-intuitive, reflexive, appeal to cut taxes. Of course the economic crisis itself can only really be changed by the shift towards a more socialist economy, and despite critics assertions this is not what Obama is putting forward, but in the very short term I think that Obama's ideas can help somewhat.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to be Avant Garde

In two easy steps. This is something I'm seriously outlining, not just saying "well you dress in black and smoke stylish cigarettes--HAHAHA!"

The first phase is to isolate yourself. Whatever it is that you're doing, whether it's art or literature, stop keeping up with what's going on right now. Stop following the art world, stop following trends. Unhook from popular culture as a whole, from movies to TV to magazines having to do with what you do. Even radio if you can manage that. Try to wipe the slate as clean as you possibly can.

The second phase is to then do what really interests you. Pursue the art trends from the past, the farther back the better, that you yourself are honestly interested in---not because someone says that they're the thing or that they're interesting but because you have decided that they're interesting. Work and explore but keep the veil of silence on as much as you can. Develop your own style, or at least your own habitual ways of working.

Do this for a long time and when you feel you can come back to following trends without being contaminated by them, because you've established your own style and interests for yourself, gradually do so.

You will now be an avant-garde artist or writer.

Now how does that work? Didn't you isolate yourself? Didn't you unhook from the Zeitgeist, the cutting edge? Only relatively.

Despite attempts to "forget what you learned", which is a crude way of putting the first phase, you will still be conditioned as a person who was born into a certain year in a certain society, into a certain part of that society, who because he or she was simply alive has absorbed and become part of the thinking and attitudes of his or her generation. You can't help it. When you try the hardest to be original---after pushing all the shit you've learned and ideas that other people are talking about to the side---you will be original to a degree. To a degree what you will come up with will be echoed in the cultural productions of other people in your generation. But since what you've done is honest in that it honestly engages an art form instead of seeking to be derivative of the coolest thing in the present it will have the potential of setting the stage for what is the next cool thing in the future. What's cool now, or cutting edge now, will be yesterday's news really quickly, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon you're better off doing an evasive action and getting back to the source of where that coolness comes from, or else you yourself will be instantly obsolete. Where that coolness comes from, I'm confident, is ultimately a personal, disciplined, engagement with artistic ideas in a serious manner. People struggle with the core ideas and produce something, and then people who think that that is interesting copy them, not necessarily being aware of where that something came from or exactly what all of it represents. Then some people will in turn copy them and then they call it a movement.

You come from the stream of history and to the stream of history you and your works will return, but the best you can do is to make an honest go of it and try to influence that history with your personal take on things.

And that's how it's done.

"Boeing's earnings plummet due to strike"

Says the Seattle PI. You know, there's an easy way to fix that: settle with the strikers.

Well the election is less than two weeks away

I think we're nearing the "Elect Obama, for the love of god and all that is holy, elect Obama" phase.

Oh, happy 4,500th blog post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I think Babylon sounds great

This is in reference to Revelation 18, which expresses a lot of the sort of indignation found therein. It describes Babylon as being a woman who has seduced the world by fornication, by fucking people in it, and that has corrupted the kingdoms. This is what corruption looks like to the writer(s) of Revelation:

12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, 13And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men....
16And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!....
22And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;


Yeah verily. You notice how it's not that some people have these things while others don't that's condemned but these things in and of themselves. Fine linen, purple and scarlet, wine, vessels made of brass, iron, and marble, all of it sounds pretty cool. But because these things are possessed by the metaphoric cities under the influence of Babylon they're condemned. Personally, I think that indulgence and hedonism are great things and should be more accepted; I just wish that people in general could partake of them. So, oh Babylon, I do not condemn thee but instead wish that you would spread your corruption and fornication around in a most just way.

Mwah ha ha ha ha.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bikini Girls with Machine Guns

Life catches up to absurdity



It's not so much that it's fake as it is that you could believe that it was a real pic. Although you could do the same thing with any female politician it's more believable with Sarah Palin than with Hillary Clinton, for instance.

I was in my car listening to a mix that included both Ministry and the Cramps, who are the ur-psychobilly/rockabilly punk group, when I realized that one of the songs I had on there could easily fit both Palin and her supporters: Bikini Girls with Machine Guns.

The song, which was probably written by the female leader of the Cramps is like so many others that they did an attempt at hyperbole and absurdism, taking the sort of sexy macho image and extending it as far as it can possibly go so that you just wind up laughing at it. But we now have a Bikini Girl with a Machine Gun-like candidate for the biggest election in the United States, who's getting all sorts of vocal support from macho guys who dig the hunting angle and want to fuck her.

Here, then is the video and the lyrics to "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns"
By the way the woman in it is the leader of the band, and the guitarist, who wrote the song.



"Well I been a drag racer on LSD, and I rode bare-assed on top of the shpinx, i even had a gorilla on the slopes of kismet, and man, that was fun for a while you bet but...

Bikini girls with machine guns, bikini girls with machine guns, that stuff will kill ya, it's loaded with fun, bikini girls with machine guns

Well i savored many foriegn kinds of delicacies, intoxicated til i can't tell what the hell i could see, and all that violence and liquor within close reach, but all bars, pills and threeways lead me back to the beach and...

Bikini girls with machine guns, bikini girls with machine guns, that stuff will kill ya, it's loaded with fun, bikini girls with machine guns

Now they say that virtue is it's own reward, but when that surf comes in i'm gunna get my board, got my own ideas about the righteous kick, you can keep the rewards, i'd just as soon stay sick...

Bikini girls with machine guns, bikini girls with machine guns, that stuff will kill ya, it's loaded with fun, bikini girls with machine guns "

"Guardian of the Frontier" film from Slovenia



Well, this review gives away the secrets so that if you want to see the thing fresh you should watch it then read the review. Anyways.

First of all, Guardian of the Frontier isn't about the decay of Yugoslavia into civil war. Whoever wrote that either had not seen the movie or had no understanding of it since it's established at the beginning that the civil war in Croatia is over.

The film revolves around three girls, college students from the city, taking a canoe trip down the river Kolpa, which is a border between Slovenia and Croatia, and coming across some very bad things. There's a serial killer in the area, for one, who has murdered a young woman who did exactly as they are doing. The characters are a middle of the road girl, a crazy and outspoken partying girl, and a conservative girl who is there because she's the middle of the roader's room mate in college.

So they float down the river. And they come across conservative people in the country. And it appears that someone is following them. But this isn't a kind of Deliverance II with Croatia cast as the people whose territory the city girls are intruding on and whose ways they're insulting. No, it's something much more than that.

To understand what exactly that is you have to be aware that Slovenia, the westernmost former Yugoslav republic was not involved in any of the fighting that engulfed Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. It had a four day war after it declared its independence and that was that. But Croatia, next door, ethnically cleansed itself of non-Croats and descended into violence and outright Fascism as an official policy. The frontier that the river represents isn't just a frontier between two countries but a frontier between two totally different experiences: the peaceful experience of Slovenia and the post-violence and civil war experience of Croatia.

There's a sense of dread as after getting in trouble with their canoes and encountering traces of someone who's following them, particularly a shoe matching the shoe of the girl who was murdered, they go ashore on the Croat side and try to find shelter for the night. They do, and it turns out to be a nice encounter with an eccentric artist, but with a deadly serious underpinning. The sense of dread has its source in the ripping off of the veneer of civilization done during the civil war and the coming to the surface of the violent, inhuman, id forces motivating rape and murder on the one hand and forceful return to conservative values on the other. It's a door that opened that in the movie had not been totally closed after the fighting stopped.

But there's a surprise. The surprise is that they do encounter the "Guardian of the Frontier", the serial killer, who's also some sort of border guard, but he's a Slovene. They're captured by him, threatened with murder if they don't do what he tells them, taken into his vehicle, but then escape, or are let to escape. In the next village, that they flee to and call home from for someone to pick them up, there's a big festival, with dances and folk music, outdoor drinking and eating, and a political speaker. The speaker, who delivers his address from a podium draped with the Slovene flag, advocates not just Slovene for the Slovenians but turning one's back on progress and instead embracing traditional values, where women don't have parties but are proud to stay in the home and be mothers, etc... naming Ljubjiana, the capitol of Slovenia and the ways of the city as the enemy. It's not a speech that you can easily lampoon, it's more like a speech by Mussolini, something not to be taken lightly.

Later that night the speaker, the Guardian that is, and two young men who had been sitting with the girls and drinking, making nuisances of themselves, find the girl's tent. They're drunk and want to rape them. The Guardian eventually bargains down to just one girl going out there, all the while when they're surrounding the tent, and the conservative girl goes. Later after they're gone the two girls in the tent discover their love for one another. Their friend, actually the now ex-boyfriend of one of the girls, comes in the morning to pick them up and they go back home.

So far so good, but there're lots of layers of myth and fantasy interplaying with reality going through the whole thing, focussing mostly on the conservative girl. The events outside of the tent are denied by the two other girls as having happened. The frontier also expresses the conservative girl's psyche, which has been hurt by a traumatic event in her past that's created a tension similar to that between the id of both the Slovene and Croatian extremists and the urban, liberal Slovenes on the other.

Ultimately, the reactionary and violent impulses that they found both in Slovenia and in Croatia are revealed to exist back home as well, expressed in the reaction of the boyfriend to the two girl's newfound love for each other and an implicit rape of the conservative girl by one of the other's father on the two's trip to the station. And finally the love between the two girls falls apart, thereby questioning whether the response was one taken in relation to events surrounding them or something deeper and more genuine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What constitutes the Midwest?

This question always used to piss me off in previous place outside of it that I used to live. Simply put, there's the West and the Midwest, and the Midwest is more highly populated and urban than the West itself. So what states are in the Midwest? Here's my Vote: Minnesota, iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio. To the south of that area we have Arkansas, Kentucky,and West Virginia which are definitely in the South itself. To the West we have Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. To the East is Pennsylvania. North of the area is Canada. Some people have argued that North Dakota is part of the Midwest, but I haven't been there and I think that it's very sparse population and reputation as part of the Dakotas argue against this, although it's still a question to consider.

So that's my vote for the Midwest. Kansas is part of the West, not part of the Midwest. Nebraska is part of the West, not the Midwest. Oklahoma is most definitely part of the West as opposed to the Midwest. South Dakota is definitely part of the West.

It helps if you understand the history--inner cities

I was surfing the sites of the enemy, i.e. hardcore racists, reading the usual lies about black people, associations with violence etc... on top of the general abuse, when something that I happened upon several years ago hit me. It was from a book by Thomas Sugrue having to do with Detroit and with the history of industrial cities in the '70s, and was basically this: the big increase in violence in the inner cities is a relatively recent phenomenon that started because the good jobs that blacks had migrated from the South for had dried up. Blacks are often the last hired and first fired of the labor force, which can help explain why the decrease in industrial jobs in the North effected them sooner and deeper than it did for white people, who experienced it as a general, gradual, decay that's still going on today. The obvious solution to urban violence in this scenario is jobs. Jobs that are more than menial labor and that can provide the person who does them with both dignity and a decent income.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let's take the "Joe the Plumber" example a little further

McCain: "I have been to the midwest and I've met a plumber named Joe. Now, you see Joe has worked really hard, worked 23 hour days with no vacations for 60 years for a company that has ten locations. Joe has been offered ownership of all ten locations. But because an income of $10,000,000 a year is what Mr. Obama considers 'rich', Joe, who has been a hard worker working 23 hour days with no breaks, not even a lunch break, has been thinking about not taking over the ten plumbing businesses. You see Mr. Obama wants to spread the money around, to take money from Joe and give it to other people, like students who want to go to college.

And that's not all. What if Joe the Plumber was able to marry a rich heiress who was also a junkie and then wanted to run for the Senate from Arizona? Hmm? Then he'd really be up the creek."

Socialism and liberation

Or socialism and real liberation since there's a party and magazine of the same name that doesn't seem to have much to do with either. The way I see it is that after a revolutionary struggle there would be two parllel structures in place: the structure determining the economic life of society and the structure regulating what was previously regulated by the political structure of the former society. One of the ways that socialism deals with liberation is to transform the fundamental structure of society so that problems based on it are eliminated. These are usually problems that have to do with the economic, class, and work aspects of society. Sometimes the sorts of rights that we associate with the term in our society right now are dismissed as being "bourgeois". I think that although they're incomplete that they do serve a function, that things like legislation against discrimination by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethic origin, or religion, are necessary for society and so wouldn't be completely superceded in a socialist regime. If these rights are going to still be recognized, albeit restructured within a socialist regime that puts economics as a more primary public concrn, there needs to be a parallel structure in place that can deal with the issues and enforce the laws against discrimination--as well as those for personal freedom within a socialist society. The overall goal of liberation in socialism is to provide the opportunity for self realization and self determination to everyone.

Self realization is only possible with self determination, that is determination to pursue your self realization in any way you so desire, which in turn means legal rights on top of socialist provided opportunities. One doesn't function without the other.

The political sphere would be subjugated to the economic sphere, with economics having to do with the social determination of the distribution of goods, of work, and of society wide decisions about where society should be going. But it may be a mistake to label social, economic, concerns as more important than conventional political rights in a socialist society. Instead, they're just different sorts of rights, and economic and social rights only come first because they effect people on a more fundamental level than political rights usually deal with. While it's certainly possible to have a society that guarantees social rights while denying personal rights, the situation right now in many societies is the reverse: political rights existing but undercut by social inequalities. Of course it's also possible for both the social and the political spheres to be oppressive at the same time. Social rights and political rights are symbiotic, but social rights and their enforcement entails overt management of the economy while political rights usually don't involve that much action on the part of society as a whole to implement. Because of this difference social rights get priority in a society that's gone over the critical mass into real socialism, whether that is achieved by a formal revolution or by a progressive, constant, movement towards revolutionary change.

*On edit: Venezuela would be a good example of how to produce revolutionary change without a formal revolution.

Joe the Plumber---a rich man's attempt at populism

Because they know that they have no policies for workers who are suffering right now as opposed to potentially opening their own business years in the future. The metaphor is a pathetic attempt to portray policies that benefit the rich as benefitting the working class. You notice that Joe the Plumber---this is from the last debate---theoretically bought the business that he'd been working for for decades. The owner's son didn't inherit it and neither did another plumbing company buy it. Somehow a long term worker not only got the capital but also the permission to buy it. He didn't start his own business either. The metaphor collapses when you realize that buying the business you've worked for most of your life probably is not going to happen because of how business ownership transfers in this country and that the only other option would be to start a small business on your own, which would be inherently risky. Yet Joe the Plumber flawlessly makes the transition from worker to owner and now as owner complains about Democratic programs, just as Republican business owners who never were members of the working class do.

ACORN charges might be cover for Republican vote scam

Because if ACORN is attacked right now they can come back after the election, after they have really and honestly interfered with the vote, and say that the charges leveled against them are politically motivated. It's not a "pox on both your houses situation". indeed, I think that the counter accusations that Republicans have been using against liberals are more about trying to convince everyone that pointing out what's really going on in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and at home is really politically minded infighting instead of actual attempts to point out some disturbing truths.

Good resource on ACORN---from ACORN

Instead of from a right wing news organization. The article makes the crucial point that while people may have been improperly registered by folks getting paid by the hour, the real test would be people claiming to be these individuals showing up to the polls and voting, which hasn't happened. The cases of dead people casting votes has happened not in the voter registration process but in the process of counting and reporting ballots, a process that in cases has been controlled by local electoral political machines. This means that the fraud that happens is likely the result of officials with access to ballots messing with them. ACORN admits that some people may have turned in false registration forms but says that in all cases it was them, and not outside officials, who were the ones reporting the forms as suspicious to local electoral authorities. Another thing I could add is this:

Community organizations representing low income and minority voters strangely get charged with vote fraud on a semi-regular basis while voter campaigns that register people outside of middle class supermarkets seem to never be targeted. The charges are either something like what ACORN is facing or stem from accusations that the organizations are completely partisan and are registering voters purely along partisan lines. In fact, this charge was something that was regularly applied to the Civil Rights movement in the South by southern politicians--after blacks were given the right to vote without paying a poll tax or passing a written test at the polls.

The people challenging ACORN, then, stand in a long and glorious tradition.

Hopefully the economic crisis will bracket 9/11

Providing an end to a seven year age of bullshit. People don't understand "why they hate us" because foreign policy in this country has been planned and executed with virtually no coverage by the mainstream media, critical or otherwise. This is literally true so that before 9/11 the military could have been intervening someplace in the world, invading a city, and in regional papers it would only get a short notice. To find out what was really happening you'd have to read the New York Times. And to get a critical perspective on what was happening you'd need to read not only the New York Times but lefty magazines that kept up with this stuff. The multiple invasions of Haiti during the '90s are a text book example. So in large part people who are not hooked into the elite media, like the New York Times, have a picture of the actions of the United States in the world that's much, much different than what the reality is. But everyone understands recessions and financial downturns.

Unlike the questioning and uncertainty prompted by the destruction of 9/11 the economic downturn is a known unknown, something where books and books, analyses and analyses have been written about what causes this stuff, how it works. So unlike the consequences of U.S. foreign policy, domestic economic policy is something that people who don't obsessively follow economic trends can get. There's not a much better way to make yourself look good than to have sophisticated answers about what to do with the economy. I think that when it comes down to it people value insights relating to what's going on with their check book over hollow invocations of patriotism.

I hope Obama hammered this home. I have to read the transcripts of the debate, but I will get back to you on this.

Either way, the crisis may serve to pierce the complete veil of bullshit that's engulfed the country post-9/11.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nancy Reagan has fallen and broken a hip

I wonder if she's saying "Just Say No" to painkillers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This would be a good time to start reading MRZine

MRZine is the online blog attached to Monthly Review, venerable, wonderful, academic yet serious socialist magazine. It isn't part of the fad of post-structuralism whatsoever, and on the other hand isn't sectarian, yet has connected to the worldwide socialist movement in a real way for decades. The U.S. economic crisis is right up their alley. In fact, the crisis of capitalism is their bread and butter. Expect high quality articles.

Students, by William S. Burroughs

Another transcription from a live recording. I'm not sure if it appeared anywhere but I haven't seen it.

"Students, by William S. Burroughs

Dr. Benway is operating in an auditorium filled with students. "Now boys you won't see this operation performed very often and there's a reason for that. You see it has absolutely no medical value. No one knows what the purpose of it originally was or if it had a purpose at all. Personally, I think it was a pure artistic creation from the beginning. Just as a bull fighter with his skill and knowledge extricates himself from danger, he has himself invoked, so in this operation the surgeon deliberately endangers his patient, and then with incredible speed and severity rescues him from death at the last possible split second. Did you ever see Dr. Tetrazzini perform? I say perform advisedly because his operations were performances. He would start by throwing a scalpel across the room into the patient and then make his entrance like a ballet dancer, his speed was incredible. "I don't give them time to die", he'd say. Tumors put him in a frenzy of rage."Fucking undisciplined cells!" he would snarl advancing on the tumor like a knife fighter. The young man leaps down into the operating theater and whipping out a scalpel advances on the patient. "An Espontanio! Stop him before he guts my patient!" Espontanio is a bullfighting term for a member of the audience who leaps down into the ring, pulls out a concealed cape, and attempts a few passes with the bull before he's dragged out of the ring. The orderlies scuffle with the Espontanio who is finally ejected from the hall. The anesthetist takes advantage of the confusion. to pry a large gold filling from the patient's mouth. "

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Vladimir Madonna etchings

Vladimir Madonna semi-open bite

From the description I put on Flickr: "A sugar lift sketch of the famous Vladimir Madonna Icon that then had a light coat of aquatint applied to it and the edges of the lines melted through being put on a hot plate for a little while. Etched in 14:1 for fifteen minutes, giving an effect of a mostly open bit set of lines with some light aquatint in them. A zinc etching. "

In many ways I'm unsatisfied with the lines of this, particularly the baby's long arm, but it's close enough to what I want that I'm keeping it.

Now here's the trippy part:

Vladimir Relief Print

This is the same exact plate but it's inked through a relief process as opposed to an intaglio process:

The difference being that instead of putting ink inside the etched lines I applied it to the surface of the plate, making everything except the etched lines black. I did this with a roller and what's known as an ink slab, which is a fancy way of saying a large square of ink that's been produced by spreading out a thick line of ink with a roller. A applied no pressure whatsoever when I rolled the roller over the plate, meaning that the ink, as a kind of ultra plate tone, accumulated very slowly on the plate. I think I did twelve passes of the roller over the plate to get this deep of a black.



"

A Jean Dubuffet inspired etching

That I did on copper plate

Dubuffet inspired etching

From the description I put on Flickr:

"An an etching inspired by Jean Dubuffet's artwork. Done on a small copper plate using two different non-traditional aquatint grounds, drypoint needle into soft ground and hard ground. "

Those two methods would be salt aquatint and a lift ground made by mixing hard ground with gum arabic, spreading it on the plate, cooking it, then taking the bubbles off using a bath of hot water. Salt aquatint is done by sprinkling loads of salt onto a plate with a layer of hard ground on it that's being heated on a hot plate. Nothing is done to the salt, it's put into the acid bath with it intact and the chemicals break it down. You do need a lot of salt on there, a level that may look excessive, to get a good effect because it'll get eaten away before it has a chance to leave a good mark otherwise.

Happy domination and slaughter of Native Peoples day!

Also known as Columbus Day.

1491, a really good book, makes an awful lot of the spread of diseases introduced by Europeans and how this weakened native societies so that Europeans were able to conquer the Americas much easier than they otherwise would have. But there's a problem. The problem is with the notion that diseases were the only factor. I'm not saying that 1491 is saying this--it's more nuanced than that--but that the diseases plus the notion of less population in North America idea is insufficient to explain why there are not that many Native Americans left in the United States.

1491 points out that Native Americans in both North and South America are much closer genetically to each other than populations in the old world occupying similar areas of land. You would think, then, that there would be similar responses to disease. Yet for some reason we have nations like Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru that are majority indigenous while the contains very few Native Americans in relation to the rest of the population. There are also native people's in Mexico--beyond Chiapas--who preserve their identities and their language, or at least try to, while also participating in Mexican culture to one extent or another.
None of these populations of people is uncontacted, to say the least. Diseases have been through all of them. Yet indigenous communities thrive on the one hand and are pushed into deserted areas and marginalized in the other. There has to be some other factor to account for the differences in population of Native Peoples between the United States and Latin America.

That factor is probably the policy towards Native Americans started by the British and augmented by the newly independent U.S., that featured an all or nothing approach to Native Peoples---either eliminate them or leave them alone but not let them into the new society as fully participating members. Human action and human choices are the reason why Native Americans have such a limited presence in the United States--not disease susceptibility.

Pot, meet Kettle

Jonathan Schwartz has a piece about how Saturday Night Live is supposedly against blacks, jews, and women, here. He reproduces a few screen shots:





He likens these scenes to German propaganda about Jews. There's just one problem: if you look at the top of his page you'll see a link for his coauthored book which is titled "Our Kampf". Really, I mean there's nothing politically incorrect there now is there?
I'd never for a second think that naming your book after that of Hitler's could ever make people upset, or piss people off who didn't think it was funny.

Here's the cover:



which looks suspiciously like:



Not even the most insane racist nut job would name their book something that's a take off of Hitler's. The point being that if you want to play in that depth of black humor you forfeit your right to bitch about things being politically incorrect. Especially if you're a fucking leftie.

Not insensitive or inappropriate, no sir-ee.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The well off liberal or bourgeois view of the working class in America

I speak from experience here. Class segregation is extreme in the U.S. and people who aren't working class tend to the world divided into two camps: people like them and people who work at McDonalds or some other low wage low prestige environment, who they can then laugh at and figure that they got what they deserved for being stupid. The idea of people who have more skills than that, putting the McDonalds worker aside for a second, who do valuable work, but who don't make as much money as your typical bourgeois liberal is something that never crosses their mind. College and its value or lack of value is constantly debated, with the attendant fear of being mediocre despite having credentials, but the value of someone who knows a trade and uses that trade every working day, who regularly provides a concrete useful service, is either denied or avoided as a topic. I mean, if these folks work hard doing something that I don't have the skills to do, while either I or someone else sits in an office doing marginal work that has little to do with what I'm really interested in, and I make more money than they do....how is that right? It isn't. Ding Ding Ding! You win the prize.

*on edit: living in Seattle I have to point out the huge disparity between how IT workers are treated by their bosses and how regular workers are. I know some people in IT out here and they've described to me how their employers pamper them and piss money at them in efforts to stimulate creativity. One person in all honesty talked about how on Fridays employees who were members of bands in their spare time are invited to bring their guitars in and play for the benefit of the rest of the company. Everything short of being served grapes by half naked women while reclining on couches in the manner of Roman Emperors seems to be done.

On the other hand, work conditions for people with regular jobs in Seattle are similar to how they are in the rest of the country. This meaning that instead of having gifts for creativity showered on them workers get chewed out if their work falls one degree below that of absolute perfection, which instead of leading to brainstorming and processing to find out what was wrong frequently can lead to being fired. Are the jobs that the IT people do so much more valuable that they justify all of this excess, and are working class jobs so inferior that they justify the complete opposite?

I don't think so. It comes back to the bourgeois-worker divide, where the people in power shower their comrades with money but punish those who they consider inferior to them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Liberals exaggerate the amount of racism in the U.S. working class

Whether they're consciously aware of it or not the reason seems clear: they're concerned about their bottom lines. The U.S. working class, in this worldview has to be racist because if it wasn't there would be lots of uncomfortable questions about social justice and injustice that they'd have to answer, and asking those questions would likely provoke open discussion of alternatives that would entail them losing some money and power.

It's NPR liberals against the working class, using Barack's race as an excuse

Quite amazing to see the open display of class hatred that's playing out on NPR, our liberal public radio station, in its coverage of the Obama campaign. They actually come out and say that "Working class whites" are racist against Obama. I suppose that the demographic of the average NPR listener is spectacularly different, then. Surely NPR is listened to by the black working class and the hispanic working class....wait, no, the average NPR listener is a higher income white liberal. NPR is so white in fact that it sets a standard for bleachedness that could only be surpassed if it sent in regular reports about how the weather in Martha's Vineyard was doing. So who exactly are the NPR liberals up in arms over? People who (supposedly) look like them but belong to a lower income bracket and so are perceived to be knuckle dragging morons who are racist to the hilt, as opposed to Prius driving latte drinking yuppies who plaster a bumper sticker on their car and feel good while living in gated communities. Ouch. Doesn't feel so good when the shoe is on the other foot, does it?

The supposed working class racism issue started, in my opinion, because labor refused to roll over and to support Obama unconditionally. They wanted him to do things like have positions that they agreed with. Because of this lack of a blank check the Obama attack dogs sprung into action, by labeling working class people first according to racial categories and then using the fact that there are many white people who are working class as a base to shame people into supporting Obama.

You don't hear the Obamanistas so much anymore after two debates where the candidate proved to be utterly mainstream on an array of both foreign policy and domestic issues. Suddenly there's silence, maybe a little embarrassment that Obama supports offshore drilling, supports so-called "clean coal" technologies, opposes gay marriage, wants to spread war to Pakistan, wants to confront Russia over South Ossetia in Georgia, supports an increase in NATO membership. White racism doesn't explain opposition to Obama within the working class. Maybe it's Obama's fault, because these communities have been jerked around and played with so much that they "won't get fooled again" and Obama didn't prove to them that he was just using them.

I hate the constant referral to the "White working class". "White working class", all you hear on NPR, "White working class". As if there weren't Latino members of SEIU, for instance, or blacks and latino's doing working class jobs. Everyone has multiple hats that they wear. People can be black and also working class or white and working class, and it's society that determines which aspect effects your life more. But despite racism in the United States I refuse to believe that the only people who consider themselves working class are white people. What about Justice for Janitors? What about Latino construction workers? Black and white unite and fight used to be a good labor slogan, and separating people out purely because of their skin color, and echoing that value on the radio, helps to undermine solidarity between various communities and ultimately makes the quest for social justice a much harder one.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fox reports on McCain rallies chanting "Traitor", "Criminal", and "Terrorist" in relation to Obama

Here. This is why I was non-plussed, sarcastic, and derisive in relation to accusation of racism against the Clinton camp by Obama people during the primary. They thought that was racism? Give them actual conservatives and actual Republicans and that perception of racism on the part of Clinton will be burned to smithereens. Same thing with the perceived racism of workers, who were always labeled 'white', as if the people who work construction and are Hispanic aren't working class. I doubt there were many Democratic Primary voters among the McCain rally crowd, meaning that heaping charges of racism at the guys was just pointless abuse, done while ignoring or being naive enough not to notice what real racism looks like.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Second Debate

What to say about it? You can read the entire thing Here. McCain proved himself to not only be a fossil and a one note Johnny but also a fucking lunatic. Not as crazy as some of the other contenders for the Republican nomination were likely to be but a lunatic none the less. The one note that John McCain constantly sounds is earmarks. It's a very convenient strategy, focussing on earmarks as if the only parties existing in the United States were the government and the people, all while the banks are failing all around us. There are three forces here: the corporations, the people, and the government. By ignoring corporations, by acting as they don't even exist, and instead focussing only on earmarks and government spending, John McCain provides excellent cover for them. They can go on doing what they're doing, cutting jobs, gouging prices, engaging in practices contributing to the failure of the economy, while the attention is focussed on whether or not Obama included an earmark for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Another blind is to act like all the businesses that exist in the United States are small businesses, something that people can more easily identify with than AIG or Lehman Brothers. Tax relief to businesses does not mean tax relief to small businesses only, but to the large corporations that constitute the core of our economy. Small business is no longer the driving force behind the American economy and it hasn't been for some time. The real core is industry and big business. By appealing to the idea of small business McCain puts forward a comforting illusion that hasn't been true for a long time. Foreign policy was also a fun one in the debate.

Mainly, it was interesting to see the candidates both advocate humanitarian interventions with the goal being using the U.S. as a global peacekeeper while the economy crumbles. Obama, to his credit, advocated cooperating with international organizations to do this, while McCain just completely ignored them and acted as if we can do anything we want in the world unilaterally. Well, the U.S. is a little like an oblivious, palace bound, monarch who thinks that he can wave a finger and have everyone respond while the forces opposing his arbitrariness are gaining ground and losing tolerance with him. I'm guessing that if the economic crisis causes deep, long lasting we'll be able to send gift baskets, with international approval, but not much else.

Then there was the environment. McCain, in response to to the question of what to do to address the ecological crisis, suggested that we needed to build more nuclear reactors. Classic. Obama suggested alternative energy and developing alternative energy technologies that we could then export to the rest of the world, thereby creating jobs.

McCain did better in this debate, not completely sticking to Republican talking points, but in revealing how he would deviate from pure ideology he showed that he was a fucking nutcase. Obama didn't do as well, but won nonetheless, the reason being, I think the time constraints put on the candidates. McCain mastered the art of replying in a way that included multiple insults against Obama in a short period of time that Obama couldn't completely address without ignoring the question he was supposed to answer. Hopefully the last debate, happening next Wednesday, will allow for more in depth questions and answers.

Additionally, and this doesn't have to do directly with the debate, I seriously question the meme that's been going around about WHITE women jumping ship en masse and going over to the McCain camp. I capitalize 'white' because this is just another recycling of the Hillary myth, i.e. that women (who in the subtext are assumed to be white) would rather vote for McCain than vote for Obama. This would theoretically be a response to Obama winning the primary.

There's a real problem here, and it's called Sarah Palin and John McCain. While Clinton and Obama were close enough so that liberals could fluidly go between them, it's beyond belief that lots of Hillary supporters would suddenly embrace Sarah Palin as their savior. It's like supporters of '68 Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey suddenly going over to George Wallace. Things like that just don't happen, or at least don't happen without a large, compelling, very public, cause. There is no cause like that this time, leading me to think that this is a myth circulated by the same people who developed a pathological hatred for Hillary during the primaries.

Georgia

One of the things that neither candidate in the debates acknowledged was that Russia didn't invade Georgia. It invaded South Ossetia, which had broken away from Georgia and declared itself an independent country. Russia sent troops there to support its independence bid. This is what we did in Kosovo.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I don't hate America

In fact, I want Americans, the same Americans that Palin seeks to speak for, to have more money, have better jobs, and more control over their lives. There's a distinct difference between the American government and America in the way people usually use the term. The government serves power in the U.S. and pursues a foreign policy for the benefit of these elites while packaging it in patriotism for domestic consumption. The government serves corporate power, the government is not America.

America, as most people use the word, is a more abstract concept, something that has to do with way of life and values, and here the question of socialism comes into relief. Socialism isn't anti-American in the way that the Bush administration uses the term, but is it incompatible with American values? Freedom, liberty, self determination, and on the fringes a skepticism about large accumulations of power. Sounds like Anarchism to me. I have to temper it a little bit, though, because it's a little hard to be ultra-skeptical of general accumulations of power when you live in a major city like Seattle, or something bigger like New York or L.A. or Boston. For people living here large accumulations of power are a fact of life and it's hard to see how these cities could be transformed into decentralized back to the land communities. But be that as it may, the point stands that there are forms of socialism that are very much compatible with many American values. However, socialists in general have a different take on what the land of opportunity means.

America as a place where people coming from poor nations with not much more than the shirt on their backs and making it is a righteous and courageous ideal. But although some succeed there are many others who work and work without getting back what they give. There are people all around the country, not just recent immigrants but the great grandchildren of immigrants or even further back who work and do their best but are cheated out of what they deserve. On the other side of the coin there are people who do relatively nothing, who are stupider and lazier than many working folks, who get everything handed to them. America as the land of opportunity needs an adjustment to make that ideal a reality, and that adjustment means giving workers what they deserve while taking away resources from people who don't deserve them.

Bill Ayers and Obama

A while ago, like six years ago, there was a column talking about opposition to nominations for public office of folks associated with the civil rights movement. The gist of it was that it's unreasonable and unrealistic to expect people interested in public service didn't participate in some of the most significant public campaigns for change in the second half of the 20th century. While the Weather Underground doesn't fit into that category, the point about penalizing people for having been part of the '60s or in this case for associating with people who participated in the '60s stands. It's unreasonable for penalizing Obama for knowing progressive people who lived in his neighborhood in Chicago who were part of radical groups over three decades ago. The Weather Underground existed, and now people who were involved with it are still living and doing stuff in communities. That's life. Same thing with the Black Panther Party, same thing with SDS, same thing with lots of groups. They're not rotting in prison cells, which is where I'm sure the critics would love to see them, but free and walking the streets living real lives. I think it's that fact that pisses off people, not just that Obama knows Ayers but that Obama knows Ayers and Ayers hasn't been sent to Guantanamo for stuff that happened over thirty years ago.

In a bigger sense this is an echo of the civil rights movement in general, at least those parts that weren't canonized because of being too radical. The continued existence and action of people whose lives clash with the bigger narrative of American culture is a constant irritant to people who would rather live their lives quietly without being bothered about the tough, root, issues of social problems.

A silly concrete poem

God
Gog
Dog
Dod
God

Monday, October 06, 2008

Right now the American economic system is collapsing

And quite frankly I couldn't be happier. While the system goes under I'm reading Fichte's introductions to his Wissenschaftlehre, realizing I need to read more of Kant's Critique of Judgment, and making lots of art. What goes around comes around. I think that it's sinking into people's heads that something is really wrong and worry and tension are increasing among folks in general.

Well, you can't have everything at once. If this signals an end to the economic order that's been in place since the Clinton era, which George W. Bush has cheerfully both augmented and maintained, then it's an indicator of the complete exhaustion of the American concept of neoliberalism plus world policing, whether in catastrophic mistakes like the Iraq War or in humanitarian interventions in places like Kosovo and Somalia. The American economic model was always bolstered abroad by propaganda, the American media exporting loads of feel good movies and tv shows reflecting none of American reality to the rest of the world. Of course we bought it first, though.

If this collapse signals an end to an American imperium I'd be anxious to see who replaces it. My hope would be Europe in some sense, but also a combination of Russia, China, and South American states like Venezuela and Bolivia. Putin is not a nice guy, but a Russian ascendency would check our little expansionist schemes that we've implemented in places like the Ukraine and Georgia, with their manufactured "Color Revolutions". It would also signal an end to NATO and to the farce of a group reportedly formed for the "Atlantic Community", meaning the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, expanding to the Caucuses mountains and carrying out missions in Central Asia, which is what Afghanistan is part of. Afghanistan is close to the Indian Ocean, much closer, than it is to the Atlantic.

With the decline of the U.S., if it really and truly happens because of this crisis, we can hope to see countries that have been victims of U.S. suppression, like Venezuela and Iran, not to mention countries like Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, cutting loose and successfully challenging U.S. influence over themselves.

And a U.S. in decline would short circuit the nuclear alliance just cemented between India and the U.S., something that considering the virulent anti-Pakistan sentiment in India would be a very dangerous alliance indeed; India may put its fingers on the trigger for nuclear missiles waiting for serious fighting to break out in Kashmir.

Also, a U.S. decline would no doubt cause Saudi Arabia to lose influence, as the kingdom is largely protected by the U.S. Saudi Arabia may be subject to international pressure after all. Israel, too, would lose some power as it would have to defend itself without massive subsidies from the U.S. Make the desert bloom, eh? If Israel is so rugged and self determining maybe they should start paying their own bills for their national defense instead of relying on checks from daddy U.S.

Egypt would be empowered by a U.S. decline as well, which would be good if destabilizing. In fact, the whole Middle East would become a more self determining place, surely a positive change.

It would be a good thing for leftists as well, particularly in the countries cited. Right now dissent in many of them has been corralled into far right Islamic channels because of ruthless opposition to anything outright progressive, and even that is now underneath the hammer of the U.S. With a U.S. decline not only would these ideologies, which are being paraded as the new clear and present danger to all humanity, gain more power but the leftist opposition would see an opening to gain power as well.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Good old Lee Harvey Oswald and Castro

Reading over some JFK assassination stuff again a possible explanation of the pro and anti Castro activities of Oswald and company presented itself. It's possible that Oswald and the people he was working with contacted the Castro government and convinced them that they were sincere allies who wanted to help increase positive feelings for Cuba in the United States, while in reality being ultra-right anti-Communists who used these contacts for their own purposes.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Palin...

The transcript of the VP debate is painful reading. It shows that Palin is more qualified to bullshit about politics in a bar in Wasilla than on the national scene. How should I categorize the McCain campaign now? The Fossil and the Idiot?

Don't vote for the fossil and the idiot, vote for Obama and Biden, or for a lefty third party if you prefer.

Talking with Enemies

Whether or not to talk with so called "Enemies" has emerged as big, repetitive, obnoxious issue brought up by McCain and echoed by his pet attack dog Palin. I think that two things are in order here: first, why wouldn't talking to nations hostile to us be a good thing, and secondly, what constitutes an enemy? For the first question, why not talk to them, the answer is that there may be common ground underneath our surface differences that can be found and dealt with, thereby defusing possibly dangerous situations. Secondly, is an enemy a country that's located halfway around the world that says nasty things about us but poses absolutely no threat? Sure, the nuclear issue with Iran and North Korea has been brought up time and time again, but both countries have made efforts to comply with international atomic energy organizations in inspections, Iran in particular and North Korea sporadically. Iran doesn't have the capability to hit the U.S. with a missile so Israel is substituted as the country that has to be protected. But as Noam Chomsky once said no one is going to attack Israel with serious weapons because the result would be instant annihilation by the U.S., no matter whether McCain or Obama is in office. The only time Israel has been hit with conventional weapons outside of its wars with its immediate neighbors has been during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein decided to lob missiles at Israel just because he could. And the reason he could was that his country was in a state of war where normal rules were suspended. Short of being invaded by the U.S. there appears to be little reason for Iran to jeopardize its existence by attacking Israel without any provocation. So that takes out much of the immediate threat argument from Iran.

Notice, though, that they don't talk about the potential threat to Europe that a nuclear Iran could pose, since the Europeans have their own opinions on all of this that the administration would not like to be heard. The idea that israel is a sitting duck is preposterous as well. Israel is armed to the teeth with military hardware, including nuclear weapons, much of it provided by the U.S., and it would definitely be able to defend itself in case of an attack. It's not helpless Israel but an Israel that has a macho posture to the rest of the Middle East that's the reality here.

But back to Iran. Once the immediate threat issue is taken care of there remains the ultimate causes for the hostility of Iran to the U.S., and that can positively be traced to the United States overthrowing the legitimate Iranian government of Mossadegh in the '50s and replacing it with an ultra-authoritarian military dictatorship. Iran began to have a neo-colonial relationship to the U.S., which supported bloody secret police in the country. The Iranian Revolution happened in response to this. It's not a case of someone just getting the idea "Gee, Islamic government sounds like a cool thing, let's do it!" but of people formulating an alternative vision that was in part a reaction to a perceived forced westernization under the Shah. There were a number of variants out there, with some of the strongest being left wing and being a mixture of Marxism and socialism with cultural sensitivity to Islamic and Middle Eastern/Persian traditions. But they lost and a right wing variant of this sort of opposition took over. The root cause of friction between the U.S. and Iran remains, however, no matter who eventually got power after the Revolution kicked the Americans out.

That could be honestly talked about, and the U.S. could agree to let Iranians be Iranians and let them govern their country in their own way, and some of the tension would be defused. Recognize the right of Iran for development, including the development of things like nuclear reactors that unfortunately power much of Europe at this point in time. Agree that they have a right to arm themselves, although keep pressure on nuclear weapons---as opposed to nuclear power---in place through the International Atomic Energy Commission. North Korea is playing out a slightly different scenario.

Amazingly enough, the Wikipedia article on the economic history of North Korea is pretty factual and not really propagandistic. The article makes it clear that although North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship it's still felt a long term economic decline that has pushed it in the direction of increasing democratization of economic enterprises and limited decentralization. The current drama between Kim Jong Il and Washington appears as a distraction in North Korea to the actual state of affairs there. In response to the economic crisis, the very limited reforms have been pushed forward, then pulled back, and the military and party state has decided to focus on retaining power at the expense of the well being of the average North Korean. A big propaganda target like the U.S. assists in this. The actions of North Korea then appear not as the product of a devious plan against the United States by the commies but as the final throws of a regime determined to remain in power at any cost.

Now, to disorganize this article even more, North Korea might be a threat to Japan but it isn't a threat to the United States.
Although this is not good for Japan, they have their own very serious issues with Korea. Our Korean war is to big a topic to go into at this time. Anyways, the point being are they really an enemy if they're several thousand miles away from us and can't really hurt us? Is an isolated country in the middle of nowhere, say in the interior of Africa, that rails against the United States really an enemy? Is Mugabe, for example, someone who really threatens the United States, or even the UK for that matter?

I'd answer that having a person out there thinking bad thoughts about you is tough shit, as they say. You can't police people's thought, certainly not on the international scene. A campaign by America to force the world not to think bad things about it strikes me as being as stupidly pathetic as it comes. "Don't think bad things about me or my Daddy will come and get you!".

That said, what about the case that they all cite, that of Nazi Germany. You can't negotiate with them or you'll be like Chamberlain, appeasing them and acting like if you give a little right now you'll diffuse the problem in the long run. People always forget the context in which that issue of appeasement arose. Nazi Germany on top of being a totalitarian dictatorship was an avowedly expansionist power. By the time Chamberlain came into the picture it had already incorporated Austria into itself and was wanting Czechoslovakia. Or at least what is now the Czech Republic. Chamberlain caved on Czechoslovakia in order to hopefully stave off further expansion, which benefitted neither the Czechs and Slovaks nor the rest of Europe, as Hitler betrayed the terms and seized the entire country, then invaded Poland, starting World War II. Nazi Germany, the most evil force that couldn't be reckoned with, was not an isolated, terrible, country that was content to go about its own business in private. It wanted Europe. And it got most of it. At its height Nazi Germany and the German sphere of influence included Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Norway, with Switzerland and Sweden being neutral and Finland eventually allying itself to the fascist cause. Then it marched east, conquering Greece and the western Ukraine. This was a monolith.

Not only that but the Holocaust was not an intra-German thing, as terrible as that would have been. The Germans expanded the Holocaust to every country that they either occupied or controlled through puppet governments. They wanted not only all the Jews in Germany but the entire Jewish population of Europe, from east to west and north to south murdered. And they implemented it. The Holocaust and the death camps were trans-Europe. None of this even remotely resembles what's going on in the world today.

There's absolutely no parallel between this scenario of German expansion and the status of Iran and North Korea today. None. Nothing.

So there's no need to invoke the specter of appeasement if we're really being specific. Appeasement in this sense takes on a metaphorical form that sounds impressive because of World War II but that really means concern about Iran having the potential one of these days to make a nuclear weapon. It isn't the same thing. There's not the immediate urgency that World War II presented; in fact, much of the sense of urgency that exists in the U.S. was manufactured by the U.S. government for its own purposes, and continues to be manufactured. Take the paranoia of the U.S. out of the picture and you see a much more peaceful view of the world.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Production economics vs. exchange

There are fundamental problems with how economics is conceptualized in the mainstream. Critics of mainstream economics have pointed to a focus on production as opposed to on exchange as a potential way to correct this. But focussing on production is so obscure that it could help to give concrete examples of what is meant by it.

Say you go into a market, a literal street market, and you see something that you want. You tell the proprietor that "I want this" and replies "What have you got to trade for it", you say "Not much", "Sorry!". In order to participate in a market you have to have some sort of capital that allows you to trade what you have for what someone else has that you want. And there starts our story. You gather wood and a forest and bring it into the market. Now you have something to trade, now you have capital. Then, someone takes the wood you sold and makes little statues out of it, goes back to the market and sells them. He just produced more capital that he used for exchange.

Now let's suppose this: inside his house he has someone chained to the floor that he forces to make the little statues, who has no possessions and only gets food. The man buys the wood, goes home, has his slave carve the statues, goes back out, and sells them. There's no difference between the two actions as far as the market place goes. But between making statues yourself and having a slave make statues for you there's a wide difference in conditions of production to say the least.

Capital is created by firms in wildly different conditions and then traded between them. Some of the trade indicates what's popular and should be increased and some of it indicates what's less popular and should be reduced, but the cycle from production, to the exchange of pieces of capital between firms, to the use of that capital to spur new production is one moment, as Marx made the case for in the Introduction to the Grundrisse. The market is blind to the conditions of production.

Let's look at a hypothetical economy where there are a great number of arrangements between workers and owners. In some businesses the workers are the owners, in some the workers are forced to accept very bad arrangements for a number of reasons that give them not a lot of money. In others work is rewarded with a good, although not optimal, wage. Yet in others full on chattel slavery is present. All of these firms produce for exchange. Now, I've been talking about capital being redistributed between firms, but the big point of much economics is production for the consumer. Firms produce, and employees of those firms consume or buy. So say you're an employee of the firm that has a really bad arrangement, although not full on slavery. You and the companies meet in our hypothetical marketplace. Do you have as much power as they do? Are you able to act as an equal partner in this exchange or is your ability to do that limited by the process of production that you're part of at work? On the other hand, the people who own their own business are able to participate much more equally. The slave doesn't participate at all.

The widely different conditions of production, which don't automatically lead in a competitive economy to the best people winning or the ideal situation coming to pass, undermine whatever power the consumer has in the economy and gives the companies unprecedented power over them. The playing out of the inequality leads to the formation of the class in modern society.

Fordism and Post-Fordism Antonio Gramsci

It's entertaining to me, a person who is from Detroit, to read Gramsci talking about a Fordist model of production and social organization. The big innovation that Gramsci put forward had to do with pointing out that Ford ran his communities like little dictatorships. Surveillance in the original plan extended into the places where the Ford workers lived, and no unions were permitted. So that is Fordism as Gramsci defines it....it's a pity that decades of workers' struggle against Ford rendered the whole concept obsolete. I can only guess at what graduate students studying the concept of a 'Post Fordist' social system, which I take is kind of like a Post-Industrial system, think actually happened in the '30s and '40s. My advice is that they should look up Walter Reuther instead of taking processed Gramsci, originally written in a prison cell, as gospel history.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Baked Alaska

Here's a revealing section of an interview with Palin done by Katie Couric. Actually, Palin isn't baked so she really has no excuse. (Hat tip towards This Modern World

Stalin and the Red Scare

There were a series of events that provided grist for the mill of rabid anti-communism that happened post World War II. Namely, the betrayal of the concept of Popular Front governments in zones of Soviet occupation. The Popular Front was a tactic of coalition between Communist, Socialist, and Liberal forces formulated for fighting fascism while also providing a possible alternate route to a socialist society. The ground rules of participation in a Popular Front coalition included being agreed on a socialist direction of movement in politics. What it offered was non-dictatorial, multi-party reforms based on wide spread participation. All the countries of post-war Europe that either had large Communist components in the Resistance or who were occupied by Soviet forces saw a push towards establishing a new society based on these principles. But all things weren't equal.

While France and Italy, and Yugoslavia, had substantial Partisan forces backed by the Communists who played very large roles in the liberation from fascism, some of the other countries, like Romania, had either no or almost no Communist party apparatus either before occupation by the fascists, during the occupation, or after. Yet officially the Popular Front form of government was promoted there as well. What happened next is that Stalin and the Soviets manipulated the electoral and labor systems in the countries they occupied to produce artificial Revolutions where supposedly the people rose up in places like Czechoslovakia and Hungary and demanded a transition to a full Communist government. The Soviets, obligingly, responded by putting such governments in place. Although the amount of support for socialism and for a workers' form of government in these countries after the war has been underestimated, the fundamental dishonesty in the establishment of these Soviet controlled governments remains intact. This was seen and commented on by people around the world, particularly in the United States.

The idea that Communists were secretly infiltrating American society, posing as agents of benevolent change but having a hidden agenda of authoritarian dictatorship was officially established because of these events. Unofficially of course this fear and paranoia about radical groups in the United States had been present in many forms for decades, and had lead to a near fascist crackdown on all radical leftists following World War I and the Russian Revolution. The ultimate reason for the duplicity of the Soviets in Eastern Europe wasn't socialism but Stalin.

Before the Nazis took power in Germany Stalin was riding high in both the international scene and in his own country. What was being promoted outside of Russia by the Communist parties was a form of Communism that was highly purist and uncompromising. Germany was where the most funds were directed to effect revolution, partly because it was where the Marxist movement had really started and because it was the place designated as most ripe for the Revolution. During the 1920s and 1930s the Communists gained popularity and power there--but along the way completely underestimated the actual threat of fascism coming to power. Instead, the attitude they affected seems to have been one of complete condescension towards all other left groups, up to and including the Social Democrats. At one point the Social Democratic Party proposed an alliance against the Nazis and the Communist Party of Germany responded with a set of demands that would basically have turned the Social Democrats into Communists, something so absurd that it was immediately rejected. There was no need for compromise because the Soviet Union was on the wave of the future. After 1933 it was a different story.

With the loss of Germany the Soviet Union rethought its position to world revolution, conceding that the defeat of fascism, a necessary step on the way to socialism, could be effected through a coalition of like minded forces. Not just anyone, or any party, but parties and groups that supported the basic thrust of progressive movement against conservative reaction. So, the Popular Front concept was born. After the war, Stalin sought to dismantle the Popular Front concept and to replace it with the same fundamentalist interpretation of socialism and of socialist organizing that predated the rise of Nazism in Germany. In the process, the idea of radical socialism as a possible and positive force in societies took a beating, and the Cold War doctrine of Communist subversion was born.

It's tempting to wonder what the confrontation between the capitalist powers and the socialists would have looked like if the Soviets had maintained true to their promises, and if a move against Stalinism in the Soviet Union had succeeded instead of being overthrown. It would have meant a confrontation between two ideologies in a pure form and not in a debased one. It would have been harder to explain away socialism in that case.

*on edit: it's interesting that the removal of Khruschev didn't signal a return to hardcore Stalinism but instead to a kind of holding pattern between it and more reform minded pathways. For a country purporting to be the vanguard of social justice, stasis and careerism isn't exactly the thing to fire up people about the justness and need of your cause. With Brezhnev the Soviet Union as a truly revolutionary force in the world came to an abrupt halt.