Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Well, midnight will mark five years in the Pacific Northwest

I arrived in Olympia at precisely 11:20 on New Years Eve of 2003. I had spent the day going from Austin to Denver to Portland and then up to Seattle because of a stolen wallet that stranded me in Texas.

Note to self about movies

Post about "Night of the Iguana" by Tennessee Williams and John Huston, post about "Boudou Saved from Drowning" by Jean Renoir.

Night of the Iguana. Can't get much better than this. From a play written by Tennessee Williams, directed and co-adapted by John Huston, and starring Richard Burton. About a disgraced (but not defrocked) Episcopalian Minister who winds up directing tours of church people through Mexico, getting to the end of his rope. Not a madcap comedy, not a purely deadly serious drama, but something combining both comedy and serious drama that winds up making a statement about the human condition as well.

Boudou Saved From Drowning. About a 'tramp' who jumps in a river to commit suicide who is saved by a bourgeois bookseller who takes him in. Boudou stays Boudou through it, a character almost out of Alfred Jarry. Anarchic and chaotic.

A note on an interesting thing to research later

The connection between the rulership of Napoleon and 20th century Fascist movements featuring the adulation of a strong, single, dictator.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Obama on the Gazans and Israel

"While visiting Israel in July, President-elect Barack Obama said, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing." " --from the good article Lights Out in Gaza, News Blackout in U.S. by Deena Guzder. Oh Obama, personalizing the tragedy in a way worthy of Sarah Palin. "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters slept at night..."... ad misericordiam...I can almost hear the sound of tiny violins playing. Like there's any realistic comparison between the two.

Some of the least literate cities of 2008

From the Central Connecticut State University study.
Seattle is tied for #1 with Minneapolis (it should be said that Minneapolis' twin St. Paul is #4), but who didn't do so well. Let's see.

Los Angeles makes its showing at #56 out of 71, surely confirming that the idea of a sophisticated Northern California and a less sophisticated Southern California doesn't really hold water. Meanwhile, the home of the happiest place on earth, Anaheim, did even worse at 67 out of 71.

Las Vegas, on the other hand outranked Los Angeles by getting 41st place. Las Vegas also outranked LA in the field of most educated 49 to 50, it ranked 14 in comparison to LA's 59th in number of bookstores per capita, outranked LA in number of libraries and library usage per capita 48 to 62, outranked LA in newspaper circulation per capita 43 to 46, also outranked LA in number of periodicals published per capita 33.5(a tie) to 46.5(another tie), but lost out to Los Angeles in the field of internet usage 38 to 30. I'm highlighting this because, well, Las Vegas is a city where you can walk down the street and see a fake Eiffel Tower, as well as a fake Statue of Liberty, castles, even a roller coaster...and all pretty much next to each other....while Los Angeles is a major metropolitan area with millions and millions of people taking up an enormous chunk of real estate. Yet Las Vegas does better than LA when it comes to all around literacy. Is there something they're not telling us? Are the strippers secretly reading "Being & Time" between acts? Can't say at this point...

New York City strangely enough got #24, putting it one notch above San Diego at #25.

Sadly, the big loser at #71 is El Paso, Texas. Even though it scored higher overall at #59, Fresno was also a consistent ultra-low finisher in the categories.

The devil a lawyer? Somewhat...

People sometimes like to point at Satan and say that he was a lawyer or advocate in talking about defense attorneys. The implication is that lawyers who defend people are people who will twist logic to get their client acquitted. In reality, Satan in the bible was on the other side of the fence. He was perhaps the first prosecuting attorney. If you look at the story of Job it's God who defends Job's faith while Satan is the one who is trying to get him damned to hell. Not quite the same thing.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stalin and state capitalism

There are a few definitions of state capitalism out there, but this is mine. State capitalism as applied to socialist countries is more State corporate capitalism. This is because there's no market. The gist of it is that when you have a group of people at the top who decide the economic and social future for a country and then impose it from the top down in a way that resembles a management structure at a vertically and horizontally integrated company you get something that resembles how corporations do business. Corporations have been said by Noam Chomsky, in a bit of irony, to be proof that planned economies can work since large corporations don't respond to market fluctuations in the same way that small businesses do. So that's that. The lack of worker control in certain authoritarian socialist systems, where self management doesn't really exist and unions are seen as vehicles for the will of the Party adds to the resemblance between these systems and corporate capitalism. But there's one crucial difference that throws a monkey wrench in the works, one that distinguishes the whole thing from real capitalism and that's the point of the whole economic system.

During Stalinist times, and certainly before in the years after the Revolution, the point of the economic planning was the good of the whole society. Profit wasn't a goal pursued in order to enrich a particular class, although there's a later exception to that, but was pursued so that it could be pumped back into society. The working class acted as a dictatorship of the proletariat in official ideology, but they also shared in official ideology power with the peasant farmers. However, it's clear that economic planning on the part of the government and of the Party favored the working class in big cities, and medium sized ones while penalizing peasant farmers through appropriating more of their produce for the cities than would be fair under developed socialism. Among other things, this contributed to a widespread famine caused by forcing peasants onto collective farms at the same time as the higher demands were being made.

The demands on workers and peasants under Stalinism were as extreme as any ultra-authoritarian corporate capitalist set up, with terror used as a weapon against people who didn't perform to perfection. Stalin (supposedly) and Soviet officialdom saw conspiracies everywhere aimed at undermining the Soviet Union, often manifested as economic sabotage.

Socialism and the good of society was then established in Stalin's times through top down corporate management and enforced by extreme terror, including torture, prison, and execution, against people thought to be undermining that goal.
Which brings us to the idea of a New Class.

It's hard to really label Stalinism as having to do with capitalism, state, corporate, or otherwise because in order for there to be capitalism there needs to be one class exploiting the other for its own personal benefit. Some have suggested that the Soviet order of bureaucrats became such a class, having the controls of society at their hands and using them to enrich themselves. While this may have been true in later times, in the Stalin era these excesses on the part of the Party and of bureaucrats was severely kept down by the same threats of violence that were applied to the rest of society. Only after the terror lifted did it become possible for the New Class to assert itself, and after Khruschev and his reforms were stopped by careerists.

So State Capitalism? Sure, but a State Capitalism that didn't mature until the era was over.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The joke that Israel can do no wrong: hundreds of Palestinians dead in Gaza and more on the way

Will IDF forces have to literally bathe in Palestinian blood while eating the raw flesh of their victims for people in the U.S. to realize that this is unacceptable?

Friday, December 26, 2008

A halfway unbiased evaluation of Dianetics

Which I've finished reading today. I had reduced the problems down to three areas and wasn't going to say much more when the last section of the book had to inject some typical cultish recommendations. Dianetics in a nutshell is a technique of therapy where a person is put in what's known as a "Dianetic Reverie", similar to a light hypnotic trance, and is then taken back to various incidents in their past through a combination of free association and careful prodding by the auditor (lay therapist) in an attempt to defuse the power that they have over the person in the present. The incidents are called engrams, or actually engrams are the particular psychological problems generated from an incident. By returning to and attempting to relive the incidents mentally it's thought that the engram becomes less and less powerful and then is completely defused. There are chains of engrams that depend on one another so the auditor has to go back to the start of the chain and try to get the engram underlying all of it, which is called "basic-basic", meaning the basic engram of the basic personality. After basic-basic is located and defused the auditor brings the subject forward and defuses the other engrams until the person is free of big psychological problems.

That, in a nutshell, is how Dianetics is supposed to work. The problem areas that I saw with this have to do with what the sources of engrams are supposed to be: Unconsciousness, Prenatal Experience, Attempted Abortions. They follow each other in a chain.

Unlike psychotherapy, where an event just has to be traumatic to cause problems, Dianetics asserts that a person has to actually have been in a state of literal unconsciousness for an engram to have been produced. Instead of the particular situation of the trauma, like what was said, what people were present, when did it happen, giving its stamp to a problem what happens is that the things that people say when a person is unconscious are supposed to be recorded in the engram. Doctors performing surgery on a person, dentists, people around during an accident when a person is knocked unconscious, these are the people who are supposed to give their stamp to the person's engrams. There are a couple problems here: first is that most people haven't been knocked unconscious enough or have undergone surgery enough for those times to have produced all of their psychological problems. Second, incidents that a person has experienced consciously are remembered as being very traumatic in and of themselves. These two together would suggest that there's something more going on than literal unconsciousness. But in Dianetics there is: prenatal experience.

Prenatal experiences are just that: experiences that a person has while in the womb. If a person could receive lots of engrams before birth it could make up for the lack of engrams produced by unconsciousness after they're born. But the rule of unconsciousness still applies, meaning that prenatal engrams are thought to be generated by the unborn baby being knocked around by something, losing consciousness, and getting imprinted by its environment. Isn't that just the womb though? Not really. The theory is extended so that developing fetuses are thought to be able not only to hear extended conversations between their mothers and their fathers, but understand the words and remember them. Not only that, but according to Dianetics these recordings start happening right after conception, with the book explicitly saying that the fetus doesn't need to have been developed for engrams to be recorded. Still, even giving Dianetics that for the sake of argument, it seems pretty random, this unconsciousness on the part of fetuses. But there are ways around it. Fetuses are thought to be knocked unconscious by the mother bumping herself or falling or doing something before she knows she's pregnant, but also by being hit by their fathers and by having their mothers attempt to abort them.

It appears that the world is experiencing, or has experienced, unknown waves of mothers shoving things into their cervixes in attempts to get rid of their babies, complemented by the mothers screaming that they don't want them, or of fathers shouting something as they hit their wives and knock them down because they refuse to get abortions. Domestic violence plays a big part in generating prenatal engrams, as does things like mothers cheating on their husbands, having their baby be knocked unconscious by their fucking, and receiving engrams from the mother crying about how it's wrong to be having an affair. Hubbard actually paints a picture in one section of a mother going over to her pregnant daughter's house and seeing a collection of bloody wooden dowels in the bathroom, knowing what they've been used for because she used the same technique herself when she was pregnant. Ulcers are caused by fetus' stomachs being poked with coat hangers and dowels. All of it provides lots and lots and lots of engrams that fuck up the person later in their life. Basic-basic, the first engram, the one that the auditor is trying to make contact with and that everything else is based off of, is a prenatal engram.

It's hard what to know to say about an author who includes, oh, maybe fifty pages collectively of hypothetical abortion attempts with domestic violence attached to them. It's less hard to know what to say when they go on to tell people to never, ever, try to confront your parents with the memories that have been dredged up in light hypnotic auditing, because they can't be trusted. Not only that but the auditor himself is told in the book not to be concerned with things making sense or not, except in the case when someone has gone totally, totally, overboard, because value free auditing is more important than chasing a 'plot', which Hubbard says is best left for books.

Without the unconsciousness, the abortions, and the cultishness promoted by Hubbard, which is located in the last pages of Dianetics, and with regular definitions of trauma added, the technique sounds like it could be interesting. Indeed, it's sort of what people do when they're silently meditating on the past and let themselves go but with another person helping out. But with all of it in place I'm sure it leads to manufactured memories implanted by hypnosis like the ones that were placed in children during the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria of the 1980s.

It's hard for me to reconcile all this with John Travolta and Tom Cruise being Scientologists. I'm sure that they're more insightful than to believe in attempted abortions by their mothers.

In any case, Dianetics is a very long and somewhat disturbing read that should really, really, be rewritten to make it get its point across much better, but that as it is isn't totally worth not looking at.

*on edit: in all fairness there are more to engrams than what I indicated. First of all, there's the Reactive Mind and the Analytical Mind, with the Reactive Mind being the one where the Engrams are stored. The Reactive Mind is just that: a mind that operates on survival instinct reactions. Good for animals, who need it. Engrams are originally things in the Reactive Mind that are thought by it to help survival. They come from experiences that are traumatic and are the Reactive Mind's lessons that they take from said experiences. There are overtly contra survival Engrams and there are prosurvival Engrams, the difference being that contrasurvival Engrams are so messed up that they don't contribute to survival at all, even though the Reactive Mind thinks they do, while prosurvival Engrams aren't completely useless. A contrasurvival engram would be something like being afraid of all people with the name of someone who has hurt you. A prosurvival engram would be keeping quiet all the time because someone hurt you when you interrupted them. It may not be bad to be quiet in the same way that being afraid of all people with the same name is bad, but it's still not an optimum behavior. Therapy in Dianetics takes Reactive Mind engrams and brings them to consciousness, whereupon they're integrated into the analytic mind where they can't do harm, thereby giving the analytic mind that much more power over its environment.

*on edit #2: that said, the book Dianetics and the Church of Scientology as it currently is both have cultic aspects to them.

Instant reaction to "Valkyrie"

Very, very, good movie. It shows you what the stakes are in history and why people today should not let themselves be distracted by television and bread and circuses. Although we don't live in as dramatic times, history still exists and all of us contribute to it one way or another by our inaction and our action, and the people who have mocked folks with political concerns will eventually find themselves on the wrong side of history as judged by the future.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ah, here's some Holiday Cheer: "A Tribute to Father Jack"

from YouTube:

We are great artists...a minor postering campaign with slightly funny consequences

Not to be shy or subtle about it, there's a group of artists in Seattle who have started a group with the name "We are fucking great artists", or something like "We are fabulous artists", abbreviated WAFA. They put up posters on Capitol Hill a month or two ago advertising a show, which I didn't go to. However, I did notice that one of their posters tried to spell WAFA in cyrillic. Since there really isn't a "W" sound in Russian they'd have had to use the letter "B", which stands for "V". Instead, they used "ш", which means "Sh". Also, in cyrillic "F" is "Ф", which is unacceptable too, so they used the letter for "G", "Г". In other words, шага, which phonetically translates out into "Shaga".

Holiday Special

Unfortunately all of the YouTube videos of Father Ted have had their embedding disabled, particularly the ones with Father Jack...so there won't be a holiday special today friends, although I'll have a special holiday graphic tomorrow that'll pay tribute to the true spirit of Christmas.

Until then you'll just have to imagine Father Jack in his chair. Mrs. Doyle brings Father Jack a cup of tea. "Now what do you say to a nice hot cup of tea?" "Feck off cup!". Ha ha ha, didn't even have to actually see the video to picture that one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Segregation in the South not an argument against decentralized democracy

Which includes the idea of States' Rights. The reasoning goes that if a decentralized, and more direct, democratic state of things were to be implemented that there wouldn't be anyway to stop segregation, and possibly slavery as well. However, this idea doesn't hold water for the reason that our legal system is based on equality before the law. Presumably, in a situation with more States' Rights there would still be the Bill of Rights, something representing fundamental rights that couldn't be voted out. If there are basic rights, if they exist, and they don't establish some sort of feudalistic stratified system, then the idea of separate but equal has no validity. If people have freedom of speech, then everyone has freedom of speech, if there are basic rights that people as humans have there can't be separate institutions set up for different classes of people that those rights are manifested through. Universal rights necessarily exclude the idea of a two tiered legal and social system. Secession provides a slightly different idea.

I'm not overly enamored with the original Republican justification for the Civil War, which is that unity had to be preserved and basic rights imposed by force. What people who feel that approving of secession is horrible don't take into account is that no matter whether a state secedes from the union or not the same problems still exist regarding slavery. Secession wouldn't have been a panacea for pro-slavery people. Let's say that they did secede, they won the Civil War, and formed their own separate country. The same questions about equality under the law and about how it would be possible to own another person would exist, and eventually it would have lead to a situation where slavery was either overthrown or phased out, this time without any sort of out like that of the "Lost Cause", where the North is thought to be the enemy that imposed freeing the slaves on the South. Nope, this time the overthrow of slavery would have been home made, or else it would have been influenced by the South becoming an international pariah state and finding life in international trade hard to conduct. As time went by the options would either to have been to modernize or to go backwards farther towards outright feudalism, which would have done the job of bringing out the truth of their society to the outside world.

Fascism and 9/11

A good example of economic and social causes for fascism is how people responded to 9/11. I thought that the reaction on the part of Americans to the 9/11 events was made possible by the hollowing out of the economy over the decade that preceded 9/11. Alienation was increasing, times were getting harder, and the destruction of the twin towers was the trigger that transformed these latent problems into ugly, nationalistic, fury. The absolute hatred of both arabs and people questioning the reasons for 9/11 was scapegoating by people who were unsure of themselves before 9/11, people who had a general disconnect from public life, had suspicions about enemies responsible for their state....which talk radio pegged on liberals. The people responsible were now liberals, arabs, Muslims, Saddam Hussein, traitrous leftists. The hate channeled and enflamed by the Bush administration and conservative talk radio was based on long standing feelings of exclusion by working people and by middle class people who didn't obviously fit into either a liberal or conservative political slot.

This was the absolute worst way to address these concerns. Instead of blaming the hollowing out of America on corporations, it became the product of decadent liberals. Instead of pointing to a political system bought for and paid for by the rich they attacked liberals preaching tolerance and diversity, which were made into an all encompassing dogma pushed by elites that working people had to swallow against their will. That just about no one was actually doing anything near what they were accused of made no difference.

I think it was based on economics. White people who are working class have felt left out for a long time, for decades, because of the lack of attention to economic concerns. The reaction that happened after 9/11 was based on this resentment. Now, eight years after Bush became President, we have gotten over reactionary solutions for economic concerns. We now have an incoming President who is Progressive and who has given progressive solutions to these economic concerns.

Ultimately, it was all based on Globalization and global economics. Now, surprise surprise, globalization is dead, America has defaulted, and there's a mildly social democratic person getting into office. The fury of resentment may have spent itself, or it may not of; only time will tell.

*on edit: although I would call this possibly the worst written article I've produced, I was writing it before collapsing to sleep, I think it hits the basic points pretty well.

There seems to have been two things going on in the reaction to 9/11: first, the mobilization of resentment on the part of the working class and some of their middle class allies by right wing talk radio, television, and by the Bush administration itself; second was something that I'd call the pod people effect, in reference to the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" which dealt with the descent of the U.S. into McCarthyism in metaphorical terms. The folks who suddenly and inexplicably went from being seemingly reasonable people to folks who endorsed torture, domestic spying, and war against both Afghanistan and Iraq, appear to have been unfortunate products of our political culture, which talked high about freedom and civil rights but in reality didn't believe in them at all. With 9/11 the emptiness of that rhetoric was exposed on the part of these folks, proving that in a pinch, when it really counted, there are millions of middle class people who would support fascism in the United States.

I have little insight on why elements of the middle class did this, except that it reveals the basic hypocrisy of bourgeois society.

The big bourgeois and capitalist elites of the U.S., at least those sophisticated, seem to have either taken a mercenary position of supporting the reaction while not really believing in it or being against it partially as something that lower class people believed in and therefore declasse. Alternately, the opposition to the reaction on the part of some members of the upper classes could be explained by the fact that, in Chomsky's explanation, they were actually given decent educations about politics that allowed them to more easily evaluate things from a semi-realistic point of view, leading to more dissent against frankly insane policies. Chomsky makes the case that elites are much better educated than average Americans because they're the people who will have to run the country, therefore making heavy indoctrination counterproductive.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whole Totalitarianism thing.

The model that I developed several years ago for the rise of Fascism in Europe seems to hold pretty well; basically it points to both economic and psychological factors as mattering; but I need to look more into the rise of Stalin in order to reaffirm that Stalin's Russia had similarities to my model of Nazi Germany. I believe there are commonalities but I underestimated how different the two societies' were from each other.

Fascism appealed and appeals to people partially because what it promises them is a kind of freedom from alienation and a sense of social integration. That this sense of social integration and freedom comes at the expense of scapegoats does not diminish the basic appeal it has for people. In fact, while people who see fascism as just racism or as just anti-Communism or anti-liberalism miss the point, I feel. The question is what do people who support these groups feel they're gaining by doing all of this?
Going back to an idealized past, a golden age, which features none of the offending group is a theme that tells a lot about the whole thing.

But there's no reason that socialism, anarchism, radical socialism, can't also address feelings of alienation and of social dislocation, doing it without demonizing groups or praising the nation. Fascism is fundamentally disconnected from an economic reading of society. Socialism that has this economic analysis and that augments it with what might be termed cultural concerns, in the sense of anomie, and psychological concerns could beat fascism hands down. In fact, the thing that probably prevented the Communists from winning in pre-Nazi Germany was their complete mechanical materialism and their insistence on atheism.
It doesn't have to be that way. Anomie, social anomie, in relation to culture refers to the vacuum of content in a world run by the mass media and corporate capitalism, where commercialism has taken over everything. With so much based on trying to get people to buy stuff and to pay attention to stuff in order to get them to buy stuff later the public sphere becomes impoverished. Meaning itself goes down the drain, leading to intense feelings of alienation in the culture. Overcoming that alienation by presenting authentic alternatives to commercialism, authentic alternatives that present ideas about how to pursue an interesting and fulfilling life would be a way to stop people from being recruited into groups of people who hate foreigners, other races, liberals, leftists...etc... I think it always has to be anchored in the economic, though, and not be allowed to float freely as its own sort of abstract idea over things.

Snow and ice have paralyzed greater Seattle but since I live in the city I'm having no problems at all

Which shows you the value of having a high urban density. Snow plus lots of ice plus many steep hills have ground much of Seattle to a halt, but I just walked down to my coffee shop, had some coffee and read, then walked over to a used book store and browsed for a while, then went to my bank's ATM to make sure I had money, then ambled over to my grocery store getting a few things before heading back home. All the while I was doing this I was taking in the snow and observing the slice of life that was happening in front of me...because other people were out living life as well. I'm confident that if I really needed to get someplace that I could take a bus, since it's not safe to drive my car. If I lived in a suburb where I had to drive to everything I would be fucked. Completely. But I'm having a quiet Sunday.

People are apparently cleaning out the shelves of their local supermarkets because it was announced that there'd be dangerous conditions for TWENTY FOUR HOURS! MY LORD! I CAN"T BELIEVE IT! TWENTY FOUR HOURS! I'M GONNA STARVE TO DEATH!

In other news my on site apartment manager has flown the coop. She's about twenty one and is the daughter of the formal apartment manager. Nice vote of confidence, there. She's probably gone home to mommy. This is a person who didn't do anything about one of our two washing machines being broken for months because she took her laundry home to be washed instead of doing it onsite. Nice ethics there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tasmanians not knowing how to make fire?

Since finding out what the real deal was with a tribe in Papua New Guinea that didn't know how to make fire I have to question that, along with the stories of other tribes who don't know how to make fire. With Papua New Guinea it turns out the truth was that although they didn't know how to make new fire they had a sacred flame that had been generated by naturally occurring phenomenon that was kept burning and that they used to light their fires with. It turns out that the notion of a sacred flame by which all the other flames in the territory are lit was a theme in several major cultures, those of the ancient Egyptians and the pre-Christian Irish. There was a sacred flame burning in a special temple that would serve as the sacred fire source for flames all over Ireland, and the sacred flames of Egypt were ceremonially replenished from the central sacred fire every year. Makes you wonder if the source of these traditions was the kind of situation that the tribe in Papua New Guinea and maybe the Tasmanians found themselves in, something that had been carried on even though both cultures worked metal and so knew how to make fires.

Why mtDNA and Y chromosomes don't necessarily say much about who your ancestors were

Genetic testing is getting to be a big thing now, if underground, with people from the U.S. looking for answers as to their ultimate ethnic origins in testing that looks at the mitochondrial DNA inherited from mothers and Y chromosomes inherited from fathers. But the holy grail of sorting all this out isn't what it appears to be. The theory is that since mitochondrial DNA doesn't change you can trace it back to your mother's mother's mother, ad infinitum, finding where you're from, and that Y chromosomes in men do the same thing, going from father to father to father. All of the genes are passed on like this, but there's no guarantee that the genes you ultimately find will belong to the ethnic group that you recognize you're a part of, if you recognize one.

The reason is really simple. Say way back one population absorbed another one. Men of one group married women of the other, and maybe it happened in reverse, but the culture of the first group became the culture for the second group as well. Now you have mitochondrial DNA from two groups present in a single ethnic group today. Now, imagine that this new group migrated west and absorbed yet another group, but this time staying put. Within the mitochondrial DNA you would have strains from all three of these people, and you'd have Y chromosomes from all three of them.

So far so good. But let's say further that the group that was just absorbed has relatives that live all around it that weren't absorbed. If you do mtDNA testing it's likely that you will find that you're related to these people, even though your parents and parents parents thought of themselves as belonging to the group that assimilated them.

And, in point of fact, they are still members of that ethnic group, because of the unreliability of matching mitochondrial DNA exactly with ethnic origin. It's because they grew up with or had ancestors who belonged to this culture that they're part of it, not because a DNA test proved it.

So mtDNA tests and Y chromosome tests may not tell you what you want to know: they might just tell you who married into your family as either a mother or a father hundreds of years ago.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two artists who I've obsessed about and tried to get into the headspace of: Bob Dylan and David Bowie

Dylan came first. He was my traveling companion all during the Florida years.

I remember when I was living in the Florida Keys. I lived on Big Pine Key, which is the next major Key south of Marathon, and Marathon is the place where all of the nearest stores beyond grocery stores are. During the long drive from Big Pine to Marathon I started listening to "Desire", playing a game with myself of memorizing "Isis" as I went over all of the bridges, as well as "Hurricane". But "Isis" in particular, because it was new. Then the "Rolling Thunder Revue" CDs were issued when I was living in Gainesville, and listening to them was an absolute revelation. Like an explosion going off in my head. I don't think that I had ever purposely just sat in front of a stereo and listened to an album over and over and over again, doing nothing except focussing on the music....and being in awe of it. And being totally sober at the same time. Rolling Thunder Review did that for me. After that I began to listen to more and more and more and more Dylan, focussing on the CDs that hadn't in fact gotten all the attention. I only bought a copy of "Highway 61 Revisited" long after I'd gotten more obscure stuff, and I never bought a copy of Blonde on Blonde, which I'd listened to when I was a teenager. Instead....Blood on the Tracks.....John Wesley Harding...."Love and Theft"....Bootleg series 1-3....even Street Legal and Slow Train Coming....Oh Mercy!....World Gone Wrong.... I didn't listen to the Basement Tapes unil late in the game either because they were trendy. Rolling Thunder Revue became my theme music for my first car trip to Texas, to Austin to be exact. Bootleg Series 1-3, which collected an enormous number of rarities (including a whole alternate version of Blood on the Tracks) became the listening theme music for my second venture out to Texas by car.

God, brings back memories. Only got into Bowie up here, partly I'm sure because I lived in Olympia for over three years.

To wrap up, Rolling Thunder Revue....I remember Ron Jacobs writing a story about it on CounterPunch where he described the tour as a tour of righteousness bent on redeeming a world that had fallen because of the Vietnam War and injustice. I heartily agree with that. It's like an elemental force coming over America.

Another question: why did bands fitting into Oi! in England adopt racist lyrics and ally to the Natoinal Front skinheads?

And I realize that this is by no means all of them. Yet, it's a big enough group that it makes me wonder. I mean, these folks were of course working class punks. Punk, even when it wasn't overtly political, was certainly (and is certainly still) anti-authoritarian. How did that get twisted into an admiration of the Far Right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Problems of Leninism" by Josef Stalin: an example of Soviet super censorship

"Problems of Leninism" is an interesting book because it was written before Stalin assumed complete and total power, and as such it actually presents arguments for his side of things instead of just a kind of decorticated boiler plate like his later writings feature. This is historically interesting. But upon getting a copy of it that was printed in the Soviet Union I noticed that there were serious differences between the "Problems of Leninism" that I'd read part of on the web on the From Marx to Mao website and the book I held in my hand. For one thing, the copy on "Marx 2 Mao" is hundreds and hundreds of pages long; this one was only two hundred pages in larger than normal type. There were large parts missing. Then, looking over it and reading sections that I read online I had the feeling that I was reading something different entirely.

Well, I looked on the web and it turns out that there are significant differences between their copy, which is from a first edition, and the copy that the Soviet Union issued, probably in the '50s although it's undated. Besides being only one section of the book, the "Problems of Leninism" from the Soviet Union is so censored and redacted that it doesn't even make much sense. To give an example of what I mean, the section "The Permanent Revolution", which was addressed to Trotsky, has been shrunk from pages and pages to three pages, and more amazingly Trotsky's name never appears in the Soviet edition of it....even though the Permanent Revolution is one of the main features of Trotskyism both then and now! The original has quotes from Trotsky and Stalin refuting them. In the redacted version the only quotes are from Lenin, and the idea of a "Permanent Revolution" is laid on people like Martov, a Menshevik, and the members of the "Two and a half international", which was a group of people who didn't agree with either the Second International of Social Democracy or the Third International, but who still wanted a radical revolution. These people were based in Austria and had nothing to do with events that went on in Russia. Yet they're the people that the section on the "Permanent Revolution" is putatively responding to.

The rest of the sections seem to be similarly destroyed, although I haven't correlated them with the online edition.

It appears that late Stalinist Soviet society was so pro-Stalin that even Stalin's own works were edited into irrelevance in order to not offend the official censors appointed by people who Stalin in turn appointed.

*on edit: looking over it, it turns out that it's not as bad as I thought. The book labeled "Problems of Leninism" is actually the short work "Concerning Questions of Leninism" from "Problems of Leninism". In fact, the chapter on the Permanent Revolution is quite short in the original and Trotsky isn't mentioned by name. On top of that, Trotsky's name is mentioned in the book, albeit in a different section.

Celebrating nine years on the road

Today is the official anniversary of me dropping out from society. Nine years ago I left the Midwest and moved to the Florida Keys, basically saying "Fuck you guys, I'm going to live in Paradise", saying it in particular to college administrators and bureaucracy. I had become on of the kids that 'hung around the block' as it were during early high school before deciding to come back and actually finish my education and go to college, and the wall of bureaucracy that I faced in dealing with problems was something that tried my patience beyond what I could tolerate. So the opportunity arose to move to the Florida Keys and I sent a big middle finger to all of them by choosing to go there rather than put up with their bullshit.

Therein followed several moves around Florida and the eventual move to the Pacific Northwest, with about a year and a half of extensive traveling around the U.S. before the big move to the West Coast. In the process I earned a Bachelor's Degree, focussed on Politics and Political Economy. Over time I've found ways to get more and more integrated with society again without selling out, which is a good thing.

It's almost unbelievable that I've been on the West Coast for almost five years, give or take a few months that I spent back in Florida. But such a move entails more difficulties than moving to a different area in Florida, for example. I feel that things are stabilizing up here and I hope to stay for a while.

These years have been quite amazing, have produced more self development and enrichment than all of the years before it combined. And over six of those years have been documented on this blog, although of course not every little thing has been recorded since it's not really possible to stenograph every little thing that goes on with you, although people try. The best years of the blog, in my opinion, were those in Florida and in the Northwest up to the re-election of Bush in 2004. That had a crushing blow to the optimism that informed much of the blog before then. I'm not saying that valuable stuff wasn't posted in the four years since the election, but the pace of really interesting articles vs. short comments on current news slowed way down. I feel that Obama's election may be starting to fuel a renaissance of sorts with the articles I post on here.

In any case, these very crazy years have been a valuable gift that I can never repay.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John Walsh's son's murder closed--but what about the rest of us?

Losing a child through a murder very gruesome that followed an abduction must be an extremely hard thing to go through, yet John Walsh took his personal hurt and grief and inflicted it on the rest of society through his series "America's Most Wanted" and through his activism. These two paragraphs from an article about the case being closed says a lot of it:

"What it also did, said Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist Richard Moran, is make children and adults alike exponentially more afraid.

"He ended up really producing a generation of cautious and afraid kids who view all adults and strangers as a threat to them and it made parents extremely paranoid about the safety of their children," Moran said."

This paranoia fed right into the Reagan administration's demonization of liberals as people who let vicious criminals who go free because of supposed too much tolerance. It fed into the literal demonization of people through allegations of Satanic Ritual Abuse, which destroyed hundreds of lives through accusations made by manipulative psychiatrists about a supposed Satanic Conspiracy that never existed. It strengthened the Christian Right by making the idea of a tangible, irrational, Evil stalking the land that can't be reasoned with but only fought by the righteous a mainstream one.

While you may have suffered, John Walsh, you have changed the fabric of American society for the worse through your response to your suffering as an actor and as a public figure who can command respect. And get attention.

Shoe attacker now has broken arm, ribs...but they fucked with the wrong person this time.

Full story Here. The reason why they've fucked with the wrong person is that this guy wasn't just a journalist but a TV personality. The media seems to think that Iraqis are ignorant spear chuckers who don't pay attention to things like television, but when a guy who you see on TV gets his arm and his ribs broken you pay attention.

Now that a UN human rights investigator has been expelled from Israel can we invade them?

I mean, they've now done something comparable to what the U.S. accused Saddam Hussein of doing. What would people say if Hussein had expelled people investigating atrocities to the Kurds? The person in question is Richard Falk, the person who supplied Christopher Hedges with the graphic description of life in the Gaza strip in the article cited below. It's this article that most likely got him expelled from Israel. They expelled him because of supposed anti-Israel sentiment, which would go with anti-Iraqi sentiment over Kurdish conditions as being one of the most hypocritical stands you can take.

It puts Israel up there with Serbia, where it belongs, an international leper state.

*on edit: predictably, the New York Times has produced a hysterical article that fudges the facts to the point of being not only misleading but outright lying. It says that Richard Falk compared the treatment of Palestinians to Nazi atrocities, not specifying any further. The implication is that he said that Israel is implementing death camps or concentration camps for Palestinians, which isn't what he said. He said, in fact, that the treatment of people in Gaza was beginning to resemble the Warsaw Ghetto, which although a Nazi atrocity is not what people automatically think of when they hear the term. The article also said that he questioned the official story on 9/11, it says it right after the Nazi atrocity jibe, implying that he believes that Israelis or Jews did 9/11.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Obligatory post about the Electoral College

Because they met today to certify Obama's victory. The idea of an electoral college goes back to feudalistic days in Europe, actually a little later but let's not get off the track, when the Holy Roman Empire still existed. It wasn't an absolute monarchy but was instead a federal system made up of different principalities and kingdoms. A prince could inherit the right to vote in the Holy Roman Empire, to elect an Emperor as well as sometimes to conduct empire wide business. The electors, exemplified by the Prince or Princeps, the Latin root that gives us Principle in the sense of primary, were people who were recognized as being able to exercise primary authority as full people, full personalities, and therefore able to make decisions that would impact the highest reaches of government. The name and possibly the system was adopted by the founding fathers, with the idea of Electors in good standing in their communities meeting to certify the results of an election no matter if the election was direct or indirect. In the past, in the first years of the Constitutional order and probably after, in some states there wasn't even voting on the part of white property owning males. Instead, the Electors talked with the other people in the State government and determined who'd be the winner. But times have changed, and our imperial heritage is now largely symbolic.

Excellent article by Christopher Hedges on Palestine.

Here. Excerpts:

"The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza "a crime against humanity." Falk, who is Jewish, has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as "a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention." He has asked for "the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation, and determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law."

....

"It is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that each day poses the entire 1.5 million Gazans to an unspeakable ordeal, to a struggle to survive in terms of their health," Falk said when I reached him by phone in California shortly before he left for Israel. "This is an increasingly precarious condition. A recent study reports that 46 percent of all Gazan children suffer from acute anemia. There are reports that the sonic booms associated with Israeli overflights have caused widespread deafness, especially among children. Gazan children need thousands of hearing aids. Malnutrition is extremely high in a number of different dimensions and affects 75 percent of Gazans. There are widespread mental disorders, especially among young people without the will to live. Over 50 percent of Gazan children under the age of 12 have been found to have no will to live."

Gaza now spends 12 hours a day without power, which can be a death sentence to the severely ill in hospitals. There are few drugs and little medicine, including no cancer or cystic fibrosis medication. Hospitals have generators but often lack fuel. Medical equipment, including one of Gaza's three CT scanners, has been destroyed by power surges and fluctuations. Medical staff cannot control the temperature of incubators for newborns. And Israel has revoked most exit visas, meaning some of those who need specialized care, including cancer patients and those in need of kidney dialysis, have died. Of the 230 Gazans estimated to have died last year because they were denied proper medical care, several spent their final hours at Israeli crossing points where they were refused entry into Israel. The statistics gathered on children-half of Gaza's population is under the age of 17-are increasingly grim. About 45 percent of children in Gaza have iron deficiency from a lack of fruit and vegetables, and 18 percent have stunted growth.

"It is macabre," Falk said. "I don't know of anything that exactly fits this situation. People have been referring to the Warsaw ghetto as the nearest analog in modern times.""

All of this, it should be noted, exists while at the same time there are ads after ad promoting "Aliyeh" or immigration to Israel, plus summer tours, study abroad opportunities, you name it, for Jewish youth on Ha'aretz and other Israeli news sites. It's important to know what your Westernized middle eastern experience is based on.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

"L'Amfiparnaso" a Commedia Dell'Arte play on DVD

Speaking of things to impress people....Written in 1593, the play is based on a tradition going back an indefinite period of time before the Renaissance that has survived continuously up to the present day. The type of play is based around stock characters who interact with each other through common life dilemmas---or uncommon life dilemmas based on the amplification of those that are more common.

There are several crucial differences between this play and modern drama, the first being that the characters themselves don't speak but the words are instead sung by a chorus in vocal harmony while the actors pantomime the actions. Second, the scenes are very short and instead of being broken down in the way scenes are in modern theater they each encapsulate a specific incident. These incidents are presented in a way that makes them almost an extension of the idea of a tableaux vivant, that is to say as scenes where the importance of them isn't linked specifically to their function as the actions of characters in the play but is instead focussed on how the incident represents a universal slice of life. This means that although there is a story communicated by the succession of scenes each scene stands on its own as a commentary or dramatization of some aspect of the human condition, whether that aspect is one connected to love, or to the buffoonery of certain stereotypes of people.

L'Amfiparnaso is presented with actor Simon Cowell giving a modern english introduction to each scene (in rhyme), then with half of the scenes being staged on a stage by characters wearing masks and half of the scenes, the more serious ones, being staged outside, with no audience, and without masks, but with heavy cinematic techniques designed to amplify the meaning. All of it is sung in the original Venetian dialect with optional subtitles in English, French, and German.

The main plot, as much as their is one, has to do with a woman who thinks that her lover has committed suicide, and the resolution of what follows from it. Along the way there's a proposition made to a woman of easy virtue, another marriage arranged, some scenes that stand alone with no real connection to the plot and several scenes that have something to do with the plot but are used to dramatize more life situations and dilemmas.

The effect is spectacular.

Completely unique, completely stunning, it's a stage of theater that's almost unknown in America but that will bring up your emotions and amaze you.

BBC: 46% of men have lied on what they've read to potential partners

This was too good to pass up without comment. Technically, the figure also includes "friends", but I think it's a safe bet to say that the guys lying about what they read aren't doing it to impress dudes that they talk to at bars or at work. The original story is Here. Hat tip to The eXile for the link. Now for some excerpts:

"Men were most likely to do this to appear intellectual or romantic, found the poll of 1,500 people by Populus for the National Year of Reading campaign.
...

Women said men should have read Nelson Mandela's biography or Shakespeare.

...

About four in 10 of the 1,500 said they had lied about what they had read to impress friends or potential partners - 46% of men and 33% of women.

....

One in five adults said they would read their chosen material whilst waiting for their date to arrive in the hope of making a good first impression."

They also said that among teenagers the figure rose to 74%, but we all know that teenagers will say anything to get laid so that's no surprise.

The whole reading something when the date arrives thing is like a Father Ted episode. I'm sure that every girl wants a guy who's so ham handed about trying to impress her that he not only doesn't read the books he says he reads but also fakes reading the books when she arrives. No better way to make an impression than to be called out on your bullshit when you have the book right in front of you.

The article ends by a spokesperson for the campaign for reading talking about how impressive it was that beauty wasn't the only criteria people were using. Umm...yeah. Keep that thought. The reality is that the guys who do this don't give a fuck about intellectual issues or about reading but care about beauty a whole lot and want to trick women into thinking that they're literate in order to get laid.

46%

I wonder, on the other hand, how much of the 54% that's left just doesn't give a fuck and doesn't even try to pretend that they read and how many people actually do read and so don't have to pretend.

*on edit: it seems likely, looking over it, that the one in five statistic probably doesn't literally mean that they had the book out when the person arrived but that they were reading the book that they'd later talk about a half hour before the date, which is almost as bad as using it as a prop.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Racism in the Pacific Northwest--by liberal Seattleites

Seattle, the utopia, well not as utopistic as Portland bills itself but still considered a pretty damn good place to live. And it is if you realize that it has some major flaws. One of them, partially due to its overwhelming whiteness, is racism and prejudice by people who are nominally against it.

People have faulted liberals up here for being very into their causes and yet not actually living by or associating with minorities, and while that may be true it's unfortunately something that's common among people as a whole across the U.S., and so isn't something particular to the Northwest or the West Coast. It also isn't something that would really merit comment by me. Instead, it's the presence of active racism against minorities by these same liberals that gives them the label of hypocrite.

There's a great example of this false tolerance that came out of the very trendy neighborhood known as Ballard in Seattle. Ballard has lots of coffee shops, cool stores, kind of a bohemian feel although not as much as either Capitol Hill or Fremont. It's also home to a large Scandinavian population, large enough that there's a Nordic Heritage museum there. Predictably, it's really white too. People sometimes talk about the 'safety' of Ballard, which is code for white. Anyways, in either 2004 or early 2005 a professional photographer was taking pictures of the Ballard Locks, which connect Lake Union to Puget Sound proper, when he was confronted by police and arrested on the suspicion of domestic terrorism. He also happened to have heavy features and darker skin, so that although not of Middle Eastern descent he was mistaken for an Arab, therefore a Muslim, therefore a potential terrorist. Remember, this isn't some burg out in the sticks; it's one of the most fashionable and trendy areas of Seattle, where people think and buy green and suit up in bodysuits for serious bike riding while drinking espresso concoctions. Yet here was the progressive neighborhood of Ballard acting like a white supremacist community in the middle of nowhere when it was actually confronted by an actual (apparaently) Arab in its midst doing something completely innocuous.

This example could be seen as being representative of how Seattle works as a whole. Gays and Asians are very tolerated, both in rhetoric and in reality, while blacks, hispanics, arabs and poor people in general are discriminated against---while being the recipients of token examples of inclusivity and nice looking tableaux's in ad campaigns.

I consider it extremely hypocritical that people who consider themselves ultra-liberal, that consider themselves hipsters, and who consider themselves an elite in their beliefs should be garden variety white people, with as much hate and intolerance as anyone else anywhere else, once you scratch the surface---and also that they express their racism directly in how they treat people from groups that are only given rhetorical tolerance. You should see the response if a black guy in a sports jersey and a baseball cap walks into the wrong upscale shopping complex.

Just today, actually while thinking about this article, I was walking around one of said complexes not being dressed in fancy clothes and being an Italian-Hungarian-Polish person who to some people around here looks racially suspect, and hearing two people directly behind me loudly say "Well there's our car, it hasn't been mugged yet." Of course this is one of the safest places to park your car in the city. The only dangerous factor was yours truly. But of course it was just coincidence. As I looked behind me the two people walking together were a couple in their forties dressed in Eddie Bauer clothes.

Outright Seattle PI racism: David Horsey's new cartoon



Mugabe isn't a nice guy, but Horsey is a typical Pacific Northwest hypocrite: liberal on the outside, racist on the inside, with the racism spilling out every now and again because he's too fucking stupid to realize what he's saying.

Why were certain nihilist writers extreme nationalists?

It doesn't make sense. The two that I'm thinking of are Knut Hamsun of Norway and Yukio Mishima of Japan. Both were nihilistic in their writings, both were also nationalists to the point of outright fascism. I know that in Hamsun's case some of it was a complete hatred of liberalism, but that doesn't go to explain all of it.

I like both of them. Their writings are very enjoyable to read, and it's not because they're celebrating the virtues of Norway or of Japan but because the people they talk about are always marginalized misfits, sometimes very fucked up (a relative term to be sure), who have turned against society. So how is it that people who celebrate folks who are alienated and marginalized, and who have a nihilistic view on life, can go forward and celebrate the conservatism of mainstream society? Mishima is a great example of this; if you only see or read his statements about the Japanese Samurai tradition you might think that he was just a militaristic author, but in fact the people who he celebrates are often either outcasts from society or folks who were part of mainstream society but have turned against it in some way. It's the anti-thesis to the sort of Japanese conservatism that he portrayed in his public life.

It seems treasonous to the whole idea of nihilistic beliefs, to coin a term, to suddenly embrace the enemy like that. Hamsun may have hated liberals but why locate the ideal people in ultra-conservative farmers outside of cities? They'd have strung Hamsun up if he had wandered into their village without being a famous writer. Same thing with the Japanese conservatives and Mishima's homosexuality and his celebration of violence for violence' sake. Although Mishima's sympathies were with the aristocracy, it's hard to believe that they would have accepted someone like that as their representative.

This does not mean that nihilism and right wing beliefs are necessarily completely in conflict. Celine is a good example of a consistent nihilist who was also an ultra-rightist. Celine was a person who was completely and totally alienated from society, who had contempt for most sectors of society and all ideologies, but who chose to put the accent of his hatred on traditional right wing subjects like jews and liberalism instead of on, say, rich people and folks who actually control things. In fact, his all around hatred of things was so much that at first people suspected his large anti-semitic diatribe, "Bagatelles pour un massacre" to be an over the top farce, not something that he actually believed in. Reportedly (because it isn't available in English), according to his biographer Frederic Vidoux, Celine condemned Louis XIV among other people as being a secret jew. But Celine wouldn't let up, and in fact wrote another book that praised Hitler as the only savior of Europe from Communism that was pulled from the shelves after only a week because of the impending World War.

Celine, though, for all of the vitriol contained in these two books, nevertheless did not collaborate when the Nazis occupied Paris, instead preferring to keep his head down and work at his medical practice. He followed the Nazis out to the supposed Vichy French government in exile in order to save his own skin, not because of ideological commitment.

So at least, you could say, Celine was a nihilist who though possessed of beliefs that were over the top and somewhat crazy, nonetheless didn't attempt to ingratiate himself with the conservative core of French society.

But it still sheds no light on the others. Maybe Gabrielle D'Annunzio's work could lift the veil on the question a little bit. Unfortunately D'Annunzio is completely out of print in English. I have a book of romantic short stories he wrote, but that's about it. There's a book of his I looked through in a library called "The Flame" that probably addresses his belief in both nihilism and fascism, but I've ordered enough used books that are practically falling apart for a while.

It seems to me that these folks couldn't have actually related to the people who they exalted as more than abstractions who fit their own personal philosophies. But then the people who they related to abstractly took up their ideas for themselves, with the consequences that we're all familiar with. It seems an awful price for society to pay for a person's literary-philosophical ideas that they themselves may not even have been serious about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A photo from the Greek protests, offered with no commentary



;)

Tupac censored in an interesting way on a Seattle radio station

I won't tell you which one but it was one of the few R&B stations up here. The song was"Keep ya head up", a classic song, one with no swear words whatsoever. But one lyric was mysteriously missing, making the next part of it not make sense and be really awkward. This is what they cut out: "While the rich kids is drivin Benz "

And here is the original lyric

"And now my son's getten older and older and cold
From havin the world on his shoulders
While the rich kids is drivin Benz
I'm still tryin to hold on to survivin friends
And it's crazy, it seems it'll never let up, but
please... you got to keep your head up"

So the "While the rich kids is drivin Benz" was just plain cut out of it.

Interesting. Later there was a commercial for a mall on the East Side called the Bellevue Collection. Bellevue is the ultra-rich suburb where many Microsoft people and rich people in general live, only superseded by Mercer Island for wealth. That commercial actually said "The Bellevue Collection, 'It's just, different [white], people are really happy here [rich and white]", my additions there.

Guess you can't alienate the poser white kids and their older brothers who are now all grown up and have money, now, can we?

"Where are all the Socialists?"--not with Harlan Baker

This article, by Harlan Baker of Democratic Socialists of America, is a prime example of why DSA is pretty much an opportunistic organization that puts mainstream acceptance ahead of social change.

It's a response to the idea that there aren't any socialists anymore in the U.S. and goes on to list ways that DSA is present as examples that prove that U.S. socialism not only exists but has been with us for a long time.

"Not all socialists are Marxists or atheists. Norman Thomas, the leader of the party in the 1930s and '40s, was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Socialists do not believe nationalization of an industry, government buying stocks in banks or the subsides to auto makers makes the country socialist.

Socialism is about social ownership. That can take many forms, such as employee-owned co-ops. It also does mean an end to privately owned business. But, socialists would want to democratize large corporations with real worker and consumer representation."

Norman Thomas also came from an ultra-elite family and went to Harvard. He was so elite, in fact, that his college room mate ended up being a head of the CIA.

Socialists do in fact believe in the nationalization of industry. There's no way around it. I believe in the nationalization of industry. Every Social Democratic Party in Europe believes in the nationalization of some industry, usually the "commanding heights", and every country where Social Democrats have won has nationalized some industry including the UK in the post-war Labour government.

Social ownership is usually associated with nationalization of industry as well as government buying shares in banks. It's pretty damn hard to argue that democratizing corporations has nothing to do with nationalizing them.

"After the 1956 campaign, the Socialist Party suspended its third-party presidential campaigns. Asking the movement's natural constituencies of labor, minorities and liberals to abandon the Democratic Party was proving fruitless.

In the 1960s, the Socialist Party adapted a strategy of working within the Democratic Party alongside its allies on the left to strengthen the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the hopes that a new more left-wing party could be formed.
....
The largest socialist organization in the United States and one of the heirs of the socialist party of Eugene V. Debs is The Democratic Socialists of America, which is affiliated with the Socialist International along with the Canadian New Democratic Party."

Both of which are embarrassments. Eugene Debs founded the Socialist Party in order to break the hegemony of the Democratic and Republican parties; the idea of having a third party and struggling for social change through it was largely responsible for the effectiveness of Eugene V. Debs' social movement. Calling yourself the heirs of Eugene Debs, as opposed to those present in the Socialist Party (who you do mention) is disingenuous in the extreme, as is your membership in the Socialist International.

Putting yourselves in the league with the Canadian New Democratic Party is an insult considering that they're an actual political party that has actually put people into office and has actually passed measures, like national health care, that have improved the lives of Canadians. You, on the other hand, want to woo the Democratic Party to the left, meaning that while you're wooing and doing little organizing outside of it you can claim a fictitious status that your actual effect does not merit.

That DSA is the U.S. representative to the Socialist International is a joke. It's an even bigger joke that Michael Harrington, the leading DSA intellectual, got selected as the Socialist International president for a term, meaning that someone with no constituency was able to be president of an organization whose members have included the governing parties of France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Finland, Sweden, and the UK. Harrington never fielded a successful candidate into office, as far as I know, and on top of all of this was known for denouncing other socialist inspired movements---like the New Left as a whole.

Yes, DSA and Michael Harrington have the other legacy of denouncing the original SDS and refusing to cooperate with the New Left as a whole. This policy continued well into the '90s and into the 2000's, with DSA having a graphic up on their website purporting to be a field guide to the American Left. In a little box labeled, I believe, either Democratic Socialists or non-authoritarian socialists, there were two groups: DSA and the Socialist Party. To the left of them, containing every other socialist group in the U.S. was a section labeled "The Loony Left.".

"The DSA is not a political party. It functions as sort of an American Fabian Society, attempting to bring socialist ideas into mainstream political debate and to help build anti-corporate social movements. Many of its members have worked in campaigns for Democrats"

That sums it up pretty well.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

El Gringo Sexual

There's a guy at this place I work at some times who's an older gentleman who puts pseudo-latin music on the CD player while everyone is working. It's not Flamenco, but kind of bossa nova, with some jazz in it, sounds like New Age almost, Spanish-sounding, in other words semi-sexy music for very white people. After listening to CD after CD of this music, I've started to dub this guy "El Gringo Sexual: the last of the Latin Lovers" in my mind. Yes, my friends: El Gringo Sexual is on the scene mabo-ing and swinging to that Latin beat out to win your hearts and minds. Have no fear, El Gringo Sexual is town and everything will be smooth and sexy.

Obama Hope poster analyzed from an artistic perspective



It's actually a very nice example of how to use value on a basic level. There are two parts of it: the blue and the red. Most of the value is contained in the blue colors, which are divided into three. Adding the white we get a four valued gray scale, starting with the most blue, then going to a blue located halfway between pure blue and white--forming the midtone--, then finally coming to a value between the midtone and white. The way it works is that the bluest blue corresponds to the darkest dark, mostly his hair, his suit, parts of his eyes and ears, but these areas don't contain the primary information that makes up the face. Instead, the two lighter blue tones and white form the palette that really gives definition and shape to the face. The third blue tone, the lightest, has as its function giving subtlety to the parts of the face that without it would appear very high contrast and choppy. Which brings up the ultimate function of the color scheme.

Despite having four values, the blue scale retains high contrast because of the large areas on the neck and face that are the darkest value. The neck, for instance, doesn't need to be that dark in order to communicate that it's a neck. Neither do the cheek bones. Added to the hair and the suit, these areas form a very distinct high contrast block. Now the red. Unlike the blue the red has only one value, which is a dark value. Putting the red next to the darkest blue creates a distinctive and eye catching contrast. But notice that since the darkest blue is still identifiably blue and not black it creates something less than the maximum contrast possible. Notice also that even in the half of the face which has the most red in it that there are still blue highlights from the middle value, breaking up the high contrast area and softening it. The same could be said for the Obama logo in the lower right. Also, the large "HOPE" is the midtone as opposed to white. Also, if you look close at it the poster really isn't divided literally in half, with half of it being red dominated and half being blue dominated, because there are large midtone blue areas directly below the edge of the red background. Now the red on the left side of the poster.

Even though it's dominated by blue, the left side of the poster retains its high contrast because where the red is used it's placed between the darkest blue and the midtone blue. Because red appears hotter than blue, it appears to be lighter than blue when placed next to it, even though it may be just as dark a red. Therefore, the red on the left side appears as a fifth value in the scheme of things, and indeed its function echoes that of the lightest blue: it appears sparingly, leaving the darkest blue, midtone blue, and white as the primarily used colors.

Then there's the large expanse of blue that makes up the background on the left side. It's the midtone blue, and the effect is to produce a contrast that's not as extreme as a darker blue and red would be. Plus, it's a lighter color that's associated with soft, non-threatening things like blue skies, thereby provoking an emotional response that tempers the contrast even more, diffusing any suggestion of a harsh contrast.

All of this together explains why the poster remains recognizable without being a Che poster.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In many cases the State paved the way for capitalism

Inspired by the Anarchist FAQ coming out in book form.

There were several kinds of early capitalist models in Western Europe at the period of the end of the Middle Ages. One was a city state model pioneered by Venice and by the Netherlands, the other turned out to be absolutist State based.

The reason why the State in the form of absolutism could be seen as paving the way for capitalism is because the State in this sense came out of the decomposition of feudalism and actually helped the process of decomposition along once it assumed power. Power came to shift away from lords and towards kings, queens, and their courts. The very gradated social structure, where everyone had their place appointed by God, started to lose its power as this shift occurred, because instead of only having to be loyal to the person one step up in the hierarchy they now had to be loyal to the King himself, who they had no direct contact with. This undermined the power of the lords and with it much of the internal feudal distinctions between groups. Instead of being people who lived in a area owned by a lord people were now also "French", for example.

As they gained more power the monarchs took advantage of the shifting social structure to directly sponsor economic development, often connected with world trade and then empire. The taking away of power from the lords left a vacuum open that allowed pro-capitalist proto-middle class traders, merchants, and manufacturing sponsorers to step in and gain power. This power was subordinate to the State but could be seen as not being a threat because the capitalists had no permanent status and could rise and fall, whereas lords and princes could theoretically challenge the King for power.

This is only one view of it, there are of course other ways to present it, but the French Revolution, for instance, could be seen as the outcome of the bourgeois challenging the State structure for power and winning. Equal rights could be seen to have developed in the atmosphere of capitalism as it existed post the decline of the traditional feudal power. So to could anti-State measures and thought, because if the rest of society is part of proto-capitalism, why should there be a top level of State control on all of society?

"An Anarchist FAQ" is now out in book form!

Yay! Available Here from AK Press. Large format, close to 700 pages.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A counterpoint to the notion that Stalin was a fascist

Which was an idea I brought up....a week and a half? Two weeks ago? It has to do with the peasant farmers. The Russian proto-fascists who Mikhail Agursky talks about in his book "The Third Rome" always seem to have idealized peasant life and considered it to be the backbone of Russian culture. Stalin, on the other hand, did his best to eliminate peasant farmer ways of life through forced collectivization, which had the effect of turning the farmers into employees of the State. Collective farm tractor depots did not feature any notion of self ownership of the land since that would be considered a backwards step. Instead, the system resembled corporate agriculture today. In this sense, Stalin was a totalitarian modernizer rather than a Russian nationalist semi-fascist.

A criticism of the Cartesian "Cognito Ego Sum"

Inspired by the introduction to Frederick Beiser's excellent book "The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte". Heavily inspired by.

A problem in the idea of "I think, therefore I am" as a ground for the rest of philosophy is, well, first off, what does "thinking" mean, what does "I" mean, and how is "thinking" connected to the "I" in such a way that the presence of thinking completely proves the existence of the "I"? I think, I have self awareness, but do I really? I observe something, or rather something observes a process of analyzing, but what exactly the mysterious something doing the observing or what the analytic process really is are both obscured. Where does the "I" come from? What is that which people have called "thought" or the operations of thought? It doesn't work like a computer. One process observes another process---does this prove that an external world exists, or even that an internal world resembling in any way what we colloquially think is going on inside our heads actually exists? No, it doesn't. Both are left undefined, and sense impressions present themselves as being potentially as valid as self reflection on a mental level. Additionally, isn't it possible that the only reason that we find "I think, therefore I am" to be an understandable concept is because we go forward from a particularly Western philosophical tradition that developed in Western Europe, so that the idea of Cognito, Ego Sum is potentially a cultural construction in and of itself?

If the basis of the Cognito as the source of philosophy is challenged it may in fact destroy the idea of epistemology as the essential foundation of everything else and open the door to ontology replacing it as the measure of truth. The contemplation of the Being of the external world may be a portal to a more valid truth about the philosophical situation or problematic in general.

Against literature, or why I don't write fiction

I think that many fiction authors are cowards. They bitch and moan about alienation and loneliness yet are unwilling to do something in the real world that would challenge what creates their sense of alienation or even to do things in an attempt to overcome their loneliness. Instead, they stay home and write books about their plight. They create entertaining scenarios, yet ignore the reality outside of their doors. Isn't it nice to be able to stay insulated from life and not be engaged with it? To feel that you're contributing to society and yet go home with your tail between your legs when faced with the opportunity of actually being physically engaged with social change existing in the real world? Partly, the reason why I hate fiction so much and don't want to write it is because of people like David Eggers and that whole school of fiction writing, with the author masturbating a self congratulatory story that has little value besides supporting his ego---and maybe getting him laid by female fans who mistake making an entertaining story for something real.

May the whole David Foster Wallace crowd die in their sleep; it won't be that much of a loss to the world.

Personally, the fiction I like is nothing like this shit.

Actually, I like poetry more in the abstract than straight fiction because poetry is actually less pretentious than the novels out there today. A page or a few pages of verse, blank or otherwise, and the meaning unfolds itself in front of you with little authorly self worship. There isn't room for it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Upton Sinclair and EPIC

I'm going to have to write a substantial post about it one day. The EPIC movement, End Poverty In California, advocated forming agricultural cooperatives and workers' cooperatives based on the principle of production for use as opposed to production for profit as a way of providing jobs and saving the economy during the Great Depression.

The idea of a Cooperative Commonwealth, which EPIC is a representative of, was a home grown socialist idea in North America that had a big following---including in the Seattle area where the Commonwealth Builders advocated something very similar before being absorbed by the Popular Front Communists. It has had lasting influence in that the New Democratic Party, the NDP, the leftist Canadian political party that used to rule British Columbia and still has much power on a country wide scale, partially came out of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation.

It's something that can be followed today, and that people in the U.S. could benefit from researching and connecting with. The book "The Cooperative Commonwealth", by Gronlund, the book that coined the phrase, is worth looking up. The Canadian movement itself has tons of information available. Also, you might as well throw in a search for books about "Industrial Democracy".

All right! Chicago workers occupy plant that laid them off!

From the AP: CHICAGO (AP) — Workers laid off from their jobs at a Chicago factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.
About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began staging the sit-in in shifts this week after learning the plant was closing Friday.
Leah Fried (LAY'-uh FREED'), an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, says Republic failed to give 60 days' notice required by law.
Chicago police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak says police are aware of the situation and are patrolling the area.
Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Misconception of how Russia adopted Orthodoxy

Namely, the story about Vladimir I being impressed by an Orthodox church in Constantinople. The folks in the west who have recounted it in books make it seem like the Prince was a bumpkin who was overcome by all the gold leaf and so decided to convert all his subjects to the Orthodox Church. In reality, if you look up how Orthodoxy itself describes it, it wasn't so much a person being impressed by gold leaf so much as that in the Orthodox church Vladimir felt that he was really in the presence of the Divine, with the decorations contributing to it.

Look--on the big 3 it's simple: do you want to destroy the economy of an entire state?

Because that's what's going to happen to Michigan if these folks aren't bailed out.

"We Are Optimists" by Leonid Brezhnev, a profoundly depressing book

A profoundly depressing book

Brezhnev mania! Yee haw. Parts are good in that they describe how the Soviet Union of the late 1970s officially saw the world, other parts are painful. Nothing to inspire optimism like official Soviet doctrine in the post-Khruschev era let me tell you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I'm curious how Progressives can cheer on the demise of an entire industry in the U.S.

Namely, the auto industry. I'm from Detroit so I have a personal perspective on this, but I also have what I think is a general, reasonable, perspective as well. And that is that despite the fact that jobs have gone over seas GM, Chrysler, and Ford still employ a heck of a lot of people inside the United States, people who will be out of work if the government just lets them starve and go out of business. The auto industry is one of the fundamental manufacturing industries that the United States possesses, with the aircraft manufacturing industry up hear in Seattle being another one. To say "Let 'em starve" is to doom a lot of the industrial infrastructure of the United States, to destroy the type of thing our economy depends on and could more fully benefit from if restructuring and alternate policies came along with a bailout. Michael Moore has a Great Column about this. The director of "Roger & Me" doesn't want the auto companies to go out of business---he wants them to be nationalized. There are reasons why this would be a good thing, although it's not likely to happen as a full nationalization so much as the federal government exercising power over how decisions are made in return for a bailout to keep them out of bankruptcy. A big reason would be that a scenario where the federal government exercised very large amounts of power over the big three could help them become more competitive on the world scale by increasing efficiency and productivity through operating them in the public interest as opposed as for private profit. Another would be closing the loopholes letting executives fuck up every couple of years and get bailed out so that they can continue to make millions.

Cars are a strategic export, something that a rebuilt industrial infrastructure in America could depend on. By flushing it down the toilet we throw workers out of work and jeopardize our long term economic strength.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A hack job on Naomi Klein: "Outside Agitator: Naomi Klein and the New New Left

From the New Yorker. Obviously, the people at the New Yorker think it's more important to point out that Naomi Klein's grandparents were lefties than it is to actually look at and analyze her ideas. The article presents a person who doesn't resemble the Naomi Klein who folks have been reading for years but instead some person synthesized from a reporter's idea of what people on the left look like and sound like. For being about a "new new left" it says virtually nothing about anti-globalization folks, preferring to make Klein and her husband into demonic figures ready to put people into labor camps. People Who Have To Be Stopped could be the subtitle of the article.

*on edit: Seriously. I guess that there wasn't enough dirt that she could dig up about Naomi Klein and her husband so she spent more paragraphs talking about their grandparents than she did about Klein's activism and thoughts. I've never seen that; she must have been desperate to make her ideological point.

That would be Larissa MacFarquhar.

*on edit: not surprisingly, it turns out that Larissa MacFarquhar is the author of "The Devil's Accountant", a piece about Noam Chomsky published in the New Yorker in 2003.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein

The movie is really good. It was completed and released in '38, two years after the Moscow show trials and far into the Stalinist dictatorship, where people were being shot for nothing and sent to Siberia because of the failures of an ill conceived economic plan. It has some overt propaganda in it, but mostly has only general Soviet elements in it relating to a number of topics. The interesting thing there, the amazing thing, that has been borne out by anecdotes here and there is that even in '38 under Stalin people still believed in Socialism, despite everything that had happened. It's impressive.

*on edit: this, I think is an important point. It seems that even until Stalin's death, after purge after purge, after the increasing official anti-semitism and the deportation of whole nationalities who were considered to have been unloyal during World War II, people still believed that the Soviet Union played a positive role on the world scene and that it was in the front of the line in the liberation of the oppressed people's around the globe. They still believed in the socialist movement. It seems that in the Brezhnev years this faith in the role of the Soviet Union faded into jaded accommodation to corrupt bureaucrats who became interested in enriching themselves rather than helping any cause of social justice. The disjunction between the perceived good faith of the Stalin years and the bad faith of the post-Khruschev years may be the reason why it's reportedly a common truism that if you interview people in Russia about how they think things are going there will always be an elderly Grandmother who says that everything started to go bad after Stalin.

Politkovskaya: A flawed figure

The trial of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is starting in Russia, and no doubt people are following it closely in order to see Putin brought to justice. But while he was most likely behind her murder, Politkovskaya wasn't a pure martyr to truth. Her reporting about Chechnya is really good, but "Putin's Russia", a later work, is largely a syncophantic pro-Yeltsin account of Putin's government. She conveniently ovelooks the looting of Russia's economy that went on during those times, virtually putting the start of the decline of Russia at the time that Putin assumed office. One of the early vignettes in the book is emblematic: talking about Putin and the market system she makes the statement that starting ones own business was the thing that people in the pro-democracy movement in Soviet Russia were fighting for. She specifically says that this is what "we" were fighting for. I guess that the whole thing about human rights abuses by the police, lack of internal democracy, and suppression of things like free speech come later when compared to the importance of opening a store and making money.