Saturday, April 30, 2011

The book by Alea Erjavec "Postmodernism and the Post-Socialist Condition" is really good as well

Actually just edited by Erjavec, the book is a series of essays about the art of the Eastern Bloc in the '80s, and is very, very, interesting. In a sense, it looks at the question: what happens when official state realism is relaxed and in its place more symbolic work is both possible and also able to be made in such a way that it criticizes official culture to a certain extent? This is what happens. The "Post-Modern" part looks at the critique of socialist society by these artists as being post-modern in the sense that industrialized Soviet Communism represented Modernism in a somewhat pure form. But perhaps it's too easy to see a rejection of the political considerations of Soviet socialism as being a rejection of modernity as a whole in its sense as a unifying myth or 'narrative', if you want to use the fashionable terminology.

Gotta check out this Joseph Beuys book soon

From a local fine arts library. "Energy Plan for Western Man" is a series of interviews with the conceptual/installation/performance artist about life, the universe, art and everything.Beuys was one of the people in the post-war world who rejected the duality of reductive abstraction and representation in art and forged his own path.

As Wikipedia says, "His extensive work is grounded in concepts of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy"

One of the good things about living in Seattle....

I went down to the Seattle Public Library to check out a book in collage format by Max Ernst, and found that it was already out. Hell, the fact that the public library has a book like that by Max Ernst is cause for celebration.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two radically different videos about cars: The Dictators and Kenneth Anger

First off, we have the semi-spoof classic "(I live for) Cars & Girls" by The Dictators



Next, Kustom Kar Kommandos by the man himself, Kenneth Anger

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time for some judgment: kids on leahes

Article in the online Seattle PI about a dustup regarding Judge Judy telling people that leashes are for dogs. Published in the Vancouver (Washington) Sun. A hundred e-mails pro-leash appear, many saying that the people in question just can't keep up with young children who walk around on their own two feet.

Let me submit that this is a piss poor excuse, and that it speaks more to the state of American society, where people are surprisingly willing to offload their responsibilities to devices, psychiatric drugs, and aspergers instead of manning (and wommaning) up and confronting difficulty.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Proposed passport app asks every address you've ever had plus the names of all your immediate family

Good article from Consumer Traveler. The actual form is Here. This is not a joke or an Onion article. Federal Register reference Here.

From Consumer Traveler:

"The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”

The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Misconceptions in the portrayal of the rich by the left, and how Fox news consistently wins on the issue

Not because there aren't folks who are very well off who aren't hostile to things like progressive taxation, raising the minimum wage, and other measures, but because how the Left occasionally frames it is a caricature, and one that I think people on some level know is a caricature. What I'm talking about is this: the idea that behind closed doors people who are well off have an aristocratic sort of blase support for a class based system, think that folks who are rich are just better than everyone else, and spent lots of time talking about how stupid workers are, while they drink wine and eat caviar.

As someone who has gone to elite institutions, graduating from a very elite high school (that I got into partially due to my writing skills), and then going to NYU, I can testify from personal exposure to folks who are very well off and to that culture that that sort of picture is not the case at all. The real case is something much more familiar, something not hidden at all but put in front of people all the time via conservative news outlets, which is why it's dangerous.

The truth about the rich, the damned, secret, truth that you find out when you get into these elite institutions, when they initiate you and tell you all the goods, is as follows: the ideology of wealth in America isn't an ideology that hates the poor so much as it is one that swaths privilege in layer upon layer of self justification. Instead of saying that working people are somehow inferior to the rich, and that rich people have a right to have lots of money, real well off people will be much more likely to say that they worked very hard to get where they are and that everyone can do it if they just try, and that because of this the workers who want higher wages are just trying to get something they don't deserve. No matter that in lots of cases there actually isn't a mountain of work that's produced a mountain of wealth, or that folks who want better pay aren't in most cases just wanting to sponge money off of people, this is what the ideology is. It's one of self justification rather than one of blame.

The least likely thing you'll hear from a person who is really well off is that inherited wealth is just a good thing, for instance. No matter how much money their parents had, or have, unless its to a point where they're the Rockefellers and it's impossible to justify it, folks who are rich will resort to the most Byzantine of self justifications to prove that they really deserve what they have based on hard work that their family has engaged in, and the scions often are forced to do token jobs like be baristas, for instance, in order to prove that they too work and struggle.

This self justifying ideology, then, goes from almost to the very top on down through the ranks of the bourgeois in America, to the level of small business owners. Everyone, everyone, wants to basically lie and say that they're very hard working meritocratic Americans, and the bourgeois world of the United States is suffused with hypocrisy to an extent possibly unequaled elsewhere. It's doubly annoying when some of the virtuous children of the self justifying bourgeoisie in the United States seek to make common cause with workers based on their parents making them wait tables as kids. In Europe, there are still folks who are rich who are like, "Eh, we're well off, so what? Not losing any sleep over it.", but not in the U.S.

All of this sort of ideology is very close to what Fox News and right wing libertarians put out. In fact, it's identical, although folks who are well off would probably not subscribe to some of the more outlandish and somewhat stupid ideas that Fox puts out. The ideas that Unions are parasites, that poor people want to sponge off the state, and that big government wants to put unnecessary regulations on business because they just don't understand how things operate in the real world are all ones that are shared by conservative members of the rich themselves.

And many workers have been won over to it, because this ideology jibes with what the feeling is that America should be about, no matter how unrealistic actually joining the ranks of very well off people is to many Americans of poorer working class backgrounds. There's no lying going on, rich people mostly believe that themselves as well, no matter that it's not a realistic explanation of how they got where they are either. They would be the last ones to admit that there was a disconnect in their own stories, though, because that would necessarily lead to an indictment of them by their own professed standards.

Because of the sameness in ideology, between Americanism and this rightwing libertarian business, attempts to drum up support for things based on a sort of cheese eating aristocrat model are doomed to failure, because good students of the rightwing media can easily challenge that assumption. Instead, the more Progressive tact, that talks about the issue in terms of fairness, and that does look at opulence engaged in by the rich without putting an extra coating of farce on it, appears to be the more effective one--when combined with arguments that actually try and deflate the message being echoed by the right wing media at every juncture.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God damn it, Dale Chihuly ®™ is really coming to the Seattle Center

Or at least lots of glass made by him is. Personally, I think that Chihuly is extremely over rated. The guy hasn't actually blown his own glass in years due to a car accident. Instead, he just designs pieces and has other people execute them. The thing one always hears is that Chihuly has been great for the promotion of artisanal glass in the Northwest, but that as an artist, well, he's not quite as revolutionary as he would like to you to believe. There's lots of wonderful glass in the northwest, but actually constructing a museum for Chihuly seems a little like creating a Thomas Kinkade museum in order to promote painting.

And this Easter we celebrate the rebirth of, is it Tammuz? Orpheus? Osiris?

No, silly me, it's the rising savior Jesus. I sometimes get him confused with all of the other dying and yet rising again gods that have been believed in in the near east.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's like, uhh, fuckin' 420 man....

Reminding me once again why pot culture is one of the more idiotic sub-counter cultures out there, along with that of suburban white kids trying to be Snoop Dog. Of course, there's overlap between the two. Man, let me tell you, there's so much faux-self righteousness in the stoner community that if it was somehow summed....For every dude or dudette who has an actual interest in the politics of marijuana being criminalized or not, there are scores who just want to blow their minds with weed, become lazy assholes, and pontificate when countered about their lifestyle that they're being rebels and confronting the man somehow. However, some can no doubt make the leap from one camp to the other.

Yay 420!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Maybe a counterpoint to the ruralism....the Emperor Julian, Christianity, Peasantry

The Emperor Julian, the last Roman Emperor to try to eliminate Christianity, once reportedly remarked in reference to Christians' belief that it was faith that would save them that those who believed this were no better than peasants who when asked why they believed something gave no reason and just said that they did.

Big corporations that didn't pay taxes--it's even worse than that: we paid them

Here'sa link to Bernie Sanders' new MoveOn post listing the biggest corporate freeloaders. Folks have been saying that it's bad that these companies haven't paid taxes, which it is, but we are in fact subsidizing them with U.S. taxpayer money. Only because of the way our tax system is set up we don't call it subsidizing or transferring money, we call it a 'tax refund'. There can be 'tax refunds' even when there haven't been any taxes paid, and so no money to refund. I'm not sure when the terminology started, but the first time I became aware of it was in regards to the 'Earned Income Tax Credit' signed into law by Clinton. What the Earned Income Tax Credit is, is essentially free money given to people who don't make a lot of money. It's a sub-rosa social program, one that because it's expressed in the jargon of taxation doesn't sound like one. You get a tax credit on your income, that you don't have almost any taxes on, meaning that you get money from the government instead of paying money. And so far folks haven't started complaining about it en masse. But it's subsidies for folks who don't have any money, particularly people with children, so that they're not as bad off as they would be otherwise.

Similarly, when companies get refunds without paying taxes they're subsidies as well. And those subsidies come from regular taxpayers. The $41 billion, Billion, dollars that we paid to GE this year was money gotten from Americans as a whole. It's the opposite sort of flow that we want to have, and it puts the lie to the idea that the U.S. tax system is one of the most restrictive in the world.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Texas populism and Southern agrarianism

I'm speaking ex cathedra here, since I don't have my source handy, but it's interesting that in the unnamed source someone plotted the movement across the deep south from Southern conservative agrarianism to Texas populism, saying that the further west one got, that is the further away from slavery, the more the sort of decentralist impulse was oriented into a less reactionary and more proto-socialist form. The problem with the Southern agrarians, and the tradition that they upheld, was simply that the agrarian society that they praised was based on black labor, either slave or share cropped. The basic inequality behind the agrarian economy, and the fact that large parts of the workers in this economy had no choice about whether or not they wanted to be part of it, and in fact were legally discriminated against even though they were the basis of it, undermined their credibility in many ways. But, if slavery had in fact not been an issue, but the ideas were applied in an area that was based on free labor, the question of whether or not it would have worked would soon have come to the forefront. Indeed, it's possible that the agrarians were at once making good arguments in the abstract but also misstating what the reality that existed around them really resembled. I should note that the writers I'm referring to, who in the present were loosely associated with Vanderbilt university, were not the typical embodiment of pro-Southern conservatism that's seared into the public mind, being not to my knowledge vocally pro-segregation. They were more genteel for that, maybe too genteel in their aloof dealings with Southern reality, again possibly contributing to intellectual cover for institutions that were exploitative. I suspect that they bought into the myth that Southern ways of doing things were being threatened by Northern ways of organizing society. Perhaps in the movement of the Populists, in Texas but also across the West/Midwest, would be a good case study of how agrarian ideas could work out in a more reasonable context, although the real continuity of the ideas would have to be proven.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A correction to the post about Reason and Imagination

I put it into the post, but I'll put it up here as well.

I've realized after the fact that I've made a serious error in representing Kant's position, but one that can be easily fixed.

Kant doesn't indicate a two step process of 1)conceptualization and 2) the application of the categories. Instead, he explicitly states that the categories are applied to sense data directly in the process of conceptualization. This means that when we take sense data and make the concept "chair", that the pure formation of the concept implies the category of quantity--a chair, and the category of quality--something that is "chair". Additionally, it implies the category of inherence, that something is "A chair", and also the category of existence, that "a chair is". Also implies "possibility", but I have my doubts about possibility as a category. In any case, these qualitative judgments are not separate from the concept and in fact describing them as happening in a separate step involves some redundant steps. For instance:

The fact that something is formed into 'a' concept involves the category of quantity. The fact that something is formed into 'a' concept that's different from other individual concepts involves the category of quality. But none of this disrupts the main point, which is that the faculty of the imagination is the thing that binds it all together.

Conceivably, the imagination could make products that violate the categories, and in fact during things like dreams, and times when we use the imagination on its own, in imagining a scenario, where reason comes second, categories are often violated and fantastic things often happen.

More Critique of Pure Reason: where things get slippery...

Where things get slippery about the relationship of the empirical to the synthetic a priori judgments can be seen in the example of math. We have empirical data that comes in, that may or may not be accurate in a very general way. We also have categories of thought and other mental faculties that assume that the world is a certain way, without that world actually having to exist. Most of the time the categories seem to line up with the empirical evidence, or at least when the categories shape our interpretation of empirical evidence what we get from it can be proved empirically to be right. So there's a correspondence, between categories and empirical data. But is that just a coincidence, something that only appears to be true based on our being surrounded by empirical data all the time? Couldn't we just be constantly generalizing from our surroundings?

Empirical data is both true and false in the sense that it's conditioned by our senses. We see within a certain wavelength, hear within certain frequencies, visually tune into some things more than others, taste in very unique ways compared to other animals, so our knowledge of what these things really are in all senses, not just in the way that we perceive them, is limited. Our knowledge of objects can be expanded by using other instruments to observe them, but for the most part we haven't had access to those things through our history. Yet, with the sense experience we have it's possible to navigate the world successfully, and with the categorical set up we have it's also possible to navigate the world successfully. This suggests that whatever reality is behind the empirical world that we interact with through our senses is something that our hardwired minds are also able to interact with successfully, more of less, without being able to directly experience it. How is that possible?

Take the example of math: without having any sort of real observations we can set up algebra problems, then solve them. Then, we can take the principles and formulas from the algebra problems and apply them to empirical situations and deduce knowledge from those situations that we didn't have direct access to before through either our immediate senses or our ordinary mental, non-mathematical, reasoning. Why should there be any correspondence, unless the mental categories were not only in touch with the general features of empirical reality but were capable somehow of generalizing to what is behind immediate empirical reality as well?

Which, not 'begs' since people always get upset when that's misused, but prompts the question: where do all these features of reality come from anyways?

Liveblogging the Critique of Pure Reason: Imagination and Reason working together

Imagination is actually turning out to be a central part of Kant's version of how the mind works, although in addition to its normal usage Kant calls other things products of the imagination. There are two ways reason and imagination, as far as I've read, have been presented as working together. First off, reasoning in a sense depends on imagination for its operation because it's the imaginative faculty that takes sense impressions and welds them into concepts, concepts that reason then uses in order to make judgments and extract knowledge. Think of it this way: when you're thinking about a problem, or an issue, you're not directly dealing with sense impressions, not even if the things are right in front of you, but instead your mind is processing representations of whatever it is and manipulating those with logic in order to come to some decision. The faculty that takes the sense impressions and makes the concepts is imaginative because in a sense the conceptual representation is a calculated falsehood: it's false, because the concept of a chair, for instance, is something that goes beyond the individual sense impressions of the chair, but it's calculated because in making the sense impressions into concepts the mind puts in related knowledge and educated guesses gotten from memory and from previous experience.

In order to logically manipulate something, according to Kant, the 'something' has to be expressed in terms of a concept, as opposed to raw data. The manipulations themselves are what the categories deal with. The categories in Kant are integrated mental judgments about concepts that allow them to be used in particular logical processes. I see a chair, I have an idea of a chair, which is a concept, I apply the category of 'unity' to the chair and label it as 'one chair'. I touch the chair, get a sense impression of how it's cushion or lack thereof is, that's then turned into a concept, say 'hardness', which is a qualitative judgment. I can then relate the one concept to the other, by saying that "That one chair IS hard". Or, "That chair is one and hard, and therefore also not soft". I can look at it's material, which is a qualitative judgment that due to my imaginative faculty is then incorporated into my concept of the chair. It is wood. I know the concept of wood from previous experience, and that knowledge is added to my statement about the chair"That chair is one, is wood, and is hard". "Wood is hard, the chair is hard, the chair is wood". I can then go beyond strictly categorical thinking, and make a hypothetical statement using the categories to say "That chair is hard because it is wood".

Categorical judgments are analytic, that is to say that they're statements of fact rather than hypothetical statements, but the Categories themselves are a-priori synthetic qualities that concepts need to conform to in order for categorical judgments to be possible. Abstract logic in Kant's system is anchored in a-priori synthetic statements about the nature of concepts, their number, their qualities or lack thereof, as well as other more esoteric types of natures in the following way: in order to make quantitative judgments about something, about whether something is one, two, large, small, there has to be some basic idea about what quantity is. This idea, Kant argues, isn't gotten from generalization from experience but is hard wired into the brain, which is why it's a-priori. It's synthetic because we use the idea to generalize all the time about things that we perceive empirically, and we're usually right. It's not that much of a leap to say that evolution or nature over the course of millennia has deduced that saying that quantities exist out there in the world is a safe bet to make, and so has hardwired it into our heads to think that the world out there is possessed of quantity. Yet, our particular notion of what quantity is is something we impute to things. One coin or one rock makes sense, but what about the quantity of a messy desk? Is it a desk? Yes, but there are other things on it. We make things into wholes by our judgment when they could be further reduced into parts, and we do that in order to make useful sense of the world.

Likewise with quality. Despite the folks who followed Kant, who were called Idealists for a number of reasons, Kant himself did not belief that ideal archetypes existed. We see two things that are red. They're of different hues, but we still generalize that they're close enough to be called 'Red'. We've made a judgment and put that label on them, have in fact created the label 'Red' to correspond to a sort of sense experience that we have. Is there a basic 'Redness' behind things? Kant would most likely respond in the negative, and instead say that qualitative schemes of classification are created by our minds to make sense out of the world, but that our minds are also set up to make qualitative distinctions, even when we don't have much empirical data to go on.

*on edit: I've realized after the fact that I've made a serious error in representing Kant's position, but one that can be easily fixed.

Kant doesn't indicate a two step process of 1)conceptualization and 2) the application of the categories. Instead, he explicitly states that the categories are applied to sense data directly in the process of conceptualization. This means that when we take sense data and make the concept "chair", that the pure formation of the concept implies the category of quantity--a chair, and the category of quality--something that is "chair". Additionally, it implies the category of inherence, that something is "A chair", and also the category of existence, that "a chair is". Also implies "possibility", but I have my doubts about possibility as a category. In any case, these qualitative judgments are not separate from the concept and in fact describing them as happening in a separate step involves some redundant steps. For instance:

The fact that something is formed into 'a' concept involves the category of quantity. The fact that something is formed into 'a' concept that's different from other individual concepts involves the category of quality. But none of this disrupts the main point, which is that the faculty of the imagination is the thing that binds it all together.

Conceivably, the imagination could make products that violate the categories, and in fact during things like dreams, and times when we use the imagination on its own, in imagining a scenario, where reason comes second, categories are often violated and fantastic things often happen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Democracy Now! today, Grace Lee Boggs, Jim Wallis, Detroit.

Here. Talking about the future and about Detroit, I got the feeling that despite her venerable standing Grace Lee Boggs was on another planet while Jim Wallis was in touch with the realities of life there. Boggs came to Detroit as part of the Johnson-Forest tendency, a very good progressive left group roughly based off of Trotskyism but more democratic, and has done a lot, yet her interpretation of things seems to be lacking. On the other side, Jim Wallis came off as someone who has a very similar cultural background to me, like someone who could potentially be an uncle or someone else in the community in Metro Detroit, this despite him being an evangelical christian.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What globalization means: 47 to 92 cents per hour for autoworkers in India

Here: "General Motors CEO urged to address India factory strike"

"The factory workers are paid just 47 to 92 cents an hour and allegedly suffer from spinal cord injuries due to inhumane and unsafe working conditions. Halol's management is also accused of violating the Provident Fund Act and regulations outlined in the Industrial Safety and Health Act."

And it's not factory workers making cars sold in India,

"The Halol GM factory produces the Chevrolet Cruze, Aveo, Tavera and Optra line of vehicles."

All of which are for sale here.

One of the best pieces of moral philosophy I've come across-- Letter 124 of Seneca

Roman stoic philosophy from the first century AD. Here's an excerpt from the new Oxford edition translated by Elaine Fantham:

"Everybody who sets pleasure as the chief object judges the good to b e perceptible, but we instead see it as intelligible, and assign it to the mind. If the senses passed judgement on the good we would not reject any pleasure, for there is none that does not invite and appeal to us; and on the contrary , we would not willingly undergo any pain, for there is no pain that does not jar the senses. Besides, those who choose excessive pleasure and whose greatest fear is of pain would not deserve reproach in that case. But surely we do condemn those given to gluttony and lust and we despise those who will not attempt any manly deed from fear of pain. Now what is their offense if they obey the senses, that is, as judges of good and evil? For you have surrendered to them the decision whether to seek or to shun. But clearly reason has been put in charge of this matter: it has made decisions on good and evil as it has on the blessed life, on virtue, and on the honourable. For among that school the verdict is given to the lowest part of the mind over the superior one, letting the perceptions pronounce on the good things although they are a dull and blunt thing, more sluggish in men than in other animals. Supposing someone wanted to distinguish tiny things not with his eyes but with his touch. No perception is more subtle than the eyes, and would be more focused, enabling man to distinguish good and evil. You see the vast ignorance of truth that besets blindness, and how the man whose touch makes judgement of good and evil has cast away matters lofty and divine."

What if Britain started trying IRA terrorists in military courts?

My guess is that there'd be outrage, or at least very visible discontent. All things Irish in the U.S., including the IRA, are seemingly sacred. But brown terrorists from non-European lands aren't.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I think all articles with "Asperger's" in the headline should also contain a line saying...

"A great way to blame a social issue on genetics!" There's something that really exists called Asperger's syndrome, a high functioning autism, and then there's the vast folk understanding of what Asperger's is, which is a sort of catch all term for social awkwardness. Instead of saying, gee, maybe you should work on that, folks seem to either label themselves as being genetically flawed semi-autistic folks or are quick to label others the same. Which goes to show that you can get anything talked about on the news these days if you label it genetic. What would be a harder question to ask is why, if the received wisdom reflects reality in some way, are there so many people who are socially awkward?

Perhaps the general alienation present in life here in the U.S. has contributed to it. In any case, the solution isn't to label yourself as being genetically defective and as having a condition that in earlier years would have been labeled as retardation, but to try to work on yourself to overcome whatever it is you have a problem with.

And, on the other side, it doesn't help much the ease to which folks are willing to label others as genetically defective in order to explain why they don't like their behavior.

Awesome Glenn Greenwald: "Primitive Muslims' unique love of violence"

Here:

"University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds, today, echoing so many by lamenting the compulsive violence of Muslims:

It’s hard to keep track of all the barbaric behavior emanating from that part of the world.

Glenn Reynolds, November 23, 2010, on his prescription for dealing with North Korea:

If they start anything, I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs. They’ve caused enough trouble -- and it would be a useful lesson for Iran, too.

Glenn Reynolds, November 4, 2006, on how to deal with the Muslim world:

It's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us.

Glenn Reynolds, February 13, 2007, on how to deal with Iran:

We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and iranian atomic scientists . . .

Glenn Reynolds, September 11, 2001, on responding to the 9/11 attacks:

GEORGE BUSH IS NOW THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD:. . . Now, if he wants to nuke Baghdad, there is nobody to say him nay -- and damned few who would want to."

Good conduct and Beauty

Back to some classical philosophy. You can make a parallel between good conduct and the beautiful, between good character and beauty by saying that both involve a sort of pleasing proportionality. Character and good conduct involves a reasonable proportionality in responding to situations of life, aesthetic beauty often involves pleasing proportions within the figures or objects being portrayed. In this sense, someone's character could be considered beautiful if they deal with life in a graceful and proportional manner.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Some thoughts on the origins of German anti-semitism

I don't know if this is particularly original, but here it goes.

It's deceptive to read into the past the Germany of today. Today, Germany is an industrial power, modern, very developed. But up until the 19th century the territories now known as Germany and Austria were actually behind the times with regards to economic development as well as political rights and liberties. The reason appears to be fairly simple in that after being on track with the rest of Europe in development, the Thirty Years War over the Reformation stopped whatever progress was happening, profoundly setting the territories now known as Germany and Austria back a ways. England, on the other hand, never experiencing the conflict and also united in a nation-state was able to avoid many of the consequences, and leapt ahead with regards to industry and culture. Similarly, although France experienced her Wars of Religion, it wasn't as profoundly affected by them, and, having already split from the Holy Roman Empire in large part, could reconstruct itself without regards to many external factors. The Netherlands and Belgium also benefitted in that they had industry already built up, and were able to solve the problem of religion by splitting from one another without being mutually destroyed, although not without civil war. The fringe of Western Europe came out of the conflict relatively well off.

There had in fact been a very interesting growth of learning in the German territories during the Renaissance, before the wars broke out.

In any case, the 19th century found the German territories, particularly the ones less under the thumb of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, steadily modernizing and ready to make contributions to society both intellectually and physically. Isaiah Berlin, the scholar of ideas, makes a good point when he suggests that perhaps some of the philosophers in Germany in the early 19th century were trying to respond to French and English philosophy in order to basically prove themselves. Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling...

But the modernization process, something that is inherently problematic to begin with, also hit snags in that the massive dislocations that it created, with people moving to cities, leaving the countryside, and rights and liberties being authorized that weren't thinkable before, created resentment among some as well as general disorientation even among some of the hopeful beneficiaries.

Before, there were lots of medievalistic hold overs, starting with the decentralized semi-feudal life of the countryside. Now, things were changing.

The medieval world was not capitalistic, although feudalism wasn't quite a happy option either. With all the change going on, there were no doubt some in Germany who felt that what was happening was completely wrong, and that there had to be people or groups from outside of the community who were bringing these new ideas into their previously ideal lives. It didn't help that Napoleon had been one of the spurs to getting Germany up to date through the changes in the legal system wrought during the occupation of Germany in the Napoleonic Wars, changes that made the principalities much more democratic and liberal than they had previously been.

I think that it was within this context that Jews, discriminated against for centuries, started to take on in the minds of people the character of a sort of carrier of a liberal virus. Emancipation, when actual deprivations of civil liberties that jews had experienced in Germany for centuries were lifted, coincided with the increasing liberalization and capitalist industrialization of the country.

Officially, after unification under Prussia, Germany was attempting to develop without overthrowing the monarchy, and without allowing total freedom of economic activity. Much of the industrial development was state sponsored and was given over to large businesses according to a corporatist doctrine that had been developed, stemming from a medieval model, by people associated with Prince Metternich of Austria earlier in the 19th century. The state, in other words, came down somewhat on the conservative side of the spectrum.

After the First World War and the proclamation of the Weimar Republic, the old familiar guarantee, as hollow as it may have been in practice, that the state was somehow protecting some kind of traditional values was perceived to be gone. Germany went through some very hard times, and folks no doubt overreacted by thinking that the world was coming to an end, that their whole way of life was being threatened, that everything was going to hell because of all of the crass money politics, the civil liberties for things like homosexuality and sexual freedom, the new democratic politics, etc... that was going around.

Throw into the mix the old enemy of folks who are jewish, seen as being involved with money, some of whom were visibly at the forefront of different civil rights movements like Magnus Hirschfield, pioneer of the gay rights movement in Germany, and a ready made scapegoat is constructed.

People from outside the community, or people inside the community who are thought to never have really been part of the community, making money off of poor people who think of themselves as more tied to the country than they are, spreading degenerate ways of living and thinking about the world around, encouraging disobedience within the family and irreligious mockery, disrespecting time honored traditions.

Damn hippies.

They were rhetorical scapegoats who, because society was generally against them anyways, would be less likely to identify totally with the other side in order to try to clear themselves of slander.

I think that this was the climate that created the massive anti-semitism in Germany that culminated in the victory of the Nazis in the '33 elections, and that lead to the Holocaust. Not some inherent hatred of jews that's thought to be inherent in the German people, but changing social conditions that gave rise to some very flawed ways of viewing the world. Because of course, if it's jews who are responsible for all of the dislocation, no one has to actually grapple with the problems that come up regarding the trade offs between development and traditional living, or between the pros and cons of liberalization or of democracy in general.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Genetics and coffee, or, how we're all fucked

Fucked not because of genetics but because of how our society has come to fetishize anything associated with DNA to the detriment of actually looking at society. There was a report that hit the news wires yesterday saying that there are two genes that might influence people to like coffee, no matter that how genes are actually expressed, and what the consequence of that expression may be, and how those expressions are modified by society, family, country, occupation, social class, make things a bit more complex. We're content to chalk coffee drinking up to genes, but when folks say that capitalism splits society into classes and denies a group of people access to a decent life, making it increasingly hard to achieve it, while granting that decent life very easily to people of another class, they're called conspiracy theorists.

Which is more likely: that basic whims and tastes that could be formed for a number of reasons are based on genes, or that inequality has social consequences?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"B.S., Blowing Smoke", Michael Wolraich, Affirmative Action

Am reading on and off a copy of "Blowing Smoke" by Michael Wolraich that a friend got. It's a decent book, one that started out as blog posts and was rewritten and reworked, with added research, and turned into something that doesn't immediately resemble a blog. Wolraich blogs as "Genghis" for Dagblog. The book goes over lots of current right wing craziness, takes it back to some of its origins, while preserving a sarcastic tone and not just recapitulating talking points, actually putting history in there as well as critical thought.

I would put it as almost the sort of thing that blogging folks would want to aim for. "Almost", because I'm a bastard when it comes to editing, typesetting, and design, at least when it doesn't include my own work....I'm only partially kidding...and I can see "Blowing Smoke" benefitting from being tightened up even more with regards to research and construction, as well as from having the sections in the chapters, and some of the chapters themselves, rearranged in order to form a more coherent argument, structure, and flow.

That said, one of the more interesting sections I encountered on my last reading session was the one talking about the rise of Ronald Reagan and how affirmative action and implicit racism within it was used to woo working class, white, voters. I have to say that it was an interesting discussion, but one thing that gets lost often enough in the mix, in both liberal and conservative writing about the subject, is why exactly are white working class voters complaining about it?

The standard answer is that they're just somehow racist, or that they just don't want their tax dollars going to support people they don't think are productive, but I know from experience, from growing up in Macomb County Michigan, ground zero for the Reagan Democrat movement, that things aren't quite that simple. One of the barbs often thrown at folks who support affirmative action, who are white, is that 'they're middle class so they don't know what they're talking about', my phrasing, because they're comfortable economically. In fact, with regards to bussing in Boston, "Blowing Smoke" quoted a Representative who was anti-bussing saying that the people who support it aren't the ones who will have their kids bussed into Roxbury. Now, what this line of thought indicates to me is that opposition to affirmative action exists for a lot of people not because they're somehow abstractly racist, but because they aren't doing so well on their own, and they see things in a competitive mode of 'us or them'.

If you don't make a lot of money and you're struggling, seeing other people who don't make a lot of money and who are also struggling get money and support no doubt seems unfair, no matter what the larger social issues are. Yet both of you are struggling. My guess is that if, say, in the realm of financial aid for college, everyone got a basic level of help that made it affordable, there would be less outcry over members of minority groups getting further help. If the disabilities that come from being of a particular class were overcome, I would put money on it that those folks wouldn't care as much about folks from a particular race benefitting from programs aimed at countering the legacy (and continued existence) of racism in the U.S.

It doesn't seem to me to be hardcore racism so much as living in a society where you know that things are stacked against you because of your class and you're willing to fight dirty to get what you should get anyways. By making advantages universal, the us-vs-them mentality that the Right cultivates would be undercut significantly.

As it now stands, what affirmative action does and does not do is overblown to a huge extent. The actual existence of it has little resemblance to the big abstraction that it has become, much like welfare. Much like foreign aid, although that's gone down in popularity as one to beat up on now that we don't give much out anymore.

Nevertheless, the way to address the underlying problem isn't to take away aid to people all together, to make it that no one gets help with college, that no one gets help with jobs, or that no one gets help with benefits of sorts that have been racialized and are often included with affirmative action for no good reason. All that does is make society worse for everyone. Wouldn't it better to make it better for everyone instead?

*to add to my 'street cred', I actually saw both Reagan and George Bush I speak as a kid. Both of them came through and spoke at Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, and my school took us to see them.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

...and Glenn Beck's show is ending

Thank god for that. Beck's "Everyman" status is skewered quite a bit in a series of articles that Alexander Zaitchik did on him, that later gave rise to his book "Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance". From the articles, Beck comes off more as a combination of master manipulator and broken man than any sort of regular guy. The dude lived on cocaine and other drugs as a shock jock who pushed the barriers, then found religion via the Mormon church, but didn't give up his style. There are definitely qualities that Beck's rants share with those of mumbling tweakers strung out on meth, which no doubt endears him to a large part of his audience.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The best way to further undermine allies' confidence in us is to try KSM in a military court

Khalid Sheik Muhammad, one of the people alleged to have plotted 9/11. The thing is that internationally, even Slobodan Milosevic was accorded a trial under civil authorities. It was open and transparent, and no military jurisdiction was involved. Military trials are pretty non-standard, and compared to civil trials are kangaroo courts. Trying KSM by military tribunal just sends a message to the rest of the world that we're willing to change the rules and do whatever we feel like, despite the legality or morality of it, when someone does something bad to us. How we can lecture other countries on obeying the rule of law with regards to criminals who may have attacked them after Guantanamo and the regime of military tribunals we've imposed, I don't know.

But of course we don't recognize the International Criminal Court anyways, despite over a hundred countries in the world doing so, so I guess the point is moot on some level. I mean, hey, if we've already damned ourselves by not living up to basic standards of decency in supporting prosecuting people for genocide, what's torture and military courts?

Bridge building in Seattle vs. isolation in Portland: a perspective on the Seattle vs. Portland debate

Many people say that Portland is better than Seattle because it's truer to a vision of an alternative society, one that's ecologically sustainable and local, with mass transit and other amenities. However, what Portland lacks is a way to make any of this relevant to folks who live outside of the city. Portland's model, unfortunately, lacks basic realism, the realism that comes with realizing that simply dropping out of society and living in your own little kingdom isn't necessarily the best strategy for changing the world in a positive direction. Yes, Seattle is more mainstream if you consider being more integrated into the world outside the Northwest as being mainstream, but it's also attempting to blend the same sorts of values that Portland has with economic activities that go beyond an economy based on arts and crafts. In that sense, Seattle is a kind of bridge between the Northwest and the rest of the world.

Why is the rest of the world thought to be bad by folks either in Portland or in other heavily alternative communities in the area? Surely not all of New York City is bad, or Boston, Miami, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia. Why not reach out to what's good in those areas, imitate it, incorporate it into ones social system, and improve your way of life rather than isolating yourself from it? By doing so a city makes itself more relevant on the world stage, makes itself truly world class instead of just a provincial show piece. Seattle can do it.

Sure, doing so would make Seattle be definition more like the East Coast, but is that really such a bad thing? It would be tempting to see a sharp choice between California and the East Coast, but I think that in reality the more realistic option is a blend between East Coast and West Coast mediated through the city of Seattle, combining with native Northwest traditions not transplanted from either side. California alternativeness combined with rugged individualism combined with realism would be a potent mix for change.

*the native Northwest style, not the Native American style although that figures into it no doubt, is based on the Northwest originally being a logging center. Individualism and self reliance through logging camps in the middle of the forest was the start, with a culture similar to that of western Montana.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The movie "I Am" and Tommy Pitera

*edited for clarity.

Just got back from seeing the excellent movie "I Am, about a man's search for the cause of what's wrong with the world. When it comes down to it, he finds that greed and social dissolution, lack of cooperation and isolation, are the causes of most of the world's problems. And lack of love. Personally, it's not the lack of love but the rest of the issues that bother me the most, although I favor compassion, and normal cooperation as social animals implies some compassion. The movie stresses that social connections with each other are hardwired into our brains, as well as tendencies for compassion. Fundamentally, there's a problem with naive interpretations of cooperation, love, and social cohesion, and that problem can illustrated by a man named Tommy Pitera.

Tommy Pitera was the subject of a very good book, "The Butcher: Anatomy of a Mafia Psychopath" by Philip Carlo, who in turn was a very good true crime writer, unfortunately now passed on. Tommy Pitera was a ruthless hitman who went beyond being a hitman, to a butcher and murderer, although he didn't purely delight in torture. Instead of torturing, he was more methodical and matter of fact about what he did. Specifically, he dismembered his victims in order to better dispose of their bodies. To give a snap shot of what Pitera's method and mindset was, why not look at one of the murders he was convicted of?

There was a woman who he believed was supplying heroin to his long time girlfriend. He reportedly warned her time and again not to hang out with his girlfriend and supply it to her, but then his girlfriend OD'd, although it's not clear what the friend's responsibility was for this. So, Pitera killed her. He found her naked on a bed in the company of one of his associates, shot her in the head, then took her to a bathtub where he used a surgical kit to cut her head off, cut her arms off, and then cut her legs off. Done clean, not done barbarically. After he did it Pitera demonstrated the effect of a new type of round to his associates by shooting her in the torso. Later that night, when one of her friends came by and asked if he knew where she was, he said that she was probably whoring her self out on Coney Island. This was after he buried the pieces of her corpose in Staten Island.

The question, then, is how in any reasonable society do we deal with folks like Pitera? In the ideal, more cooperative society, that I hope comes into being, how do we prevent folks from just showing up, being ready to kick ass and take names, and taking over? This is why I prefer the idea of compassion to straight out love. Compassion, in the Buddhist sense and in others, can imply a good deal of severity in combination with help, and does not imply being pushed around or opening ones self up to being taken advantage of. The idea of a cooperative society where we just sit in a circle and practice platonic love with each other conjures up images of folks being left defenseless and possibly helpless when those who want to lie, cheat, steal, and impose their will by force come to play. Society can be educated and people can be taught to be better, and society can be changed so that circumstances make it easier to do so, but those things take time. In the mean time, people will have to deal with threats to society in the here and now.
Society has to learn how to resolve conflict and take 'pro-active' stances, somehow, in a productive way.

If we're open and trusting, kind and loving, and someone takes advantage of it, there should be ways of confronting them and taking care of the problem. It doesn't have to be nasty, abusive, or mean, over the top, but it has to happen.

We also should not deceive ourselves that acts like that of Pitera's are done by isolated psychopaths. I think everyone has the capability of becoming like him, but most people don't, for a variety of reasons. It's nice to picture cruelties as being just committed by those who are distant, whether they be the product of mafia psychopaths or abominations committed by Roman Emperors, but if the 20th century has taught us anything it's that those impulses cannot be totally domesticated out of people. Cruelty of this sort will probably recur throughout human history, and we need to find mechanisms of dealing with it when it in fact it breaks out of the nice little box that civilization puts it in. Failing that, we nee to find ways to channel it into more constructive places before it becomes a killing rage, and never deny its existence altogether just to pay the price later.

The disconnect between liberalism associated with Judaism in the United States and sensitivity about support for Israel, Facebook being sued

For one billion dollars. First off, the lawsuit, where a guy is suing Facebook for feeling personally threatened because the site supposedly didn't take down a page in Arabic calling for the murder of all jews, seems absurd. I say this as someone who isn't Jewish but who dislikes things like houses being bulldozed in illegal land seizures, which on the face of it suggests a deep hypocrisy between the liberal stand taken by many people who are culturally and/or religiously jewish regarding issues in the United States, but very conservative, even reactionary, when it comes to Israel. But is it such a contradiction, really? Is it hypocrisy in its regular form or is that perception based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue?

In my opinion, the error comes from relating a political position that's based on a history of oppression to some sort of essential nature of an ethnic or religious group. Folks whose families have been traditionally persecuted have plenty of reason to support religious and political liberty in general, but just as being African American doesn't mean that one supports the entire Democratic Party platform, including for example gay rights, being jewish shouldn't be taken as necessarily meaning that a person supports liberalism on all fronts. Despite attempts to link judaism with some sort of fundamentally liberal doctrine, say with the freeing of slaves from Egypt, historically speaking there's been plenty of conservative doctrine within judaism and by extension within jewish culture as a whole. Traditional gender roles, patriarchy, restrictive religious commandments, the pronouncement of idolatry for people who want to paint or sculpt people, enforced modesty in dress, these are things that don't speak to personal freedom in the sense that folks mean it today but something different. And it's this aspect of culture that appears to predominate in Israel.

The conflict, then, isn't based on a contradiction, but on a false expectation: that simple ethnic and religious interest will always lead to liberal values and conduct. The evangelical church thrives within the African American community, and preaches very conservative values, although also practicing a theology of liberation, yet this doesn't stop African Americans from supporting the Democratic Party, because it's clear where many people on the other side stand. Why expect something different from other groups? Especially when the twin values of religion and ethnic heritage are involved. These are things that run deep with folks.

Plenty of people who are religiously jewish are liberal in general, not only with regards to things outside of religion, and the same goes for people who are culturally jewish who are largely secular and for whom it's not really that big a part of life. On the other hand, it's a very important part of many people's identity, so much so that there are Judaica sections in most big bookstores that sell not only religious but cultural books, while there aren't corresponding "Italian" or "Greek" sections of bookstores. Sections with Catholic books don't give histories of Ireland. To expect any group of people to necessarily support a philosophy unquestioningly only sets one up for trouble.

We live in a multi-cultural society, and our diversity of cultural backgrounds and religious traditions is one of are core strengths. No one should feel that they have to leave their religious beliefs at the door, or feel that they will be accused of 'dual loyalty' if they don't. But it's also unreasonable, then, to act like folks who are conservative with regards to Israel are really as liberal and tolerant as they seem, and no amount of mental acrobatics will erase that fact, any more than a person supporting Greek nationalism would probably be regarded as less than perfectly liberal with regards to all aspects of life.

A rare good book by a banker: "Bold Endeavors" by Felix Rohatyn

Rare, because folks who are involved in high finance usually are conservative. Rohatyn is more of a social democrat, although this is my terminology and not his, and "Bold Endeavors" is about how government sponsored investment in infrastructure has in the past helped the country advance and how it can help it advance now and in the future. Powells link.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Inner emigration has ended...

That's a fit term to describe the kind of dual consciousness that I experienced from 9/11 to about a year ago. The term comes from Germany during the '30s to describe people who, though not emigrating abroad, didn't buy into what was going on and instead turned inward, creating their own unique works and takes on life. Obviously, the post-9/11 world does not compare to Germany during this time, but the term is the closest fit. Something similar happened with folks in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev years, another historical parallel that's also overblown somewhat. In any case, I combined outward advocacy, protesting, doing stuff, with an inward turn against a culture that had in my opinion totally gone crazy and that had gone against much of what I felt the country I grew up in was based on. I also actually emigrated, from the South East in Florida to the Northwest in Washington State, and have been here now for over seven years. What can I say?

During the time from 9/11 to roughly the beginning of April of last year (the subsequent year was one of transition back to the world), I created a sort of intricate baroque, hermetic, system of thought and worldview, much of it directly documented on this website, that had virtually nothing in common with the patriotic hysteria, knee-jerk nationalism, xenophobia, and Islam and Muslim-bashing going on around me. But, even if you retreat into yourself, for it to really mean anything you eventually have to come out again. Otherwise, you've just created a nice looking prison, or a living death, as Seneca terms this sort of retreat from life in his letters. For the inward turn to mean anything the person has to at some point come out once more and become part of the world.

Lots and lots of bejeweled tortoises were constructed, that I now am going to exhume. In Huysmans' "Against Nature", about a decadent aristocrat similarly displeased with life who retreats into a self created world, Des Esseintes commissions a craftsman to put jewels into a living tortoise's shell so that it can be put on exotic rugs and move around making interesting patterns. When the tortoise with the jewels is released onto the rug he shudders and then keels over, figuratively speaking, because his shell with the jewels on it is too heavy for him.

Let's share our baroque tortoises, our experiments with obscurity, in order to show the world some of what was done in secret while the rest of the country went nuts.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was not approved of universally by Russians either...

Connected to the right of nations to self determination. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed by the Soviet Union (then the R.S.F.R.) and ceded control of the Baltic states and the Ukraine to Germany, as well as part of the westernmost edge of Russia itself. If the new socialist Russia was to really be for liberty and democracy, surely ceding territory to a monarchy opposed to the right of nations to self determination would be a compromising step. That Russia had itself occupied them can be seen to be somewhat beside the point, because in theory at least the Germany of the Central Powers was much less democratic and sympathetic to minority nations than Russia itself.

By stopping the fighting and instead giving up part of Russia, the Soviets were willing to barter the freedom of large groups of people for temporary stability. I think that a probable position that others had was that it would have been better for the Russian army, that included Ukrainians and folks from the Baltics, to continue fighting until they could secure a better peace.

Emma Goldman reports in "My disillusionment with Russia" that a popular opinion was that things started to go bad after Brest-Litovsk, and the treaty was one of many reasons that the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, or Left SRs, staged an uprising intent on overthrowing the Bolsheviks, an uprising that had anarchists as allies and that involved an assasination attempt on Lenin where he was shot.

The Left SRs are a group that deserves much more attention and study than they've previously received.

A reason some folks may have had for supporting World War I

From the point of view of the Allies. World War I ended with the creation of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Romania, countries that had been dominated by foreign powers for centuries. In a way, some of the fallout from World War I, on top of the crushing and terrible human cost, was the fulfillment of the revolutions of 1848, which was when people from groups that were subsumed under bigger empires first made moves for self government and independence.