"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
Never let what someone says about what you wrote bother you when what they're saying doesn't addresses what you wrote and (1 b) the idiots who are agreeing with him haven't read what you said. (1c) What you said is going to be misrepresented, that's a given. When you write what liars don't like, liars will lie about it. Just keep on as if they hadn't.
NPR is telling me that Ricky Ian Gordon, a composer whose music I don't know and so can't comment on, has written an opera about Gertrude Stein. It doesn't sound as if it's going to deal with her most infamous story, the only thing about her that was rescued from banality by the evil and criminality of it, her collaboration with the Nazi puppet, Vichy government during the Second World War. Instead, it's going to concentrate on her salon and what the old BS salesman was able to pass off as a career as a modernist writer. About his opera, the composer says:
For sheer hubris, the size of her personality, the weight of her choices — she said yes to what she believed was correct visually in the 20th century and consequently surrounded herself with, basically, the progenitors of 20th century art vocabulary,
And with Stein, that's what it always devolves into because her greatest claim to fame wasn't about anything she did more significant than her shopping for pictures.
Stephanie Blythe, the singer, who will, as they say, "create the role", had this to say about it,
I mean, you don't get the mundane, often, in opera," Blythe says. "Any couple is going to be able to look at this and say, 'Oh, I know that.' Not everybody can look at Radamès and Aida at the end of [Aida] and go, 'Oh, I know what it's like to be, you know, entombed alive.' It's just a beautiful, beautiful piece.
From what the report says about it, I don't think much more about the real Gertrude Stein is going to be available to people. She is one of those people who the more you find out about her, the more putrid she turns out to have been. While a lot of writers and artists of that period flirted with fascism and Nazism - even as august a poet as Yeats - there is just something about a An American who was a Jewish lesbian and a darling of modernism spouting admiration for Hitler and trying to get Random House to publish her translations of speeches by the Nazi puppet, Petain, ACTUAL PRO-NAZI PROPAGANDA IN A TIME OF WAR, that sort of eclipses the entire PR presentation of her. Having read way too much of her novels and verse, I strongly suspect that her translations of Petain's speeches may have been far, and away, the greatest amount of effort she ever put into any of her writing. It is almost certainly the writing she did that required the most discipline and dedication.
Reading what Stein did during the war would have dogged and damned most people throughout the rest of the century and into this one, what she said in the years before the war, lauding the greatness of Hitler, would have become the predominant commonly cited fact about them. But Stein has benefited from a cover up by her friends and literary connections and those who could use her as a hero and others who had varying motives. Those motives varied but none of them could have been both honest and informed at the same time. The more you read of Stein's own words, and I don't mean the doggerel and pony show that her lit'rary production were, the worse she comes off. I'm unaware of little to nothing in her story that makes up for it. Such a person should not be held up to be the hero of any opera. There was nothing intense in her banality, there was nothing heroic in her evil. She was a self-centered, ill-informed, superficial, selfish, collector and consumer. Her moral sense is non-existant, her activities, even her rather parsimonious generosity, centered, like everything else about her, on her. Even her relationship with the quite pathetically devoted Alice Toklas was all about Gertrude.
Stein's relationship with opera before now centered on the two librettos she composed for operas by Virgil Thomson. I'm not a fan of Thomson's music, which tends to be quite banal and forgettable, he's one of those composers whose prose, most of it music criticism, is often far more interesting than his music. I hope that this opera does nothing to further the phony presentation of Stein as a hero. She entirely deserves to be infamous, not famous, remembered for her complete moral bankruptcy and her casual evil, what would have been considered a war crime for others who were prosecuted for it. I once read that the great actress and real Labour Member of Parliment, Glenda Jackson, was asked if she would agree to play Margaret Thatcher in a movie or play, she said she would if Thatcher were presented as the villain. And that's the only way Stein should ever be presented, now that her real nature has been revealed.
I'm inclined to say enough with the fun and games and go back to something important, anyone who would like the fun and games to continue should specifically request them now.
I will add that it's always fun to see just how silly the pseudo-lefties will get when confronted by how silly what they demand everyone must believe is. But one thing I agreed with Bertrand Russell on was that what silly people might think can be interesting but it can't be important. Except the negative effect it has on politics and society, that is. That does need to be looked at, seriously.
After yesterday I'm expecting to read the evidence that was so conspicuously not presented by my number two non-admirer yesterday. Or I've got to deal with a major disaster in the garden, apparently my wheat seed wasn't free of stinking smut (so like the internet, in that way), so a second experiment this year turns bad. There are still the oats, the sorghum, the amaranth and the sunflowers. Oh, and the peanuts. Six plants survived, imagine that. I hope to post a piece later today.
Update: "Lee Atwater ran a Stax-style r&b horn band before becoming a professional racist scumbag. Nuff said." Steve Simels So that's it? That's the great evidence from The Great Simels, calling on his many decades as a professional pop music critic, to support his case? Lee Atwater liked to noodle around on blues riffs, therefore Motown's major fan base consisted of white racists and Marvin Gaye, Jo Hunter and Martha Reeves were sending out covert messages to riot. What no smiley face? Is it any wonder that Simels is one of the members in good standing with the self-appointed "Brain Trust" at Eschaton? I mean, with reasoning like that. Takes you're breath away, the brisk swiftness and definitive closure of it. Only, I'm kind of embarrassed to have to point out to the great expert in pop music that Stax Records was based in Memphis, Tennessee, not Detroit, Michigan. Or is that his problem, that anything outside of New York City (perhaps, also, Hollywood) isn't worthy of making those kinds of little distinctions?Or is it some other distinction that isn't worth making? Second Shoe: His band backed up touring soul greats and he was a stone racist. Apparently, you think this was some kind of anomaly. Moron.
Yeah, as logically coherent as ever. So many points could be made. Let me point out that a far less far-fetched line of reasoning would be, "the racism of the lyrics performed by Mick and his old stones mean that rock and roll is, actually, a huge manifestation of racism". I doubt that The Great Rock and Roll Critic, even in the desperately dishonest mode he's conducting this brawl in, would deny that Mick et dull are a lot bigger in Rock than Lee Atwater ever was in soul music. I.e. Simels specializes in the music of white supremacy. So, what's the connection between Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Jo Hunter and Lee Atwater? Point it out, Simels, and I don't mean through six-degrees of separation.
Third Shoe: And in shocking news, the Eschatots show no interest in seeing if they know what they're talking about. I know, next thing you'll know water will turn out to be wet. And speaking of wet: " It's like arguing with soup." Simels (with the Brain Trust). Uh, no, what you're arguing might rhyme with "soup" but you're safe because that's what they pitch at Baby Blue.
Fourth Shoe (from yesterday's post) : Re my comment about having been exposed to I'm In With The In Crowd by the Mamas etc. " Baloney. There was no album radio at that point anywhere in the country. (1964-65). That wouldn't happen for another two or three years, and no local Top 40 station was going to play an obscure album cut unless it was getting significant airplay somewhere else..."
Oh, dear, Simmie, you should do that little thing called "research" because, looking it up right now, I see that the album that was released on was released in 1966 and, I know it might tax your imagination butONCE IT WAS RELEASED SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE PLAYED IT ANY YEAR AFTER THAT ON ANY FORMAT RADIO THERE WAS. I would imagine I might have heard it on WRKO in Boston which was an FM station THAT DIDN'T HAVE A TOP 40 FORMAT DURING THE PERIOD I LISTENED TO IT, THROUGH THE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS IN THE 70s AS I RECALL. After that, I grew up and stopped just having the radio on pop stations and listened to jazz on non-commercial stations. I had to have heard it on the radio because I never owned one of their records and I didn't live with anyone who liked them any better than I didn't. AND I INVOLUNTARILY KNOW EVERY DAMNED WORD TO THE SONG. Though, perhaps, I just don't take as long to memorize stuff as you do. I was always a quick study. And I tend to retain, as you obviously drain.
Which is entirely irrelevant to the point I made about it being a fitting anthem for exactly the kind of pseudo-left that people like you substituted for the real thing which was not about belonging to any in-crowd.
Fifth Shoe: The album came out in December. The song was never released as a single. Rock radio didn't play album cuts until mid 1967. You are, as usual, completely full of shit.
And, obviously, all albums that came out before then immediately disappeared and it became impossible to hear them on the radio and I'm imagining hearing the song on the radio. Ooh, maybe it was a case of them really saying it so the radio won't play it. Perhaps I head it between the lines.
This is fun, seeing how silly you are willing to be.
Sixth: I'm beginning to wonder if Sims outdoes Imelda Marcos
Yes, you imagined hearing it on the radio. And that's the most flattering scenario.
So far Steve Simels, The World's Greatest Expert on Pop Music ® has claimed that everyone knew that Dancing In the Street was all about race riots, apparently unknown to the great Martha Reeves who reported that, just as the album it was released on and the song's lyrics indicate, it was a party song. That Motown's main fan base were white racists, something proved because, as everyone knows, Lee Atwater liked to pretend to be able to play a different style of pop music, based in a different city. That everyone knows that the dreadful Mamas and the Papas' recording of I'm In With The In Crowd never, ever was played on the radio, no, not at all during the period under discussion.
I might go look to see what his fan gals and guys at the, uh, "Brain Trust" are saying about this. I've really taken the failure of my wheat hard and could use a real down in the diaphragm laugh.
Problem with listening to even the high end of pop music is that it does tend to give you ear worms. Mine was another of Martha And The Vandella's hits which I heard a lot of in my younger days, Dancing in the Street. The racist, right wing media said it carried a coded message that incited the riots that were happening around then. Really, dancing in the street was supposed to be the same thing as having a really serious, people getting killed - most of them unnoticed by the racist, right wing media, black - and building burnt down riot. But this isn't another well deserved criticism of the media. It's a well deserved criticism of snobs and entitlement.
Another manifestation of pop culture that came not all that long after that was the TV show, All in the family. Archie Bunker was intended by the liberal writers, producers and actors on that show to represent the white underclass in all its ignorant, unattractive bigoted aspect. Don't get me wrong, the program wasn't that unnuanced, Edith was big-hearted and broad minded as she was depicted as endearingly ignorant and there were some other characters who were clearly blue collar but who were not depicted as ignorant, the son-in-law Mike, especially. But, somehow, it was the awful Archie Bunker who took and who, contrary to the intent of all involved, became something of a heroic figure to some of the racist, white underclass.
I never got it, then, but it shouldn't have been that big a surprise. I didn't think of it at the time but the 1968 presidential race was won by Richard Nixon making overt outreaches to racists and bigots on the basis of painting liberals as elite snobs from the North East, his biggest rival in that, George Wallace who successfully turned himself into a national figure by pioneering the approach that Nixon copied and succeeded with. Somehow, it didn't occur to the producers of All In The Family that they could be reinforcing some of the presumptions of snobbery that helped fuel the resentment that was a political success.
Now, I think that Archie Bunker became a hero to a large number of blue collar white people exactly because he was ridiculed and disdained by those presented as his liberal, intellectual superiors. He was judged by what was considered his substandard grammar and malapropisms, his working-class clothes and preferences. As it would be put by Robbie Robertson a few years after, they judged him by his shoes as much as anything. My guess is that lots of blue collar people noticed he was the one who, as he was being held up to ridicule and disdain, was the one who was helping to support his liberal son-in-law while his son-in-law was in college. The writers had, while creating what they saw as a clownish, white, bigot, presented those people with the proof that they were right about how Northeastern liberals saw them.
It was inevitable that there were regional resentments over the end of Jim Crow and similar, legalized forms of racial oppression and subjugation because the legal racism was regional, not all of them in the South, by the way, and the strategy to attack it had depended on participation by people from other regions. But some of it was a reaction to the actual AND EXPRESSED attitude of some of the liberal people from the North, especially the North East. The producers had unwittingly reinforced exactly the beliefs that Wallace and Nixon had successfully used to take the presidency and begin dismantling what legal progress had been won with the blood of, mostly, black people in the South and Latinos in places like California.
The call out around the world to dance in the streets, "it doesn't matter what you wear just as long as you are there," was, in its way, an innocent expression of inclusiveness that addressed a non-elite audience, that didn't make an appeal to elite attitudes. It was, in its way, a call for a temporary Beloved Community, not, in itself, a plan of political action to secure the change that had been made but it wasn't based in exclusion by an elite. It's too bad that some of it didn't take with the left.
I don't know the chronology of the songs but I'm pretty sure the Mamas and the Papas, who covered the song that Martha and the Vandellas made a hit, also had a hit with another song that, unfortunately, could have served as the theme song of the same self-defeating, pseudo-left that I've been writing about, "I'm in With The In Crowd". Though I never could stand The Mamas and the Papas, it wasn't because of that song that stood out as why. I barely noticed the "message" of the song and didn't even think of what they were saying until, after several years of frequenting leftish blog comment threads, I began to seriously think about the political ramifications of what people said on them, about how so many of the people on them seemed to relish the same disdain for the underclass that Wallace and Nixon, Reagan, Gingrich, etc. had, apparently unnoticed by them, successfully used to halt progress.
And the same people who proudly boasted of their superior intellect didn't understand the meaning of the political success of the right in even those most obvious of terms. It was the stupidity of The People, not the stupidity of their own attitude that they insisted was the problem. And they expected, after all these years of evidence that was a sure failure, that it would have different results. It won't, it never will. Snobs alienate more people than they attract to their in-crowd because snobbery is all about excluding them. The new atheism, what seems to be the feature of the leftish blogs that has really taken on them in the past decade, is just another manifestation of that exclusive snobbery.
I don't know if the left will ever be ready for it, but we need a far different beat than that one. The left hasn't got any chance of succeeding until it has one that everyone is invited to enjoy.
Update: It would seem that those who hold the paranoid belief that such well known advocates of street violence as Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye* wrote Dancing in the Streets as a call for violence includes the aspirant to be the world's oldest teenager, hipster in his own mind, Steve Simels. Sims says in a comment I will publish if I must, "I should add that you seem to have been the only sentient mammal in America who didn't think the lyrics of "Dancing in the Street" were in fact meant in part as a piece of social commentary on the racial strife in this country in 1964."
Well, apparently there's at least one other sentient mammal who didn't see it that way, Ms. Martha Reeves who pointed out that it was meant as a party song, which is, perhaps, why the album it was released on was called DANCE PARTY**. And, notice that the cover art doesn't feature anyone BUT WHITE PEOPLE DANCING. Not to mention that the riots that the paranoid, white, conservatives associated it with would seem to have, just about all, to have not made much "Music, sweet music, there'll be music everywhere" There wasn't much "swinging, swaying and records playing" happening during those. I doubt that the riots of 1964 had started before the production of the song, certainly not before it was written. It wasn't even released until the end of July, that year, if the online references are correct.
I remember thinking at the time that the accusation was pretty much on the same level as radio reverends playing records backward to find subliminal Satanic messages and the initials under FDR's image on the dime standing for Joseph Stalin. Now I think it's white people who can't see black people as people who are quite able to have clean, wholesome fun and live lives that aren't in line with their racial anxiety.
* Hunter recalled that most of the song was written in the attic of the home of Stevenson and Kim Weston. “I was writing this melancholy song, and Marvin Gaye was listening and said, ‘That’s no melancholy song, that’s dancing in the street.’ ” .... Stevenson said he had never intended it for Reeves. But she was extremely professional and reliable. Late one night, according to Stevenson, they wanted to make the demo tape for Weston, and Reeves was still there. Stevenson said that he and Gaye and Hunter were in the studio working on a demo tape on top of the finished music track. After hearing the track with Paul Riser’s arrangement, Gaye and Hunter were concerned that Weston’s usual heavier approach was not well-suited for the light feel of the song. ** Reeves, in her autobiography, said that she initially did not like the song. Later in an interview, she backed off slightly from that, saying that it was just a momentary feeling. “I was not impressed. I don’t want to dance in the street. I want to dance on a big stage or a big elegant ballroom.”
Yeah, sounds like a conspiracy to incite rioting to me. What other people did with it doesn't change anything about what was intended by the people who produced it and I don't remember anyone claiming it had anything to do with riots before the racist paranoids made that claim. But, perhaps Simels can produce the evidence that would prove that conspiracy theory. I will publish it if he can produce it.
Update 2: Simels also says, "You remember a hit the Mamas and Papas never had, so you're delusional as well as an idiot. :-)". The smiley face is his, by the way. He provides his own laugh track.
Apparently Simels is resting his hopes on a definition of what comprises "a hit", something about I'm In With The In Crowd coming out on an album or something. I don't know, I didn't buy their records but it got lots and lots of radio play around here. That made it a hit as far as I'm concerned. It must have because the damned lyrics burned their way into my memory and I HATED THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS. But it does force the question, were TM&TPs also trying to incite race riots when they covered Dancing In The Streets, so much less well than Martha and the Vandellas? I'm trying to recall the other, similar incitements to riot in the other M&Ps songs that, unwelcomed, made their way into my memory and am coming up blank. Perhaps "Dream a Little Dream of Me" was originally advocating opium use. And then there's "No Salt On Her Tail".
I have to say that contemplating Mr. Kewl pushing the same lines that John Birchers pushed in the 1960s in 2014 is so hilariously ironic that I might have to go do some serious weeding to stop thinking about it. Yes, Sims, "weeding." See what you can make of that.
Update 3: Piling it higher and deeper, Simels now says: the biggest Motown and soul music fans I knew in the 60s were the biggest unrepentant out and out unambiguous racists. And anybody not a moron who was alive then will tell you the same thing.
Well, I can't account for the racists who SIMELS KNEW but I'm kind of under the impression that lots of Motown fans were, you know, black people. It kind of makes it hard to understand how Dancing In The Street could have had the profound effect he claims "everyone knows" it did, inspiring race riots in 1964 if Motown had, mainly, a white, racist fan base. I think most of the black people I knew in the 1960s-70s, etc. would have kind of noticed if a musical genre had mostly white, racist fans.
But I remember that Simels is also the world's greatest fan and defender of Woody "most lily white casting of his time" Allen, so maybe his statement should be seen to hinge on exactly WHO SIMELS KNEW and not the actual fan base of Motown.
I seem to recall one of its greatest fans was the great Dusty Springfield who was so impressed with the greatness of the black artists of the time that she was reported to have felt reluctant to record here. I say anyone who didn't hear that what they were doing was better than the white covers doesn't have much of an ear. Or anyone who has said what Simels said in his comments - which I've collected and still may publish - doesn't have much of a brain.
Uh, Sims, where's your evidence that the ever militant Marvin Gaye and Ivy Jo Hunter were trying to incite street violence with a song about dancing? I'd have thought a pop music critic of your long years .... long, long years, and breath of professional ..... well, what passes as professional experience in your field, would have that proof at your fingertips.
Update 4: Simels has issued about nine comments, none of which support his contention, I may post them at the blog I use to make fun of stuff so I won't have to take up more room here with it. Apparently his fan gals and guys at Eschaton have taken umbrage with what I've said, though none of them have produced the evidence to support his position either.
You might call it DANCING WHILE BLACK. Which is what I always figured was an idea that really scared the white racists back in the 60s.
Update 5: Re my comment about having been exposed to We're In With The In Crowd by the Mamas etc. " Baloney. There was no album radio at that point anywhere in the country. (1964-65). That wouldn't happen for another two or three years, and no local Top 40 station was going to play an obscure album cut unless it was getting significant airplay somewhere else
Oh, dear, Simmie, you should do that little thing called "research" because, looking it up right now, I see that the album that was released on was released in 1966 and, I know it might tax his imagination but ONCE IT WAS RELEASED SOMEONE MIGHT HAVE PLAYED IT ANY YEAR AFTER THAT ON ANY FORMAT RADIO THERE WAS. I would imagine I might have heard it on WRKO in Boston which was an FM station THAT DIDN'T HAVE A TOP 40 FORMAT DURING THE PERIOD I LISTENED TO IT. I had to have heard it on the radio because I never owned one of their records and I didn't live with anyone who liked them any better than I didn't. AND I INVOLUNTARILY KNOW EVERY DAMNED WORD TO THE SONG. Which is entirely irrelevant to the point I made about it being a fitting anthem for exactly the kind of pseudo-left that people like him substituted for the real thing which was not about belonging to any in-crowd.
I just have to laugh at the Sci-Rangers, those Free Thinkers ® who are never, ever slow to attack in the face of heterodox views of science. Dead, straight on, in their defense of the great and good old orthodox view of science.
Not that I especially care about the issue but this exchange I just read on one of those interminable articles about the Sci Guys getting together and demoting Pluto from being a planet, brought up an interesting issue. I'll get to that in a moment. Apparently it's the view of Ken Croswell of Scientific American that there are good reasons to reconsider.
Now Pluto itself seems to be fighting back. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we’ve learned that Pluto has at least five moons—pretty impressive for something that’s supposedly not a planet. And new research suggests Pluto is just what we were taught long ago: the largest world orbiting the sun beyond Neptune. In 2005 astronomers discovered Pluto’s greatest rival, Eris. It’s three times farther from the sun than Pluto. And Eris was thought to be bigger than Pluto, too. But that initial estimate may have been wrong. Other astronomers have now analyzed methane in Pluto’s air. Yup, Pluto has an atmosphere—again, pretty impressive for something that’s supposedly not a planet—and the methane suggests Pluto is about 1,471 miles across, versus just 1,445 miles across for Eris. The new study appears in the journal Icarus. [Emmanuel Lellouch et al, Exploring the spatial, temporal, and vertical distribution of methane in Pluto’s atmosphere]
Don't get your hopes up too high, Ken, since The World's Greatest Genius ® is quite invested in the demotion, having led the effort (geesh! that guy is such a self-promotion shill). I mean, he never seems to lose a chance to bring it up so he can tell everyone to get over it.
Anyway, in the comments at Salon someone said this:
JustSlider 2 days ago Guess what? I still call Pluto a planet. I don't care what Astronomers say.
To which the response was
Damo 2 days ago @JustSlider "I don't care what scientists say". Taking pride in ignorance has to start somewhere.
I told Damo that I was grateful to have it pointed out to me how ignorant all of those scientists who had called (and apparently some still do call) it a planet were taking pride in ignorance.
About the only interesting thing about this is what it says about the superstitious idea that 1. whatever scientists call Pluto actually matters in reality, 2. that a matter of definition (not of science) about something human beings will almost certainly never touch matters. 3. that scientists now, or at least those who agree with The World's Greatest Genius ® comprise the great and unchanging TRUTH of the matter. 4. that a lot of people don't have better things to do with their lives.
I'd better stop there, the list gets longer and longer the longer this goes on. And it's too hot to fuss about it.
Assuming you are right that Duncan Black was referring to what I posted yesterday when he wrote his snarky one-sentence post you call to my notice. And who knows because he finds it less work to write a one of those snarky koan-like sentences instead of the two-sentence "pieces" he had reduced his writing to?
What would Duncan Black know about how the left could do it right? He apparently doesn't even understand what the left doing it right would look like and he mistakes decades of impotence for wisdom. Like so many on "the left", he wants the left to keep insisting on what he knows as comprising the agenda of "the left" during his life time and rejects any suggestion that its coming on fifty years of failure is a sign that, indeed, the left has been doing it wrong.
He's not old enough to have a memory of a national left that had a real influence in politics. Just as a reference, Nixon was reelected and appointed William Rehnquist to the court the year Duncan Black was born. He was eight when Reagan was elected.
For his entire life the progress made by the left has been being overturned by a series of successively more right wing governments and courts - including the Democratic administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama - meanwhile the left has been doing what it obviously doesn't need to do to win elections and make laws.
I know that his affluent audience members are somewhat perturbed that THEIR left hasn't taken power and fiddled with a few economic tools to tweak the economy and fund infrastructure projects, but they, by and large and with a few exceptions, aren't the ones who really pay the price for the serial failures of the real left to gain power and change laws in a really liberal way.
The affluent "left", especially in the media, has been in the forefront of selling an agenda that was largely the cause of the problem. It was one thing for the faction of his left who love to tell people in the white underclass how stupid they are, alienating them, but the really suicidal "leftist" positions were those that enabled the media to lie on behalf of oligarchy. IT IS THE MEDIA THAT HAS DUPED THAT WHITE UNDERCLASS FOR THE OLIGARCHS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF RULES AND LAWS WHICH THAT "LEFT" HAS CHAMPIONED ON BEHALF OF ITSELF. The media are the ones who presented the class snobs as comprising "the left". Meanwhile, the "left" that likes to preen in its superiority has mistaken their "left" for one that is interested in the agenda of the left that held office, before Black was born, the ones who made the progress that has been under attack ever since he was born. After all these decades, it's clear they aren't willing to make changes to the left necessary to regain the trust of those who could be convinced that the real left is on their side.
I would imagine that somewhere, when he still wrote, Duncan Black has referred to the old Freudian chestnut about a psychotic being someone who keeps doing the same thing and expecting different results, well, that is what his "left" has been doing for his entire life. It doesn't work. Not that its failure is most noticed by Duncan Black's audience, perhaps with some exception, or his friends gained by his former career as a writer.
If the left were doing it right, it would hold power and be making laws and regularly making legal decisions. Any political faction that has had fifty years of failure to succeed, is, beyond any rational assertion, doing it wrong. And there is nothing more wrong than pretending that isn't the case.
I was never a fan of American Top 40 Radio though I never had anything against its host, the late Casey Kasem. He did have a pretty good announcer's voice and a professional delivery. This is posted as a reminder that Motown was the thing that the Mopheads and Mick and his old stones and the rest of the white-boy cover bands copied, to annoy .... well, you know who you are.
The protected role that outright lying has obtained under recent legal theory contains some of the most intractable of all challenges to preserving democracy. The effective good that democratic government can produce, as compared to all other known systems, is directly dependent on the moral awareness and actions of The People and it is also directly dependent on their having a grasp of THE TRUTH, of reality, of the actual facts of the world and life. Both of those are directly attacked by the growing protection that lying is being given by the Supreme Court and other courts. The fact that, despite what such justices as Brennan may have thought they were doing in protecting lying, it has benefited the very same political faction they ruled against is no great surprise. Segregation was an inherently immoral act, violating the rights of a class of people on the basis of lies and appeals to fear exacerbated by ignorance.
That a legal permission to lie has benefited those who want to tell lies, incite fear and keep people in ignorance to gain power and do evil is not any kind of a logical disconnect that needs to be bridged, except, perhaps, in the kinds of minds that elite law schools form and journalists prefer to have. That it has harmed people who want to promote democracy, equality and a decent, moral life is also no shock. Lies benefit inequality, bigotry and oligarchic crooks. Lies don't tend to benefit morality, people could hardly have been expected to notice the real life effect of lying as a harm if lying promoted the common good. As much as I would wish it were the case, I don't think that yesterday's ruling in Abramski v. United States is a signal of a major realization by the Supreme Court that it has, through a short-sighted, intellectually compromised doctrine that protects lying, enabled the very people who brought the case and supported lying on government forms. The same court, unanimously, allowed a challenge to the Ohio law that bans lying in political campaigns brought by the dishonestly named Susan B. Anthony List.
The case was brought by Susan B. Anthony List, anantiabortion group, and Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes. Both had sought to criticize Steve Driehaus, former representative and a Democrat, in the midst of what turned out to be his unsuccessful 2010 run for reelection to the House. They asserted that his vote in favor of President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act, could be interpreted as one “for taxpayer-funded abortion.” The Supreme Court took no position on the truth of that statement. The justices said Susan B. Anthony List does not have to wait until it is prosecuted under the law to claim its First Amendment rights have been infringed. The court did not directly rule on the constitutionality of the law, but the decision sends the case back to a lower court to consider the question. Driehaus filed a complaint against the antiabortion group with the Ohio Elections Commission, which makes preliminary determinations and can recommend criminal prosecutions. It issued a finding of probable cause that the group had violated the law. Driehaus dropped his complaint after he lost the election and before the case had gotten much further. The Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati dismissed the groups’ suit challenging the law, saying they no longer had anything to worry about. In his opinion reversing that ruling, Thomas said the groups had shown that they intended to repeat their critique of the Affordable Care Act against other candidates and that “the threat of future enforcement of the false statement statute is substantial.” That meant, he said, that their lawsuit could move forward. That a bunch of lawyers who have never held elected office, have never campaigned for one, would entirely ignore the harm that well funded lies play in our politics, isn't much less short sighted than the previous rulings protecting lies. That a state legislature, consisting of ELECTED representatives, politicians, would have a more realistic view of the harm to democracy that lies represent than unelected judges isn't a surprise. The reverence with which the Supremes of the Supreme Court are regarded and are to be regarded seems to go to their heads.
The place that elections have in giving the entire government its legitimacy seems to be regularly lost on Supreme Courts, which, somehow, don't seem to believe that their own legitimacy is effected by them. The respect that people should have for The Court is an indirect result of their confirmation by an elected body (undemocratically elected, though the Senate is) and an elected president but there is no other source of legitimacy for their rulings than that. If the elections that choose those who select them are based on lies, slander and unreality, they share in the defects and distortions that result in that. They might believe they are immune to the effects of The People who are deceived by the liars they enable, but, eventually, they and their work will be discredited by it. The quality of the present court is a direct result of some of the worst appointments to it in its history, made by presidents and an oligarchich party which was the major beneficiary of the Sullivan case, Buckley v. Valeo, and other cases that too many liberals on the court supported out of some absurd free speech- free press absolutism that entirely ignores the role that honesty and lying have on the entire process of democracy.
Reality is real, a wise Rabbi once said. That which really happens is what our lives are made of. What really happens is the source of whatever benefit we can get from life as well as the source of all harm.
It is the professed faith, at least, of most of us that the real is good, or at least unavoidable. And it is the real that has to be contended with in our actions and thoughts. What is asserted to be unreal is denigrated and the charge of believing in what is deemed to not be real constitutes one of the more serious contemporary sins among the relatively educated class of most western societies. At least that is the profession of faith which most of us would make if pressed. Which I won’t investigate further just now.
The esteem that the real is given is based in hard won experience about the consequences of wishful thinking unconditioned by consideration of the predictable results that flow from our actions. Often the lessons are unwelcome. But experience keeps a hard school as compared to desire, until the final exam results are in.
When bad results can’t be avoided, the least foolish thing to do is to forego that part of desire which leads to them. Oligarchies and other elite systems have rigged things, to insure that it’s others who pay the cost of actions and conditions not of their making. The history of non-democratic governments could be written in the measures which elites have taken to make other people pay for their privilege and the eventual collapse due to the accretions of those awful results.
Democracy is dependent on The People making decisions about governing society and making the laws with which a society regulates itself and its members. The quality of those laws, the quality of the results, inescapably depend on the extent to which those laws are in accord with reality. The farther they are from reality, the worse results can be expected. Experience seems to confirm this idea, the seductions of self-interest being very powerful, only hard experience consciously considered could overcome that motive to be deluded. I’ll also note that democracy is also dependent on equality before those laws. Very crudely put, laws that result in inequality will inevitably lead to a similar situation to the one described in the last paragraph.
We have an especially dramatic example of what happens when laws and actions are dangerously out of sync with what is real in the Gulf Oil disaster. A disaster which could destroy one of the most important eco-systems which life really and inescapably does depend on. Clearly the laws and regulations that allowed that well to be drilled were based on false information, much of it provided by people with degrees in science and engineering, some of whom certainly knew the possibility of something like this happening. It seems when large profits are in the mix, that these catastrophes repeatedly override experience, the lessons of past ones and the resultant destruction of the very basis of life. Yet those who repeatedly create them, are always able to profit from them. There is a reason for this situation.
My question, stemming from this past week’s discussion and the spectacle of the Gulf oil disaster, is there a right to lie?
I mean is there a real, and not just theoretical right to lie, which should be allowed to remain embedded in our laws and which has a real effect in real life. Most importantly, given the reality of how our country is ruled in 2010, what are the consequences of a legal system, a free press and a society which allows profitable and convenient lying to enjoy the functional status of a civil right*? Under the regime of free speech, free press, the champions of free speech apparently believe there is and the danger it imposes on all of us, isn't something they really care about.
Is there a right to knowingly lie in a way that can result in a catastrophe like the one we are all fixed on in the Gulf of Mexico**? Is there a right to lie in a way that will put liars in control of our government and regulatory agencies, and our courts? Don’t forget the courts, which, often don’t seem to feel it is their job to punish the most massively consequential lies, so long as those aren’t told in court, under oath or in a context that can be construed as the equivalent of a contract. And quite often, even when those are. It is exactly that part of the government which is supposed to consider what is real and what isn’t that has allowed the corporations and the congress and administrations to ignore reality as hard experience shows will obviously lead to disaster.
I’m sure that, as in the discussion of violent porn, this question will elicit an immediate response with the most extreme of hypothetical scenarios presented. It’s often the classic questions. What about lying to the Nazis about where the Jewish children are hidden? That kind of thing. And, of course, when those situations are real, they are all important. Of course, any moral person with a functioning brain would lie to the Nazis. But pretending that moral imperative to lie as an exculpatory factor in the official lies that gush like oil from the insanely drilled hole in the Gulf, is willfully and stunningly dishonest. The two situations are made definitively different by the illegitimacy of the Nazis’ genocide and their demented despotism. Naziism can, in no way, be equated with the aspirations and the goals of egalitarian democracy. To deny that difference is to lie, to assert those two situations are equivalent is a colossal lie. The imperative to lie is founded in the choices of Nazis. The requirement to tell the truth an essential prerequisite for democracy to be possible.
In my experience, the very people who would bring up this hypothetical in defense of lying are the same who will absolutely hold that any suppression of Nazi propaganda is a crime against civil liberties. Those European countries whose children were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis are often criticized for their outlawing of Naziism and Holocaust denial. This pseudo-ethical stand is an example of denying the hardest of reality in favor of the soft comfort of an abstract principle.
The history of that genocide is as real a fact as exists. It is as real as anything in science or mathematics. It is more real than anything asserted in the entire history of philosophy. It is a definitive justification for the suppression of Naziism. Denial of a that lesson, consisting of the murders of millions of innocent people, discredits those who refuse to learn it. There comes a time when you have to acknowledge a lesson like that delegitimizes an abstract principle that airily accepts the possibility of its repetition. You just do. Eventually people have to stop pretending that is a serious point of view held by credible people. And the same thing can be said for other genocides, the extermination of the population of Tasmania by the British, the genocides on every continent that continue to today. Genocide didn’t end. It is a constant danger around the world today.
The clear morality of lying to save innocent people doesn’t set aside the fatal effect of serious lying in a democratic society. In fact, one of the likely cumulative results of that kind of lie, is the supplanting of democracy with despotism, and despotisms always try to keep themselves in power by the kind of violence that comprises the extreme hypothetical of the “free speech” absolutist.
The only legitimate reason for a government to exist is for the protection of The People and the promotion of their common good and other such benefits. Foremost, that requires protection of the biosphere that all rights depend on. To do that, we have found, a democratic government is indispensable.
As an extension of our personal rights and the necessity of their protection, we also find it necessary to protect democratic government. Our laws have protections of our constitution built into them, laws that protect the government against attack. Even the Bill of Rights and the rest of the protections of individual liberties are held to allow anti-treason and similar laws. Clearly supporting the enemies of the United States is not expression that is without legal jeopardy for those who express it in an actionable manner, especially during times of war.
But there is a far greater danger to a democratic society than the ones we are all told to fear, one that is allowed the freest of free reign today, and no where more freely than those in the mass media and government who are deflecting attention with fear of terrorism, often based on nothing in reality.
Why should a democratic society allow lying about serious public issues? It shouldn’t. It certainly shouldn’t allow it in the mass media or by politicians or judges.
The lies that fill the airwaves used to be mostly heard during political campaigns but are now a perpetual feast of toxic garbage on the airwaves and, even more so, on cable and the internet. I think that today those lies are a far greater danger to democracy and the Constitution of the United States than any foreign or domestic enemy. As an example, it is estimated that 40,000 Americans die every year as a result of our for-profit insurance system which denies them timely care, in many cases, it denies them any care. The well financed lies of the insurance and associated industries have perpetuated a protection racket that kills far more Americans that have been killed by any foreign or domestic enemy of the government and our society. And that’s only those who die from our terrible health insurance system. Corporations kill many more of us than that.
Democracy that allows lying a free reign in its politics can't survive as a democracy. The evidence is that our system that is fueled on lies, freely told, freely broadcast, told by professional liars paid by the most filthy rich and larcenous crooks, is destroying our society and, indeed, the very basis of life. I don’t think there is any moral or political reason to allow that. Citing free speech in defense of liars isn’t just an irrational, one law fits all occasions, refusal to consult reality, it is dangerous to our democracy and our lives.
Using the language of rights and freedom to hand over our minds to lies is criminal insanity. Using the excuse that sifting the lies from the truth is hard and takes an effort is inexcusable. If it’s too hard to do that, then it’s too hard for us to make informed political decisions. It is to pretend that responsible voting and participation in democracy is impossible. It is to assert that democracy isn’t possible. There is no royal road in reality. If it’s even very very hard to do what is essential, that’s just too bad.
Indulging in a bit of non-reality, just call it an extreme hypothetical, imagine a society where no one told lies, where no corporation interested in maximizing profit over the welfare of The People or the environment could misrepresent the reality of their intentions and proposed activities? Imagine if they had to be honest about what really happens.
Imagine if they couldn’t hire scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other, assorted professions --- and in today’s reality, quite a sordid bunch they are — to lie to us and our government.
Would we The People let them drill where they couldn’t fix an oil well blow out before it caused the death of a major ecosystem? Would we allow them to ration health care on the basis of what is most profitable to them, including the deaths of tens of thousands every year?
And imagine if politicians and lawyers and judges didn’t lie. Let’s go wild and imagine if the broadcast and cabloid media couldn’t lie? Would there be any harm to our freedom, our liberties, our lives from this terrible regime of the truth? Would getting even half way there from the cesspool of lies we are in today hurt or enhance those benefits of democracy?
* Of course, there are other lies that are not permitted, some have been noted in the discussions last week and I won’t go over those again here. Libel and slander among them. A good part of the Clinton administration was a lesson in what happens when media corporations and pseudo-religious corporations are given a free reign in slandering and libeling elected officials. It was the Supreme Court, in decisions some foolishly hail as a great bulwark of free speech that led to that crippling of democracy.
** In another recent discussion there was something of a scandalized reaction when it was proposed that scientists, engineers and others who, from positions gained through their academic credentials, lied or irresponsibly and catastrophically misjudged the situation that led to the oil gusher into the gulf, should lose their credentials. Including revoking their degrees.
Universities are supposed to be institutions that place the highest value on truth in accord with reality. “Veritas,” the often ironic slogan is. “Lux et Veritas, ”... This is supposed to be especially true in academic departments in the sciences, engineering and schools of law.
What are we supposed to think of the universities which trained corporate scientists and engineers who bend their work product in ways that are no different from lying about what is real? What are we supposed to think about those who have also proven, in the most horrible way, that their professional judgement is criminally negligent at worst, disastrously incompetent at best? Should people who have done those kinds of things retain their credentials? Shouldn’t universities which produce these people take their measure of blame in that?
What is the real value of a university education if the people they tout in the alumnae propaganda are proven liars and incompetents? And that doesn’t even begin to ask about law school graduates. It also doesn’t go into the fact that the faculties of many of our most prestigious universities are well salted with corrupt corporate hacks, crooks and liars.
Eventually, reality being real, the corruption behind the ivy and ersatz parchment becomes undeniable. I think we are rapidly reaching the crisis stage when our universities are adjuncts of a corrupt corporate oligarchy. The signs of rot are undeniably visible now.
Note: This was the last of the posts I’d planned on writing on this topic for now. It became considerably longer in response to some of the points from the discussion which I though had to be considered. My thinking on this has changed considerably due to the spectacle of the dying democracy in the United States, the corporate oligarch that is replacing it and the willful acquiescence of what functions as our intelligentsia to the means which that is happening. The free speech industry, certainly in the vanguard of that acquiescence and even enablement.
When you read the news about how women are treated in Egypt these days, or in many Arabic countries, consider that a few decades ago the same countries produced one of the most incredibly powerful women to have ever performed in public. And if this were not specifically addressing the position of women, I'd have said one of the most incredibly powerful PEOPLE to have ever performed in public. Oum Kalthoum was reputed to have such power in her singing that if she didn't stand back from the microphone, she would destroy it. Her musicianship, her power, her improvisation and her mastery of the materials of music held an enormous audience for decades in a way that even the greatest stars here could only wish for. Her funeral was a enormous scene of mass grief, I recall someone saying that there were two million people at it. How societies that supported her career have treated women, has to have some lessons. How powerful she was is shown in this performance of one of her signature pieces, what should stand as one of the greatest of monodramas, Al Atlal, The Ruines. And, compared to some of the others on youtube, the audience was down right restrained in their reaction.
The subtitles in French were a big help but if you don't read it, here's a translation into English. Here's what the translator says.
Oum Kalthoum's "El Atlal (The Ruins)" is a real classic and is considered a high point of Arabic music. The only song ever written by the legendary Ibrahim Nagi, it is one of the most complicated and esoteric works of modern Arabic music and poetry. This is the only English translation I have ever seen of the song, so if you want to post it somewhere please cite my website with a link.
I will point out that the lyrics and the music of the song are intensely erotic. Hot, if you will, sung by a woman who may have been the predominant cultural figure across a huge range of countries for decades that later became synonymous in the West for the oppression of women. Abdul Nassar once told one of his ministers, who had proposed clamping down on her that he was crazy, that his government couldn't remain in power if they took on Oum Kalthoum.
The reason I post this is the skepticism that someone voiced about the existence of a feminist movement in Egypt from the beginning of the last century. There seems to be an insistence among even our college educated people that "Arab" countries and cultures have a monothematic, unchanging character that prevents people from even looking online for a clearer picture. The motives of those, here, who do that are frequently the worst, promoting bigotry, hatred, war. Considering how many people fall under either that umbrella or the far larger, far more complex category of "Islamic" it's no surprise that we're always making a mess of things when we try to influence or, worst of all, control what happens to "those people" and their countries.
We are going to hear a lot of that, if the rebel army continues to advance through those parts of the country in which Americans died because of the imperial fantasies of the think-tank cowboys of the previous administration. We are going to hear about making sure that those Americans did not "die in vain." In fact, as it turns out, they did. They died because the people who sent them to war without the proper equipment and under false pretenses, and the people who encouraged the war itself, like John McCain, who seriously doesn't know what he's talking about and hasn't for years, did not have a plan. They had fantasies. These soldiers died so that Washington neocons could live out their dream of a purgative war of civilizations. These soldiers died because there was oil that people in this country, and around the world, wanted. These soldiers died so that the likes of Richard Cheney could continue to infest the corridors of power, and so that his worthless daughter could continue to have a gig. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died for all the same reasons. If we forget all that in our attempt to salvage our Iraqi misadventure, and if we allow the architects of that misadventure to use the current crisis to rehabilitate their crimes and malfeasance, then thousands more people will die in vain. Wait a minute. Look at Cheney and the rest of the bloody-handed bunch who wanted this unfolding cataclysm because it would make them rich and justify their limitless appetite for the purchase of power in the coin of other people's blood. I made a mistake. All those people -- American soldiers and Iraqi civilians -- did not die in vain. They died for vanity, which is even a greater national sin.
Yours truly, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- these honored dead by using them as hostages against the living. by Anthony McCarthy
Abraham Lincoln, in his most revered speech, unwittingly provided a weapon that has been used since to kill many thousands of people. American soldiers and the countless others who, thought unmentionable in the United States, are indissolubly bound to our dead through the absolute requirements of justice and truth due to their being killed by the actions of the United States government, in our names, often giving Lincoln’s words as the reason.
How many times in the United States, as an excuse to continue the slaughter in Vietnam, Iraq and other wars of empire, has that weapon been used with the horrible potency generated by unthinking, unreflecting, coercive patriotism and rote reverence?
How many more people have died through the deployment of Lincoln’s words “should not have died in vain”?
Lincoln was honorable. He may have been the American President who had the truest sense of honor unbound by the conventions of aristocratic pretense. It is likely that he provided the weapon out of innocence borne of his great character and out of the requirement to address the necessities of the hard weeks during which he gave the speech, some of the worst in our history. The price the world has paid for those poetic words almost certainly wouldn’t have been worth their price to him, had he realized how they would be used by others.
People without morals and who have no honor, have no reservations about killing people. Given their readiness to kill without cause, saying they distort even the most sacred words for the purpose of killing more people is an idea shocking only to those in the habit of pretending they don’t see what they can plainly see.
Unfortunately, when you look down the list of American Presidents, you find a notable lack of character and in even some of those of high character it isn’t reliably coupled with wisdom. We can hope and pray that George W. Bush, utterly corrupt, utterly incompetent and reveling like a theatrical Caligula in his role as vicarious warrior, is the worst that our system can produce. I doubt that even with the example of the worst of his predecessors, Lincoln could have imagined someone as putrid as him attaining and holding the presidency. What he could have made of the regency of Cheney is even harder to imagine.
This week, as in all weeks of all of the imperial wars begun and continued by those who have no honor, no morality, no intention to allow the rule of The People, the tinny echo of Lincoln’s words as spoken by mimics sound through the helium balloon that diverts but refuses to inform the American People.
Those words from those mouths in the context of Bush’s war in Iraq do nothing to honor the dead, they prop them up before the camera as hostages, not to ransom a purpose for his criminal war, but as an emotional bribe to continue it until he can pass it and the blame for it onto someone else. It turns the deaths of those who have already died into a weapon against those who haven’t died yet. The honor due them is transformed into blackmail.
The plain truth is that those who have died in Bush’s war in Iraq have already died in vain. There is no further price that can redeem that terrible truth or to turn the utterly corrupt motives of those who have brought and continued this war to any more than a pantomime of greatness. The attempt only exposes the decay of our entire establishment, even those who say the words don’t believe them. Nothing that can be said can change that horrible truth and telling that truth will be punished because our ruling elite have buried democracy deeper than Robert Lincoln was forced to bury his father. He did so to prevent the theft of his corpse. Unfortunately he couldn’t do anything to protect his father’s soul from being stolen by criminals lower than grave robbers.
Note: If you ever see me mention the American dead without also mentioning those killed by the American government and its proxies, please point out the omission.
I'm leaving yesterday's post near the top of the page for a while because I think the potential of curious or ambitious scientists getting many millions of people killed is an extraordinarily important issue that isn't being discussed nearly as much as whether or not Tyson is going to piss off the creationists again this week.
As to the post. Yes, I suppose I am in favor of the government regulating research in this area. While it wasn't my intention, I suppose the blase, laissez faire attitude of people with the intelligence to understand the possible disaster could serve to support the thesis that liberalism has degenerated into libertarianism in the English speaking world, I hadn't thought of that. It does, though, show how irrational the required faith that science is all good, all knowing, all competent is among those acculturated to holding it and its far from perfect practitioners to a veneration that is rare among religious folks these days. Perhaps as conservative libertarians worship money, there are those who hold science as an infallible oracle if not idol. Though, I'd point out, that wasn't my theme in writing about that, either, it is THAT IT'S MASSIVELY INSANE TO ALLOW THEM TO CREATE VIRUSES OF THAT DANGER BECAUSE ABSOLUTE CONTAINMENT ISN'T POSSIBLE. When it's a living, replicating organism that could and, in this case, one of its close cousins HAS KILLED MANY, MANY MILLIONS AROUND THE GLOBE, THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING ABOUT MAKING RULES TO CONTROL IT. Universities and scientists have proven their unwillingness to reign in their faculty and staff, the only entities that can do that are governments. Also, I asked the widower of my late friend if he could confirm the story of her attributing her cancer to the chemicals she used while working in the electron microscope lab, while in grad school. He confirms it but points out I should have said "specimens" instead of "samples" to which I said, "I knew that". Well, I did.