Saturday, June 8, 2013

'nother Cat and Ducks Picture

Lou Harrison La Koro Sutro

Lou Harrison's setting of an Esperanto translation of the Heart Sutra for large chorus, his American Gamelan, harp and organ.   Harrison's incorporation of some features of Indonesian music, modified to accord to his theories about just intonation, is quite successful in his own terms.  It isn't Indonesian music, as such and it's certainly not tonally or harmonically challenging in ways that the music of Charles Ives' or Carl Ruggles' music is.  Both of whose music Harrison promoted as it was widely ignored.  Neither is it the brain dead neo-tonalism that became popular in recent decades.

For more about La Koro Sutro, here are notes from The Providence Singers with an English version of the text.

Another piece of Harrison's Music I like is his Suite for Cello and Harp.  It's an early exploration of what could be done with the most radically limited of tonal material, a different kind of minimalism than that of Glass and Terry Riley.  Except in the fourth  movement which, if I recall correctly, is a setting of a movement of his Symphony on G.  The music critic Richard Dyer once remarked that Harrison had something of a sweet tooth, musically speaking, but his music isn't cloying and is not overly so.

Update:  Yep, it's part of the fourth movement of the Symphony on G, or maybe it's repurposed the other way round.  And here's a clearer recording of the Suite.

Left or Left for Dead? The Left Forum 2013

By chance, I saw that the 2013 iteration of the Left Forum is this weekend instead of its usual Spring break timing.  While I'm sure that some worthwhile things get said during it, I began skimming the long list of scheduled lectures and panel discussions wondering how much of any actual change ever came out of it, what changed laws, what successful agitation leading in changed laws or effective action has come from it.  Not exactly doubting that ever happened but wondering if it's ever been documented.  If not, then it would seem to me that a major focus of a next Left Forum should be on the habit of the left to put its efforts and resources into things like this when there is remarkably little to show for it. If anyone who has participated in past Forums would like to point to any actual change in real life that  came from it, I'd like to know.

Given the focus of my recent blogging, I did a topic search for Forum events related to religion and got five out  of "the more than 350 panels, workshops, and events happening this weekend".  Considering that well over 90% of the population of the United States are religious and the huge force that religion has been in past, successful struggles, that puny percentage of Forum time spent on that topic would seem to be a willful denial of reality.  The only one of the five listed that seemed to be specifically concerned with religious participation in lefitst political struggle is "Prosperity Gospel and the Moral Poverty of the Modern Church: What Path for the Future?"

You can contrast that to the far larger numbers returns by the Forum search engine for "Marxism, Anarchism and Theory" which produced more than forty events.  Or even the skimpy 14 returned by "Art".  Personally, I think I'd pass by "Let Fury Have the Hour:  Art Confronts Leftist Politics."  The description of the movie by that name doesn't exactly appeal to me, either*. And if it were up to me I'd combine the sessions on Hip Hop and Pussy Riot, which I can imagine might have some interesting and worth while things to say to each other.  Perhaps producing some of that Fury.

I'm not writing this to make fun of the Forum or its participants, many of whom are sincere and well meaning, some of them even have that rare item in such gatherings, past accomplishments in making real change in real peoples' real lives and the real environment we all rely on. I would imagine a good number of the sessions contain valuable, perhaps even interesting material.  But while rehashing of the rapidly receding events of late 1940s and early 50s New York City seems to be receding, the kind of inbred, incestuous, ideological politics that are represented in far too many of the sessions look likely to reinforce the habits that led to sterility during the period during which the Forum came into being.  Looking at the program for this year and comparing it to that of the Socialist Scholar's Conference in 1966, it doesn't look any more likely to generate political change, being focused on the theoretical and academically prestigious instead of the practical.  We don't have the funding of CPAC, we can't afford the impractical.  We certainly can't afford the unrealistic, divorced from the realities or the wider public from which any progress will come.  Scholars might have ideas, they might even occasionally have good ideas but they don't have the political force to move them.   The guys at The Nation and other places trying to look hip and still with it into advancing middle age won't do it.   More of that, in 47 years it will still be a left-out forum.  Its theme can be, "94 Years of Political Failure."

* In his feature directorial debut, acclaimed author, visual artist, and filmmaker Antonino D'Ambrosio has fashioned a lively social history that chronicles how a generation of artists, thinkers, and activists used their creativity—and their creations—as a response to the reactionary politics that came to define our culture in the 1980s. An exuberant, mixed media collage that incorporates graphic art, music, animation, and spoken word, the film spans three decades of change--from the cynical heyday of Reagan and Thatcher through today-- and brings together over 50 writers, playwrights, painters, poets, skateboarders, dancers, musicians, and rights advocates, all of whom attest to the fact that we can re-imagine the world we live in and take an active role in making that vision a reality.

The reality was that Reagan-Bush, using, among other things, expressive outrageousness and attention getting offensiveness and acts that could be easily ridiculed into three terms, leading to the far from leftist reaction in the Clinton years, all preparing us for Bush II and the world we live in today.   William Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and Experience, A View From The Bridge, and McTeague are more powerful and truly subversive than most of that kind of stuff that I saw or heard.  I mean, skateboarders?

Rewind as Update:  Here, from an earlier post I did about the March of Futility

When I see how far the left of the early 1970s has degenerated, it's time to dump those who have brought us here.


Happening to look at the 2011 program of the Left Forum at Pace University, the most recent listed on its website and saw a forest of the same blather I've seen on the left since the early 60s. If that was going to work, it would have by now. I searched the long list of programs for terms relevant to the lives of people today, “Poverty”, “homeless”, “children”, “HIV” and came up with nothing.  I will assure you that those are more important to just about everyone, including those participating in the Left Forum than the absolutely dead as a door nail issues of Marx and Engles ( The Bourgeois Revolution: from Marx's point of view, really, The Bourgeois Revolution:  from Marx's POV) and the rehashing the  Rosenbergs for going on sixty years.

“AIDS” got one hit and that was only because the letters appear in "Laughing Left: Spreading The Word With F-bombs, Oily Mermaids and Clowns On Bikes".  I'd gone there as part of my ongoing blog brawl with "goldmarx" a porn-prostitution industry shill pretending to be a feminist.

Friday, June 7, 2013

"Skeptics" As Purveyors of Urban Myths?

Don't know if it's true or not but someone whose name I know but will not reveal, suggests that the urban myth among those who have never kept ducks that they  are vicious animals may have started with a routine from the most obnoxious names in entertainment, Penn and Teller.   I don't know, their having passed their expiration date with me about five minutes into the first time I saw them on TV.  Anyone ever seen them with a duck?  I've seen them with many asses but never a duck.

Anyone have any other theories about where the common comment thread superstition that ducks are dangerous came from?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

If You Act Nice You Are Nice with an explanation

This was another experiment with re-writing a longer piece in a simpler, more concise style.

You won't be surprised to hear that getting tangled in useless arguments is a weakness of mine. I had an old one with a conservative Sunday, the argument against the idea that there isn't any such thing as being generous. He said that people who seem nice only do good things because it makes them feel superior, they do it to save their own souls, etc. It was a waste of time but I did come up with a new angle on it.

The charge of hidden selfishness behind generous acts isn't anything but a guess based on pop psychology, it isn't proof. Even a conservative can directly experience a good act and can compare its results to an act of selfishness, a good act is tangible. Sometimes you can see hypocrisy behind showy acts of charity and words that sound nice but that doesn't prove anything about other acts. The charge falls apart unless you can show a result that is selfish.

Pop hedonists like to say that people only act out of self-interest but that's not based on anything but cynicism and one of Freud's more destructive lines of hogwash. It's hard-hearted but it isn't hard logic. The results of the action are real, the charge of hidden selfishness is what is airy-fairy. Nastiness isn't any guarantee of realism.

And I will repeat, So take some of them apples, greed balls!

A Partial Explanation

Why have I repeated myself? One of you politely expressed your confusion as to why I said it in the first place and that deserves an explanation.

One of the things that has and does weaken the left is a loss of confidence in our positions. A lot of that, I believe, can be traced to these kinds of cynical ideas gaining popularity during the past fifty years.

The ideas gained ground on the assumption that their cynicism was some kind of magical guarantee of realism. The idea is that anything less cynical could be chalked up to self-congratulation for moral superiority or wishful thinking.

Without more evidence than can be produced these charges are no more than bad natured speculation. This is especially true when the results don't seem to hide ulterior motives.

Until the left abandons these counter-leftist assumptions foisted on it, the frankly idealistic and generous programs favored by us are at a fatal disadvantage. Liberalism and the left have a basically optimistic view of life, that we aren't doomed to an eternal and savage fight to look out for #1.

So many of our positions call for personal sacrifice for the common good, paying taxes for a start. Out of fairness we should insist that those taxes be progressive instead of regressive but it's not a position you can sell without a basis of optimism and a general attitude of generosity.

The right uses this kind of thing to undermine us at the most basic level. Trying to stop that is one of my basic goals in writing this blog.

Yes, I know that should have been an adverb, I was trying to be colloquial as well.

I Just Really Like This Picture

And I heard someone who has never kept ducks slandering them again.  It's my experience that ducks are some of the more friendly and least likely to bite of farm birds.  I'm thinking of buying a few laying ducks, again.

And then there is this one. 

Pursuing Happiness in All the Wrong Places

You can find happiness in friendship, you find it in friendly encounters with strangers and in your family and friends. We need basic material security to be happy but it isn't happiness. Short of famine relief, happiness doesn't come by truck.

Useless buying and hoarding is a sign of fear, of families and communities failing. This covers everything from trying to buy respect to the exercise machine covered with clothes you can't wear. You aren't any better off than you started out but now you've got another payment to make. Enough turns to more than you want and that turns to more than you can ever use. You have to rent a storage unit to get it out of your house. If you didn't buy it to begin with you might be able to afford basic security and have time to enjoy life with other people.

The McMansion craze* that is killing off what's left of the middle class and destroying open land is an attempt to escape the isolated anxiety that life has turned into. Families don't talk to each other in towns full of strangers who are suspicious of each other. And once you're locked in the big house everyone goes off to watch TV in their own rooms. That is until your mortgage rate gets adjusted and you're looking for somewhere you can afford.

Work is even worse than that. It is competitive, cynical and insecure. You are being used and used up. You might not even have the hope that your children can get an education that will give them a better life. They're doomed to even worse than you have it and they resent everything.

You won't find happiness in the package labeled American Dream and the standard alternatives are worse. Forget the myth of the rugged individualist. That is just as phony as the thing they are supposedly escaping. No one is more conformist than those often violent, insecure, tough guys. Look at what happens to one of them who practices real individualism. Their pack turns on them.

The happiness found in decent relations with other people can't be bought or sold, it can't be won by winning. You have to make friends with your family and your neighbors. You can't do that watching a giant TV or DVD. You have to abandon the debt ridden, competitive culture that those continually pitch at us. It's hard to do, especially with children, but it's a lot easier than building a sixteen room house that you'll never own. Debt is a taste of slavery.

When you get your life back you can get past pride. That's a desperate fill-in for self-respect. Self respect comes from getting outside yourself and doing something for someone else. Self-respect gives you the confidence to say no to the sales pitch. Without self-respect no one else is going to respect you, no matter how much stuff you own.

Note:  This was one of my experiments with writing in a simpler style.  As I recall, it and my several similar experiments took far longer to write than my usual post and the topics were fairly simple ones.  I can't imagine how long it would take to re-write some of the other topics.  

I'll post another of these later.  Please, let me know what you think.

* The evening news here on the day I put this in the posting cue cheerfully announced the revival of the McMansion as the housing market rebounds.  If it hadn't been my brother's TV that perkily informed us of that awful news I might have thrown something at it.  Clearly we've learned nothing from the past five years. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ben Weber - New Adventure

This is a fairly easy piece I've taught a number of times, though only a few of my students have taken to it.   There are lots of useful technical and expressive features in this piece and its quite beautiful companion, Lyric Piece (alas, no Youtube).   I like Ben Weber's music a lot, it has its own particular and quite individual character.  The composer Roger Tréfousse wrote a very moving memoir of his teacher.

Update:  Going to his website, here is Roger Tréfousse's tribute to his teacher, Fantasy on the name Ben Weber

This advice on composing, from the memoir  linked to above is rather intriguing:

Ben emphasized the value of finding ways of encouraging your unconscious mind to lead your thinking and, with luck, take you to places where you might never have consciously planned to go. For example, he suggested beginning work on a piece by writing a list of words—not poems, just words. Adjectives were his choice. He said he often used this technique to get his creative thoughts flowing. To illustrate, he chose two words, “peripatetic” and “voluptuous,” and wrote a line of music inspired by each word. 

The Pursuit of Happiness

Conservatives often like to say that Jefferson should have stuck with one of the out-takes from the Declaration of Independence.  "No, no," they say in high federalist tones, "Not 'happiness', 'property', the pursuit of property is the correct reading of the line."  It's not that they notice that something generally considered as frivolous as happiness is put on the same level as life and liberty, with them it's all about the property, their highest value.

Without the gall to second guess Jefferson, I doubt that he got the line wrong in the end.  So the question is what the pursuit of happiness means and especially what one person's pursuit of it means in relation to that of other people.  Thomas Jefferson's life shows that isn't a simple question, but it isn't the all-out invitation to piracy that today's conservatives intend.

Jefferson was a hypocrite, as anyone can see.  The man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and kept slaves can't escape that judgment except by replacing him with a fiction.  He, himself, said that his way of life couldn't be supported without slavery and there is the feel of shame in his words. Keeping slaves is not honorable. This is most true for someone who wrote the words of the Declaration and he knew it.

He didn't move to a small house he could support on his own work. History would call it unequalled greatness if he had and by doing that he had stopped keeping people as property.  But he couldn't' do without his mansion, which was always being redone and always keeping him in debt.  He designed a little house but his version of Walden was an enlightenment-era fad, a garden ornament built by other hands, not a rocket to transcendence.

Freedom was inalienable and given to slaves by their creator, he alienated those rights from his slaves out of selfishness and at the cost of his sacred honor.  He knew that was true, he was a genius not an idiot. Jefferson was a prisoner of property and of luxury.  It would be obscene to compare his life to the brutality of slavery but could he have really been entirely free himself?

Update:  2013.  Since writing this I've read more of Jefferson's slave-based personal economics, especially this horrific and eye-opening article detailing how he intensified his dependence on slavery, scientifically systematizing his exploitation of them on the basis of his rational analysis.

But in the 1790s, Davis continues, “the most remarkable thing about Jefferson’s stand on slavery is his immense silence.” And later, Davis finds, Jefferson’s emancipation efforts “virtually ceased.”

Somewhere in a short span of years during the 1780s and into the early 1790s, a transformation came over Jefferson.

The very existence of slavery in the era of the American Revolution presents a paradox, and we have largely been content to leave it at that, since a paradox can offer a comforting state of moral suspended animation. Jefferson animates the paradox. And by looking closely at Monticello, we can see the process by which he rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into America’s national enterprise.

We can be forgiven if we interrogate Jefferson posthumously about slavery. It is not judging him by today’s standards to do so. Many people of his own time, taking Jefferson at his word and seeing him as the embodiment of the country’s highest ideals, appealed to him. When he evaded and rationalized, his admirers were frustrated and mystified; it felt like praying to a stone. The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”

homas Jefferson, the leading light, the brightest beam of The Enlightenment on North America, went from saying that "all men" were given their inherent rights, including life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness "BY THEIR CREATOR"  as in inherent aspect of their being, to asserting the status of some people as commodities to be managed for the increase of  HIS happiness, depriving them of their liberty and, in some cases, even their lives in so far as that was deemed desirable to support that slavery.  And he did so by an exercise of mathematical reasoning, the quintessential enlightenment act.

The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like “Cattle in the market,” and this disgusted him. Yet Jefferson was right, prescient, about the investment value of slaves. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: “In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide.” The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself. The formula Jefferson had stumbled upon became the engine not only of Monticello but of the entire slaveholding South and the Northern industries, shippers, banks, insurers and investors who weighed risk against returns and bet on slavery. The words Jefferson used—“their increase”—became magic words.

You can go back and see the difference between Jefferson's benighted enlightenment, informed by what would certainly have been considered practically scientific analysis and an only slightly earlier, implacable opponent of slavery, John Woolman.

To consider mankind otherwise than brethren, to think favours are peculiar to one nation, and to exclude others, plainly supposes a darkness in the understanding : for as God's love is universal, 
so where the mind is sufficiently influenced by it, it begets a likeness of itself, and the heart is enlarged towards all men. Again, to conclude a people froward, perverse, and worse by nature than others, who ungratefully receive favours, and apply them to bad ends, will excite a behaviour toward them unbecoming the excellence of true religion. 

To prevent such an error, let us calmly consider their circumstance : and the better to do it, make their case ours. Suppose then that our ancestors and we had been exposed to constant servitude, in the more servile and inferior employments of life ; that we had been destitute of the help of reading and good company; that amongst ourselves we had had but few wise and pious instructors; that the relgious amongst our superiors seldom took notice of us ; that while others in ease had plentifully heaped up the fruit of our labour, we had received barely enough to relieve nature ; and being wholly at the command of others, had generally been treated as a contemptible, ignorant part of mankind ; should we, in that case, be less abject than they now are I Again, if oppression be so hard to bear, that a wise man is made mad by it, Eccl. vii. 7, then a series of oppressions, altering the behaviour and manners of a people, is what may reasonably be expected. 

When our property is taken contrary to our mind, by means appearing to us unjust, it is only through Divine influence, and the enlargement of heart from thence proceeding, that we can love our reputed oppressors. If the negroes fall short in this, an uneasy, if not a disconsolate disposition will be awakened, and remain like seeds in their minds, producing sloth and other habits which appear odious to us ; and with which, had they been free men, they would not perhaps have been chargeable. These, and other circumstances, rightly considered, will lessen the too great disparity which some make between us and them.

Other examples of religious abolitionists could be chosen, the earliest presently known North American anti-slavery pamphlet "The Selling of Joseph" by the Calvinist minister, Samuel Sewell* or far earlier figures including St. Patrick, perhaps the earliest successful abolitionist.

Looking at Jefferson's devolution from the author of the glowing opening of the Declaration to the Scrooge-like calculator over the operation of his nail factory, capable of squeezing the last measure of use out of young boys for what can only be honestly considered his Enlightenment era decadence makes the property vs. happiness argument far more than just frivolous.  During the same period people in non-slave states were making similar calculations about employees in factories and the system of law under the Constitution allowed and encouraged all kinds of evil.  It does now.  The Enlightenment, seen under the strongest light of honest appraisal doesn't look like it was at all enough to keep good men from doing bad things.  That takes things that The Enlightenment sought to suppress.  As the 19th century continued, it would prove to be inadequate.  History has given that judgement in the Civil war.  Today, the worship of Thomas Jefferson can only be done by ignoring large parts of the hard lessons of history, lessons consisting of the enslavement, misery and deaths of enormous numbers of people, slaves, those killed in the struggle to end it and the Civil War that is a direct consequence of thinking like that of the sage of Monticello.

*Sewall was a deeply repentant participant in the Salem witch trials.   While his beliefs about Africans were not anything like a modern, egalitarian one, he was opposed to slavery.  You can contrast this section of his 1700 pamphlet with Jefferson's calculation of the 4% per anum value of babies born into slavery ninety years later.

There is no proportion between Twenty Pieces of Silver, and LIBERTY.  The Commodity it self is the Claimer.  If Arabian Gold be imported in any quantities, most are afraid to meddle with it, though they might have it at easy rates; lest if it should be wrongly taken from the Owneres, it should kindle a fire to the Consumption of their whole Estate.  'Tis pity tere should be more Caution used in buying a horse, or a little lifeless dust' that there is in purchasing Men and Women: Whereas they are the Offspring of God, and their Liberty is,  ----- Auro pretiosior Omni. 

No doubt the enlightened Jefferson would scorn the idea that his "whole Estate" was in danger from his  wrong doing, he was confident that he could get away with doing that without paying a price.  Not in anything he valued, anyway.

Sewall was also the author of "Talitha Cumi," one of the earliest pamphlets advocating the rights of women,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

La espiral eterna played by Leo Brouwer

Fellow Liberals, Have the Courage to Believe You Are Right. Everything Depends on That [June 2006]

Do you think that your political positions are morally superior to positions you've rejected? Sounds strange when you put it that way, doesn't it. Why would you hold a position you weren't convinced was morally superior? Only two possibilities come to mind, unthinkingly following tradition and practicing self-interest divorced from morals.  There are some positions that seem to be adopted by reason alone but since just about everything government does has an effect on the well being of someone, those certainly have a moral dimension, thought about or not.

The first post on this blog claimed our right to believe the moral superiority of our political positions and their firm base in reason. We have to stop cowering in conditional statements and apologetic poses of false modesty. Those are ineffective, weak and are not honest. It's not our personal virtue that is at question, it doesn't all come down to us. It's that our political positions are firmly grounded in the common good, reason over superstition, generosity over greed and facing that large parts of our law favor the wealthy few over the rest with no basis other than that they have the power to bend the law to their liking. If anyone doesn't agree that our positions are superior we should require better arguments than "that's the way it is" and "you're self-righteous" because that's about all there is to most of it.

The fear of asserting the moral superiority of liberalism is that we'll be as obnoxious as William Bennett, that moral exemplar of the right, and the rest of those modern moral exemplars who lecture us continually while enjoying lives that would make ancient Roman aristocrats blanch. Now that Ann Coulter has joined that number there is no doubt that morality or even sanity are not requirements to march in with them. There are people who like to lord their own superiority over other people but they are mighty few on the left as compared to those on the right. Conservatives certainly haven't suffered any ill effects from their being moral nags.

Of course, if we stand behind our convictions they will accuse us of self-righteousness. They do now even when there is a total absence of any assertion of righteousness on our part. As mentioned this is in the face of the tidal wave of finger waving everyone but the wealthy gets from the right wing axis of drivel. They'll do it anyway but why should we listen to them? Are you afraid of annoying conservatives? If one of us gets too full of themselves that 's the time to tell the person to cut it out but it's no reason to stop believing in our positions.

Conservatives, as always, make the mistake of thinking that morality is all about them, an adornment of their sacred selves. That's how they see it and they think that's the way everyone does. But that's their problem, not ours.

People on the left have some great examples to follow. There is no doubt that The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. had a deep knowledge of his moral failings. There isn't a great moral leader who isn't aware of their flaws. And there were people like J. Edgar Hoover to remind him if he ever forgot. But can you doubt that he had absolute faith in the rightness of his beliefs? He put his life, the lives of his family and friends, the bodies and lives of countless people on the line for those beliefs over and over again. And no one knew more about what that really risked than he did. He knew from experience that some day the attacks he and his family had survived would likely end in one that would kill them. He knew what that looked like, he had seen it with his own eyes. Keeping on with that knowledge doesn't come without complete conviction.

If we don't have the courage to believe in the morality of our positions, we won't ever have the courage to change anything.

Update:  2013   I stand behind the ideas this piece is based on though, in a number of ways, it is somewhat naive.  Since I wrote it I've come to see a lot of the people I was encouraging to believe in their positions are not really especially liberal but are just a different flavor of libertarian.

It was also after writing this that I came to see that materialism was fatal to liberalism - in the modern, American sense of the word, not the perversion of laissez-faire economics.  American liberalism is founded in the intensely radical position that people- I'd say all of sentient life - transcends the limited consideration allowable in materialism.  Peoples' lives and experience transcend the economic and utilitarian analyses allowable under materialism.  And the key to that position is the radical, counter-intuitive FAITH that all people are created equal, the proof of that found in the long human history of the disastrous consequences of denying that belief.  We are at the cusp of discovering the further existence of the human species depends on seeing the world in transcendent terms, terms that are anathema to materialism.

So often, while looking at the writings of materialists during my study of them, I'm impressed how often, explicitly on the basis of  that materialism, people otherwise presented as being in some way progressive will deny that equality is real.  My study of eugenics, both before and after the most glaringly clear trial of eugenics in the 20th century, especially, of course, that under the Nazis in Germany, has led me to believe that materialism will always tend towards a basic denial of equality, a presumptuous advocacy of seeing people as of unequal, reduced to the most banal of economic analysis.  In that, such "liberals" are no different from the most primitive of "rightists" except in a few details of expression.  Eugenics was considered a progressive, even liberal idea.  That could not be more untrue if by "liberal" you mean the American style of liberalism.

There were two reasons I started writing blog posts, one was trying to discover why American liberalism had failed.   Looking back, another was my shock in seeing "liberals" on blogs widely supposed to be liberal expressing a denial of equality,  a denial of free will, a denial of the reality of morality.  Of course I'd been seeing such things expressed by people on "the left" for decades but never so explicitly expressed as on blogs and comment threads.   In that I saw one of the keys for understanding the failure of liberalism, which is far, far more radical than most of what is called "the left".  When I read such books as Mother Country by Marilynne Robinson, I saw that what was derided by such "leftists" as backward and compromising was, in fact, far more radical and far more a departure in real life consequences from what constituted the "right" than  alleged "radicalism,"  generally Marxist or otherwise materialist, was.

The frequently expressed hatred of "liberals" by "the left"  is frequently not much less than that same hatred expressed by the far right.  The reason for that is that real liberalism, the insistence that people exist as the possessors of rights and obligations to respect those rights, exceeding the material and economic analyses so beloved of such "leftists", isn't a rival to "the left", it is an absolute negation of that economic, utilitarian dogma.  That kind of "leftism" fails to produce real, human progress towards an equal, decent, peaceful, life in a sustained environment because it doesn't believe in what is necessary to produce that.  They believe the metaphysical basis of that is an illusion.  I absolutely doubt you can really believe in what real liberalism is based in and materialism at the same time."   That accounts for how so many of the "far left" have found it so easy to go to the far right, it's because the basis of both of them is, for all practical purposes, identical.   It is the far more radical position of traditional American liberalism that is different and far more difficult, requiring real sacrifice of peoples' personal abilities to rig things for their personal advantage when they have the intelligence, social, ethnic, gender or economic position to do so.

You have to really, truly believe in equality, inherent rights and the reality of a moral obligation to respect those  in order to sacrifice for them.  In that sacrifice is found the real existence of liberalism and the only real meaning of human life and experience.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Now Two Questions For The Free Speech Absolutists

This piece grew out of a long argument at Echidne of the Snakes* blog, where I used to write and, if I remember the chronology correctly, a long blog brawl I had at Orac's ridiculously named "Respectful Insolence" over his objection to laws such as those in Germany which ban the promotion of Nazism.

The questions I asked were serious ones, not meant as an exercise in abstract thinking.  Real people get killed as a result of speech, sometimes speech is explicitly used to kill people, not to mention that which is intended to hurt people, enslave them, etc.  At Orac's I pointed out how free speech broadcast without restriction in Rwanda resulted in what might be the most horrifically effective and rapid, low tech, spontaneous attempts at genocide in living memory.  Yet the laws the Rwandan government put into place to try to prevent another such horror were part of  his and his regular readers' criticism.  I did get to the point of asking him if published instructions of how to murder him, giving details of his real name, address, etc. were not also covered by his bravely asserted free speech absolutism, only he didn't answer that question.

The pieces I've posted on the issues of speech and media have gotten some of the most violent objection during my seven years of public writing.  There  is a close to absolute taboo against questioning those in the period during which the slogan of "free speech" and "freedom of the press" have become phrases, especially on the left,  what "the second amendment" has become in another faction of people.  Only when it comes to the violent reaction against someone breaking the taboo in regard to free speech, the objections that someone  has expressed the unallowable, contains its own, internal, contradiction.

I think these questions are extremely serious ones about real danger  that comes from malignant speech, as seen in the example given, that are not raised and discussed due to that taboo alone makes it worth considering.

In these discussions of proposals to suppress violent pornography, the rote assertions of the free speech industry are almost always recited. “No rights are lost through speech (from last week),” “There is no causal link between pornography and violence,” etc.

My question is, can any book or video or anything which has been shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have motivated the violence it intended, be banned? Or am I right, your position is that no number of deaths or violent attacks is ever enough to allow banning?

How about the example I cited yesterday, “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors", explicitly, a how-to book for committing murder? Which has, based on its price, become a collector's item. I'd imagine you can keep it next to your Jeffrey Dahmer memorabilia.

Some of you will remember that the  instructions given in the book book were used in the murders of Mildred Horn, her disabled son Trevor Horn and Janice Roberts Saunders, his night nurse who was murdered beside the bed of the 8-year-old boy in her care, all killed for his trust fund. The killer was hired by Mildred Horn’s ex- husband, Lawrence Horn who stood to inherit the trust fund. The hired killer was James Edward Perry.

Perry, who purchased a how-to manual titled "Hit Man" and followed it almost to the letter in Mildred Horn's Silver Spring home on the night of March 3, 1993, was sentenced to death three times by a Montgomery County jury in October.

.... The method and caliber were recommended in "Hit Man," whose publisher is being sued in U.S. District Court by members of Mildred Horn's family who claim the book aided the murders. A hearing in U.S. District Court on whether the First Amendment's free speech guarantee applies to the book is scheduled for July 22.

Looking around the internet, I haven’t found any sympathy for James Perry, sentenced to death (He died of natural causes in prison) or his employer, who was sentenced to three life terms. I have found considerable lamentation about the fate of the book and its publisher, who destroyed all of its copies and settled a lawsuit out of court.

If you go wading through the “free speech” nonsense on this incident, notice how bizarre the arguments get. Some of the hair splitting denies that Perry used the how-to book of murder, which he bought and consulted, because he didn't follow it exactly to the letter. Apparently the sloppiness of his “hit job” exculpates the book, its author and its publisher. Who knows, if he’d followed it to the letter, he and the man who hired the “independent contractor” might have gotten away with it entirely. Perhaps other more satisfied customers and their clients have gotten away with it. Which is the intention of the book.

Here is what the description of the book, I assume from the publisher, says about it:

Rex Feral kills for hire. Daring. Unafraid. Professional. Now he dares to tell his professional secrets.

Feral is a hit man. Some consider him a criminal. Others think him a hero. In truth, he is a lethal weapon aimed at the enemy of the one who pays him. He is the last recourse in these times when laws are so twisted that justice goes unserved. He is a man who controls his destiny through his private code of ethics, who feels no twinge of guilt at doing his job. He is a professional killer.

Learn how a pro makes a living at this craft without landing behind bars. Find out how he gets hit assignments, creates a false working identity, makes a disposable silencer, leaves the scene without a trace of evidence, watches his mark unobserved, and more. An expert assassin and bodyguard, Feral reveals the details of how to get in, do the job, and get out - without getting caught. For informational purposes only! 

"For informational purposes only!" [wink, wink] Makes their innocuous intentions completely obvious, no?

Change a few words, it could describe the champions of the book.

Here we have it, a book, explicitly a how-to murder book, used in at least one case in court and the free speech industry doesn't think that book has proven it deserves to die. Oh, and there are the tears shed by the free speech industry for Paladin Press, the publisher that sold the book that ultimately killed at least three people, we know of.

As we can see, for the stalwart free speech absolutist, the book has more rights than the victims of the crime, their families and loved ones. The publisher of the book are presented, by some of them, as martyrs of free speech and free press. Though I haven’t found mention of any of them being killed for it.  There are at least three known victims of the book, its author, its publishers and distributors, its reader and the man who hired him to practice what he learned from it.  Who knows how many of those who bought it practiced its instructions to "do the job, and get out - without getting caught",  who informed themselves with it more successfully than Perry did.  I don't think anyone pretending that the those who supplied the book and issued its publicity didn't really mean it to be used as advertised -as it was proven to have been used, beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law - deserves to be taken seriously.  But it is exactly that level of obvious, ludicrous lying that is required by turning free speech into an absolute position.  It is denial of reality closely related to the denial of another aspect of that same reality, resulting in dead people, that the gun industry promotes in its financial interest.

* Echidne put up with a lot to have me as a co-writer at her blog over a number of years.  She writes quite wonderfully about economics and feminism.

Update:  The idea that the book was meant as an exercise in violent fantasy for those who love to think about that is not supported by the evidence from the author and publishers.  They didn't publish a fantasy, they call their book "a technical manual" "for informational purposes only".   Anyone who claims that their book was not written to inform those in techniques is, to put it plainly and on the basis of the stated intentions of those supplying the book, lying so they won't have to face what is protected under their absolutist positions.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Alban Berg - Sieben Frühe Liede 7


Magdalena Kozena   Simon Rattle

Archie Won

I liked Jean Stapleton's work and, from what I've read about her she seems like she must have been a very nice lady and a good colleague to her fellow actors.

Her most famous series, All In The Family, which ran from 1971 to 1979, is another matter.  I didn't like it because it mocked blue collar class people in an all too familiar way.  I also don't like it because it normalized a form of bigoted discourse during the decade which began with an attempt present positive depictions of African Americans in popular culture, including on All In The Family, and ended with the election of the racist Reagan administration and liberalism falling off of the cliff from which it has never recovered.  All In The Family was the number one show in the ratings for a long part of its run, it was a popular program during all of it and in syndication after it went out of production.

Media people, producers, directors, writers, .... actors, when someone raises the possibility that what they produce has real life effects will pooh-pooh the idea.  "There's no evidence that...." is the mantra resorted to when someone brings up that issue.  It's a mantra that is generally spouted on the libertarian, pseudo-left. I used to mouth those words, myself.  Well, there is evidence that watching violence and other malignant things do have an effect but, as is often the case with soc-sci research, you can pick and choose what you focus on to argue what you want to, commissioning it if you have the resources.

That is until it comes to selling commercial time during those shows which are said to have no effect.  As soon as it comes to selling commercial time, then what people see for less than a minute on TV is sold as having enormous effects on peoples' behavior and thinking.  You wonder why they don't have the same faith in their programming.  That discrepancy is hardly ever discussed though its hypocrisy blazes like the sun.

I look at the decade of All In The Family and, as I've said before, I see the decade that set things up for the right-wing to end progress in virtually the entire program of the real left - providing a decent, sustainable life for everyone on an equal basis, of ending discrimination, of expanding the common range of access to an unharassed private life in a clean sustained environment.  I saw that ending as hate speech increased, especially towards the end of the decade, hate talk radio, shock jock programming, hate talk "comedy" are all  "entertainment" products of the decade.  It is absurd to think that the hate speech that flowed out of Archie Bunker in the #1 rated TV show is unrelated to the increasing acceptance of hate speech.  It is absurd to believe that is unrelated to the rise of right-wing politics during that same decade.

The one and only part of the official program of liberalism during the 60s and 70s that was accepted and adopted by the Republican right and which flourished beyond the dreams of such liberals,  were "free speech" and the deregulation of the media.  They saw a golden opportunity to promote hatred, hatred for poor people, for women, for minority groups that was an essential part of their backlash politics.  Reagan-Bush imported the putrid Rupert Murdoch  from Britain,  made him a citizen on an expedited basis so he could swing politics farther to the right and, in exchange, they would allow him to do so much to turn the American media into a sewer of old line sexism, racism, and a place from which to make things such as torture sexy and, so, desirable.   Adding to the obscene wealth of the Murdoch family and his investors.

All In The Family, as so many American programs of rather doubtful help in making political or social progress, was an adaptation of a British program, Till Death Do Us Part.  All In The Family was  a somewhat toned down version of that rather putrid BBC production - and I've seen several of them.  That the period of its production just about immediately preceded  the rise of Margaret Thatcher might have been a warning of what was to come here, though I certainly hadn't learned enough to be thinking in those terms back then.  That the related programs have a similar position in the history of the countries they were seen in seems to me to be more than a coincidence.

One of the most offensive aspects of All In The Family was the presentation of Archie Bunker as a typical example of blue collar men of that period, when he wasn't.  I grew up among people of that economic class, my father was a factory worker from the low income suburbs of Philadelphia.  His family had a number of members who could have been featured on the program.  But a lot of them were certainly not racists, a none of them were the fountains of hatred and ignorance that Archie Bunker was written to be.  I don't know anything about the writers for the show or what instructions they were given.  I'd like to know how many of them really came from that milieu, though it was clear they didn't have much respect for the people in it.  Someone who was as much of a jerk as Archie Bunker wasn't all that common, he certainly wasn't Everyman in 1971, though he'd been promoted to such by the end of the decade.

Edith Bunker was certainly a much better character, though she was entirely too silent in the face of Archie's awfulness.  I'm sure all of the people involved with All In The Family thought they were presenting her,  Gloria and Mike as more of a role model than Archie Bunker but that was a complete and total misunderstanding of what they'd produced.  History proves that Archie Bunker won the fight. No matter how much the writers tried to humiliate him.  That he was created just as the progress of the Civil Rights movement was gaining hold should have allowed them to see that the forces he was supposed to represent were still strong and present.  For the love of Mike, NIXON WAS IN OFFICE AND ABOUT TO RUN ONE OF THE FOULEST OF RIGHT WING REELECTION CAMPAIGNS IN OUR HISTORY UP TO THAT TIME.   You would have thought they'd have seen how things lay outside of New York city and the media-arts milieu in which they lived.  But like Pauline Kael, they didn't know any of those people who voted for Nixon and they proved unable to see what they were aiding. The rise of Reagan and the far right was aided by the media and the similarly unaware groups that constituted the "left" during that period.  They unwittingly provided the bigots of the late 70s and beyond acceptance for a form of discourse and, even more stupidly, the civic-religious dogma of "free speech" that produced the terrible Buckley vs. Valeo decision, the predecessor of Citizens United and the deregulated media that produced a gold mine for the far right.  You tell me who were the fools and who benefited from those "freedoms" in the end.

On The Boys Having a Hissy Fit Over Women As Breadwinners

I just couldn't listen to it or read it.  I know what they said.  If I had the time I'd go search their past statements about poor women and why they should have to leave their children with other people who they pay to watch them, go ride several buses to get to a minimum wage job (they also being against a living wage requirement) so they can earn a tiny income, much of which they will spend on such luxuries as childcare and transportation and food etc. so that such unaffordable luxuries as WIC, general assistance, etc can be destroyed because The People are a luxury we can't afford, especially children.  Oh, and when these children don't do well or get into trouble, it's also their mother's fault because she wasn't in the home, only she wasn't supposed to be in the home because she'll be a degenerate moocher if she doesn't get out and work for next to nothing ...  Obviously, any woman incapable of bilocation has no right to exist. 

That is one of the endlessly repeating wallpaper patterns the media, from far right to "moderate" has covered the country with. Once you've seen a swatch, you've more than seen it all.