Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thoughts on the San Diego International Comic Con

Having just attended with the Daughter two of what are the four days of Comic Convention in San Diego (and still very tired) which has become a world wide phenomenon, I offer some thoughts that I hope are at least interesting:

First, one may, sociologically speaking, call Comic Con the Oscars for the 99%, though with the caveat that one must have the time to attend and to be able to endure the lines one must stand in to get into various places. Still, the price is not exorbitant and one could see that most of the people there are not in the 1%, though they were also present.

Anyone with access to a computer and Internet (which includes anyone near a public library) can register to go to Comic Con for $50 for adults and $25 for children under 18, with children under 5 being free (of course accompanied by an adult). One can, when attending Comic Con, attend various panel discussions throughout the four day convention, and see and ask questions in Q&A periods with comic book writers and publishers, and Hollywood directors, producers, screenwriters and most exciting for most of us, movie stars. If you want to see first run screenings of films in progress or trailers for upcoming films and also ask questions of the major film stars and writers, directors and producers, you can wait on line for 24 hours or more--yes, you read that right--for these events that are held in San Diego's Comic Con in Exhibit Hall H. People wait and queue up in lines because there are only 7,000 or less seats in this biggest of the exhibit halls and there are nearly 200,000 people traipsing through Comic Con during the four days.

The Daughter and I endured the line for Exhibit Hall H for Saturday's extravaganza. We arrived around noon on Friday and camped out all the rest of the day and overnight and were able to land seats inside Exhibit Hall H somewhere in the middle of the massive room that holds the nearly 7,000 people. There were about 2,500 people ahead of us on line many of whom had arrived on Thursday to stand and sit on line. One abuse that occurred more often this year was with people holding the line for others, where, for example, one group of 4-5 in front of us swelled into 24 people. Not nice, I thought and even said. There are more tweaks to come as Exhibit Hall H is now itself a legendary sub-phenomenon. The Comic Con folks have tried to tweak things already by handing out wristbands and saying, "You don't have to stay in line all night as we'll have a wristbands line" but that puts you in the back of the massive room, which many do not want if one has stood in line just to get the wristband at midnight. As there are already security people throughout the entire time in each area of the line, some have suggested why not hand wristbands out throughout the entire time till the wristbands run out. Comic Con management says they don't want people selling the wristbands, but I think it should not be a concern any more than the Lakers are concerned that some people scalp their tickets. One great thing while we were on the line: The San Diego Symphony played Star Wars music to Star Wars footage and we saw on the jumbo screen the live appearances at the small bowl arena of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, and the new Star Wars actors. We heard from John Williams who made a videotaped appearance, too.

We felt highly rewarded to have endured the nearly 24 hours in line as we saw nearly every major actor or actress in various films, many of which will be blockbusters, and we heard from the screenwriters, directors and actors and saw first run trailers and specially prepared excerpts of upcoming films. YouTube has most of these panels up in years past and this year will be no different--though the Daughter and a Facebook friend showed me that, contrary to the imploring of the filmmakers, someone or someones has or have uploaded a few of these trailers including "Batman v. Superman" and even "Deadpool."

I admit it was thrilling to see major stars like Ben Affleck, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Lawrence, and upcoming stars like Gal Godot and Miles Teller. We even saw Quentin Tarantino with his new Panavision western film he is making (he is sort of a Comic Con royalty as he was initially a fan who sat in the audience like the rest of us; though I have never found his work to my personal liking because it lacks sentiment and any semblance of kindness). Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon spoke from his heart, acknowledged fans like the Daughter who did not like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson's character in the Avengers) falling in love with the Hulk, and answered fans' questions for nearly an hour.

Second, what makes Comic Con better than the Oscars is that there is no single winner chosen. There is, instead, a celebration and even reveling in the overall creativity of people involved. Smaller budget films such as the upcoming "Pride & Prejudice and Zombies" were able to receive equal treatment with the blockbuster films from Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. "P&P&Z" will prove to be a wonderful surprise to people with more interesting literary tastes. It captured perfectly, right down to the casting of characters, Jane Austen's iconic and brilliant novel. It is directed by Gore Vidal's nephew, Burr Steers, who explained he was able to understand how to film the parody book (the author of the book appeared on the panel and was gracious and funny with the cast and director) because he knew the background of Austen's book was the British fighting the French at the end of the 18th Century and preparing for war against Napoleon. He said, "I just substituted zombies for Napoleon..." or words to that effect, and he said it all fit nicely. The author right said Steers simply played the story straight and did not have a character raise a "break the fourth wall" eyebrow or play the story for laughs, which surprised the author--but which the author said makes Steers' film so effective and outstanding. We in the audience were certainly impressed, including myself and the Daughter, the latter who has read nearly every Austen novel already.

Third, there are, at Comic Con, rows and rows of exhibitors who are hawking their wares in the visual arts, in comic books of all shapes, sizes and quality and vintages. There are cool t-shirts and paraphernalia to purchase. One may get for free small posters and the like, and an occasional book from Random House and Simon & Shuster exhibts, if one is spending more time with the exhibitors than standing on line to get into Exhibit Hall H. The Daughter and I were there for one day at the exhibitors' hall and one day (well, two days if we count the line) in Exhibit Hall H.

Fourth, the people at Comic Con are overall a representation of what sociologist Richard Florida calls The Creative Class. These are artists, performers and people who love to dress in costume and engage in Cosplay--I saw a man and woman couple who dressed like Mila Janovich and Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element film who were adorable! Yes, there are some who we saw waiting in the lines who were jerks, but that is what happens anywhere lots of humans congregate. The truth is that most people are very nice, very cooperative and are all deeply interested in, with decent to excellent knowledge of the performing arts and art itself. Maybe the convention attendees not fully representative of the 99% of Americans overall, after all, because there are people who come from other parts of the developed and/or industrialized world. We met for example two sisters from Singapore with one of the sisters' fiancee who lives in England where that sister now lives too. They are not Americans but they are also not in the the industrialized world 1%. They saved their money to attend and this represented a major and perhaps only trip of the year for them. They are, respectively, two scientists and a lawyer, though not a lawyer at an international conglomerate law firm. Many others the Daughter and I saw were people who were definitely from the middle and working classes, and we spoke to some who indeed said this is their one trip for the year and they save up their money to ensure they can get to San Diego. The Daughter and I of course are lucky to live a half hour from downtown San Diego Convention Center where the Comic Con is held. Ah, the advantage of living in VacationLand.

Fifth, Comic Con is now a world wide phenomenon beyond San Diego, where it began. As with film festivals that were initially limited to places like Cannes in France, there are now Comic Cons held in New York, Chicago, Anaheim, CA (called WonderCon) and even London, among other places. One sees the phenomenon spreading as with the film festivals. This is, I believe, related to the rise of the Internet and the recognition that it costs a lot to go on vacation to get to San Diego, CA. I am personally happy to see Comic Con's development in this way as it allows more people to see and interact with creative people. We don't get to personally meet the superstars who appear on the stage at Exhibit H, but at Comic Con one may still personally meet and speak with people who will sign autographs in the autograph booths, which sometimes includes Hollywood royalty. For the Daughter, she was excited to meet David Aja, who illustrates "Hawkeye." He is a Spanish born artist who was exceedingly kind to the fans such as the Daughter (he posed for a "selfie" with her and held his book while biting the top of his book, while leaning his head into hers for the photo). I even met the woman who voiced Tommy Pickles in the now older cartoon, "Rugrats," and attended (and asked a question and met afterwards!) the now older daughters of the revered animators Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Ruth Clampett invited me to email her to allow her to research an answer to a question I had posed about one of the Beany & Cecil cartoons and was deeply gracious with fans such as myself who crowded her after the panel.

Comic Con is a great privilege for those who are able to find the time to attend. Again, though, it is an open convention that anyone who registers and finds their way to San Diego can attend. And above that, it is a showcase for the visual arts and the people who create those visual arts. We fans who revel in their glorious creations may be likened to congregants who enter a beautiful church of color, light and storytelling. There are many of us who are also creative who attend, but maybe not in our day jobs at least. But we appreciate what these people have accomplished.

A couple of final thoughts: Watching even lesser publicized upcoming films like "Patient Zero" and "Victor Frankenstein," I believe we are in a Golden Age for the visual arts. There are even some interesting re-takes on the gothic genre, with Guillermo Del Toro's really outstanding "Crimson Peak." He is a brilliant director and very witty and funny in the panel discussion in which he appeared.

We are more particularly in a Golden Age of films that speak to our hopes, our fears and our deeper sociological thoughts. Yet, the mainstream cultural expositors in our corporate media, and the elite voters in the Hollywood industry who vote for Oscar nominees and winners, have completely missed this Golden Age through now.

For those like myself who do understand the brilliance of these artists and writers, and film directors, please know that DC Comics showed us yesterday that with "Suicide Squad" and "Batman v. Superman," they may be finally stepping up their game with respect to introducing more sociologically based writing into their films, and there are some other amazing films set to be released that I hope live up to the trailers, such as "Patient Zero," which is perhaps a combination of a zombie story and a mutant story in tandem with a medical disease outbreak story, and "Victor Frankenstein" which stays true to most of the original Shelley novel but adds a new twist on a character not in Shelley's story, but known to horror film fans, the character of Igor. Just to give you a sense why it is not going to be the same Igor we have known, Igor is played in this film by Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

A story that should embarrass Americans

An elderly couple dies and leaves in their identical wills all of their money to "America." The sum: nearly $1 million.

Why? They were childless and had no living relatives by the time the husband died--and most importantly, they wanted to thank the nation which took them in as refugees from the ravages of Europe after World War II.

It is so easy to forget how grateful we, including me, should be about America. We know its faults. We know its poor health insurance delivery and access system. We know its deepening inequality. We know its double standards about matters relating to skin color and ethnicity. But we also know that America has been a haven--and often "heaven"--for untold millions of people and continues to be so through today.

To hear the type of attacks on our nation, particularly the growing hostility one hears from so-called "conservatives," helps remind us that we cannot separate ourselves from the "government." "America" includes the governing bodies of the nation, starting at the federal level.

Let's take a moment and consider what Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Joan Petrasek did. And let's honor their memories by not trashing our government quite so much.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Solid blog post refuting the claim that the Nazis were "left" wing...

Every once in awhile one encounters a person who believes the Jonah Goldberg tripe about Nazis being "leftists" of some sort... Here, John Holbo over at Crooked Timber posts an excellent refutation with specific citations.

I recall seeing a quote back in the day from one of Hitler's political lieutenants from around 1928 admitting to a newspaper reporter that the phrase "Nationalist Socialist" was a cynical attempt to grab more working class support....Can't find it now, but it is more important to read Holbo's post.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A torrential downpour of a book review on the violent New Leftists of the late 1960s and early 1970s

Steve Wasserman, in the American Conservative, has penned a devastating review of a new book on the deluded, violent revolutionaries of the late 1960s and early 1970s that appears to be deluded itself. Still, it's a bit long in its attack on the author's prose but its point is that the so-called radicals aka misfits were less of a threat to the Republic than fodder to attack unarmed radicals who were critiquing America. Wasserman provides a short paragraph from Bob Scheer when he was still writing at Ramparts magazine from the early 1970s who identified the violent insanity that inhered in this small band of people to make the point that most on the so-called American Left were against these people at the time, yet there is a residue that the powerful will use even today to attack any radical critique of American foreign policy, American trade policy and anything that calls corporate capitalism into legitimate question.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Jerry Brown, a grownup in the political world, takes on the use and regulation of water

Please do not count me in as a supporter of big agribusiness especially in CA. However, I am not as upset my friends in the environmental community at our very competent steward of our state, Gov. Jerry Brown, going relatively "easy" on farmers here in CA at this point.

We need to change our culture about water use first and foremost, and as this article from Capital Press, pro-agribusiness newspaper, shows, the agricultural community in CA is already being hit with a loss of federal water sourcing, and is now going to be immediately required to tighten their run off and account for their water use to a much greater extent. My sense is more regulations will be forthcoming and maybe eventually the State will not subsidize, even indirectly, the almond growing business, which consumes much more water than fruits and vegetables. As Bill Maher said last week, we can live without almonds more than we can live without water. When one listens to Gov. Brown speak, one sees the difference between Gov. Brown and the various Republican governors in the Mid-West and South is that Brown is actually interested in large economic and societal issues and pursuing a balanced set of public policies. The Republican governors are forever driving and honking their horns in clown cars.

Here is an article from the Los Angeles Times which, when one reads well past the headline, is making the same point I am making about why Brown is not really going "easy" on big agribusiness. It is vital to see that competent stewardship often (though not always) requires hearing multiple voices and moving incrementally.

While I still disagree with the governor's position with respect to higher public education (I think he is way too critical of the U.C. as an institution), I continue to feel we Californians are blessed to have him as our governor. He is truly the adult in the room and truly a great public servant.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Excellent interview with Nancy Fraser

From Eurozine, an excellent interview with Nancy Fraser. Her capsule analysis reprinted below is the best of the best from the interview. It captures a sense I have had for the past few decades:

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland in the days when it was a Jim Crow segregated city. The formative experience of my life, in my early teenage years, was the struggle for racial desegregation – to dismantle Jim Crow. This was a struggle for recognition of the most compelling and obviously just kind. And like many people of my generation, I moved in quick sequence from there to anti-Vietnam War struggles. I encountered Marxism in unorthodox, democratic, New Left form. That gave me a way to try and think conceptually about the various battles against different forms of domination that were so intense in that period. And soon second-wave feminism erupted and came in to the mix. Now, all of this was going on in a time of relative prosperity. I don't think we in the New Left and the early second-wave feminist movement worried very much about how we would support ourselves. Of course we were young, and we often didn't have children; but there was very much a sense – which proved to be an illusion, but was a felt sense nonetheless – that the first-world model of Keynesian capitalist prosperity would continue. We certainly had a perspective about class, and we understood very well that racism correlated with poverty and exploitation. But we thought, looking through a quasi-Marxian socialist-feminist analytical lens, that what seemed to be a secure social-democratic drift meant that redistribution was relatively unproblematic, and that what we had to do was to fight to introduce the importance of recognition into the forms of traditional Marxism and economistic thinking that dominated even social democracy at the time. That proved to be wrong. I soon found myself getting more and more nervous, as the 1980s wore on into the 1990s, that the critique of political economy was being lost amongst the new social movements, the successor movements to the New Left – including feminism. I felt we were getting a one-sided development of the politics of recognition. To me, recognition always only made sense when it was connected to the political economic dimension of society. Otherwise – as with feminism – you get women put on a pedestal and lots of lip service about how important care work is, but it's a sentimentalized, almost Victorian ethos unless you connect it to political economy. That's when I started saying "We had a great critique of economism of a vulgar sort – let's not make the same mistake and end up ourselves with some kind of a vulgar culturalism".

Above all in the US, but also elsewhere throughout the world, there was a paradigm shift towards the dimension of recognition, and it arose exactly at the moment – it's quite ironic – when the Keynesian social-democratic formation was beginning to unravel. We got the astonishing resurrection of liberal free-market ideas that everyone had assumed were in the dustbin of history forever. The rise of neoliberalism at the same time as left movements for emancipation were focused overwhelmingly on culture and recognition is a very dangerous mix: in effect the critique of political economy dropped out at exactly the moment where it was most necessary. But the situation today is quite different. The 2008 crisis was a huge wake-up call. Today the critique of political economy is very much on people's minds, as in the astonishing reception of Thomas Piketty in the US, where he has become a media darling. So certainly things are changing, and that's good.

In all, an interesting interview. Fraser's 2013 article in The British (Manchester) Guardian is also worth a read.

MI5 File Opened on Hobsbawm (to 1964)

This is, to me anyway, a fascinating article from the London Review of Books about the MI5 file on the late Communist Party/Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. It shows once again the foolishness of "intelligence" gathering against unarmed, unusual minds who posed no threat to society.

My short take on Hobsbawm is here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Netanyahu and the hastening of Israel's destruction

A Palestinian, Yousef Munayyer, who opposes not only Israeli occupation but Israel itself has now publicly said (in the NY Times, no less!) what has concerned me for years, which is that Netanyahu and his fellow "hawks" are the ones who are making Israel's enemies stronger and more successful.

As I said back in the linked-to blog post in 2009, which quoted and agreed with an analysis from Haaretz writer Bradley Burston:

What we should really be asking ourselves is whether "hawks" are simply people who love war and violence--as opposed to giving them the prefix "pro-" as in "pro-American" or "pro-Israel." They are too often incompetent in reading international opinion, incapable of swaying international opinion, and utterly reckless in their execution of policies. Netanyahu, who I initially hoped (a weak hope, I will say) was interested in a "Nixon goes to China" scenario upon becoming prime minister, is revealing himself to be better known as "Nutty-yahoo."


For those who don't know, Israeli intelligence played a significant role in promoting Islamic fundamentalist groups in the 1970s and 1980s as a counterweight, they thought, to Arafat and Fatah, which was of course secular oriented. You know, kind of like the way Carter, Reagan and Bush the Elder funded the folks who gave us Al Queda.

These days, whenever I hear the word "hawk" to describe some political figure or opinion writer or speaker, I think of someone who is reckless, naive and ultimately a tool of the very enemy the person claims our nation needs to oppose. That is a more accurate way of describing such people.

I am deeply concerned at the inroads the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is making and Israel is now beginning to run out of time in this moment to make peace with Palestinians.

Bonus article from David Shulman in the New York Review of Books. He is very pessimistic as well about the consequences of continued right-far right rule in Israel and the likely reaction outside and inside of Israel.

Christopher Jencks explains the War on Poverty...again

In the latest New York Review of Books, Christopher Jencks, renowned sociologist, now retired from active teaching and researching, has written an excellent primer on the reason we should more favorably view the Great Society/War on Poverty programs of the 1960s and 1970s. His bottom line point is that the poverty rate we see bandied about (16% or so) does not include the "transfers" so often maligned (food stamps, supplemental income, and later ETIC), such that if we include those transfers and a couple of other cultural change factors, the actual poverty rate is less than 5% IF we compare apples to apples of 1964 to 2015. It does not mean we should celebrate, however, because the larger or macroeconomic factors are making working class and poorer class Americans less well off and more poor, as the wealthy continue to scoop up most of the money being made in the US--a function of economic policies outside the policy scope of the Great Society/War on Poverty.

These findings are consistent with a book written first in the late 1980s by a political science professor, John Schwarz, called "America's Hidden Success," which was outstanding in its analysis and research. It is still worth reading because its numbers are from the statistical analyses of the time period studied and those numbers have not changed. One of Schwarz's great points is that the terribly maligned Aid to Dependent Families and Children (AFDC), the true "welfare" program that no longer exists, but people keep thinking it does ("Thank you, Bill Clinton, for killing it," we say in sardonic contempt), was a program that truly helped poor women and children. Schwarz showed through indisputable government statistics that over 70% of women on AFDC had two or less children, that the birth rate was already declining as poor rural women who moved to the cities after WWII slowly began to emulate their more well off female counterparts in reducing family size, and that the vast majority (80%) of women moved on and off AFDC payments throughout every year, largely when the kids were sick and the moms ended up losing their minimum wage jobs to nurse the children as there was no safe place for the moms to drop off the kids. This is a more humane observation of how the poor live.

Michael Harrington's proper attack on the Great Society/War Against Poverty programs was that the programs were largely transfers, even including Head Start. The 1960s and 1970s programs were not jobs programs (outside of CETA, begun in 1973 and destroyed during the Reagan years), such as the New Deal era WPA, PWA or CCC. Sargent Shriver, who oversaw the first programs for President Johnson in 1964, said in response to Harrington the private sector would take care of employing the poor. Harrington, who largely in reply, wrote "Toward a Democratic Left," said the poor needed more than transfers to truly escape poverty. Those who were mired in poverty needed jobs, and they needed before those jobs training in showing up to work on time and how to manage a household budget. The communities where the urban poor lived needed cleaning, and protection not only from the criminal element, but the police which were mostly run by those who did not live there and who were often of a different skin color, which continues to plague relations between communities and police. Rural poor needed more human contact than anything else, as isolation bred depression and violence inflicted on families and neighbors. Harrington recognized a limited, partial truth behind the culture of poverty so favored by Nathan Glazer, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and most odiously by Charles Murray, without embracing the pessimism and overinterpretation of data of those men that all too often turned into an apology (mostly by others, and certainly not Glazer and Moynihan at least) for white racism.

Harrington recognized what Jencks and William Julius Wilson recognized which is that poverty is a pernicious source of psychic pain as well as economic deprivation. Recommended reading, even if it remains polemical in tone (which also makes it an easier read), is William Ryan's "Blaming the Victim," which demolishes most of the "culture of poverty" argument. One of his salient points is that middle class and especially upper class people, in their teen years especially, exhibit many of the same traits commentators so often assigned to poor people, and how the economic status of those in the working/middle/upper classes protected such people from most of the repercussions arising from anti-social behavior.

Bonus read: Peter Edelman's "So Rich, So Poor: Why It's Hard to End Poverty in America." Edelman's book is a worthy successor and more fact-packed than Michael Harrington's "The Other America." It is a short book and worth the effort to work through. I should disclose Peter Edelman endorsed my novel back in the day, too...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The American Conservative remains the most interesting political journal in the US today

Let's just look at the various articles on The American Conservative's website that are concurrently running.

First, here is a friendly review of a new play sweeping the theater world in NYC. It is a rap-music based historical play about the life of Alexander Hamilton based upon perhaps the greatest single biography I have ever read (if I have to choose just one), Ron Chernow's "Hamilton." The author, Noah Millman, gets the importance of Hamilton's political and economic ideas, though one wishes Millman had been more explicit about that. The important point for us is that Millman is not doing the "get off my lawn" sort of "conservatism" one often sees and hears. He is excited about using a newer medium to reach an audience and has a great deal of respect for new ways of learning. I wish I was in NYC to be able to see this play and hope it arrives soon on the Left Coast.

Second, Notre Dame political science professor Patrick J. Deneen has written a very insightful essay about Frederick Hayek's progressive oriented and even libertarian defense of traditions and cultural customs in Western society. The essay gives us a sense of the alchemy of political philosophies and gives indirectly more insight into the late, great sociologist Daniel Bell's dividing our philosophies of "liberal" and "conservative" into the realms of political, economic and cultural, and how those play off and intersect with each other and with others. The funny thing to me is that it shows that Hayek recognized more than he would have admitted what FDR was trying to do with New Deal innovations, which were themselves haphazard more than organized from an ideological perspective. More profoundly, Deneen's essay helps us understand how Hayek has something in common with the Marxist E.P. Thompson, who, in Thompson's brilliant extended essay, "The Poverty of Theory," extolled the British empirical tradition and demolished the French oriented ideological tradition as way of seeing the world and promoting social policies. Thompson's later and one of his last works, "Customs in Common," is even more explicit on this subject of tradition and customs being important for stabilizing society and setting forth a progressive minded interpretation for a tradition that extols flexibility and change, but remembers above all the importance of being kind, respectful and helpful to each other. It is how one bests approaches Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy novels, I should add.*

*For those who find the philosophies of Karl Marx inconsistent with the British empirical tradition, one should read Michael Harrington's "Twilight of Capitalism" and more recently, the wonderfully written "biography" of the lives and letters of Karl and Jenny Marx, which read to me like the Marxist version of a book on the lives and letters of John and Abigail Adams. Mary Gabriel's "Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution" reveals Marx as essentially a middle class persona who really detested the sort of radicalism that has gone forward in his name starting in the last years of his life, where he famously said he was not a "Marxist."

Third, Richard Reinsch, II has penned an excellent review of a book about religious freedom and establishment in American constitutional and political history. It properly recognizes the initial meaning and scope of the First Amendment, which included the protection of religious institutions from the federal government as separate spheres (thus, "separation" being an originalist legal proposition). Still, there is more that I disagree with as the essay goes on as he overemphasizes his point to the exclusion of the tension inside the First Amendment when it comes to how individuals are treated in a society where private religion flourishes. The first disagreement I have with him is whether the First Amendment operates to protect religious institutions from civic accountability in terms of discriminatory practices. Reinsch should not date the modern secularist position at the US Supreme Court to 1947 and the Everson case. He should, instead, date this point of secular laws overriding private religious practices back to the time the Supreme Court ruled that Mormon polygamist practices were properly outlawed, religious practices be damned. And that of course was a decision from back in 1878, Reynolds v. U.S., the very 19th Century where Reinsch identifies what he calls the most heated polemical debates between the providentialists and secularists, as he calls the legal intellectual combatants. Renisch's real fear is obliquely stated at the end of his article, and he should have been more forthright. He sees religious freedom as the freedom to discriminate against sexual minorities, thus giving credit indirectly and ironically to Gore Vidal's famous dictum, religion is sex and sex is religion--and all is politics. See Vidal's "Sex is politics" essay first published, oh the irony, in Playboy magazine in 1979. I do not share Reinsch's fear as I do not think our churches, synagogues and mosques are harmed by a demand that people not be discriminated against on the basis of who they sleep with, or whether religious institutions have to follow health and safety laws and related laws. My other important disagreement with Reinsch is his most strange failure to even mention in his essay the incorporation of the First Amendment as a limit upon the individual States as a result of the Fourteenth Amendment, which amendment was enacted following the U.S. Civil War. For this "incorporation" intent behind a principal drafter of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Indiana Law School professor George Magliocca's biography of John Bingham. Still, Reinsch's essay and perhaps the book which he is reviewing are otherwise illuminative and well worth the read.

Fourth, Patrick J. Buchanan's essay about nationalism in Europe is one where we can strongly disagree with Buchanan's enthusiasm for revitalizing Christian Europe, but express delight at his recognizing the issues and, yes, the depth of his understanding of those issues. Europe has got to face the fact that its Muslim minorities are being discriminated against from an economic standpoint and even political one, something Buchanan is glossing over in his general despising of the social welfare state. That has been my biggest surprise over the years, meaning the discrimination and economic repression Muslim communities in supposedly "socialist" Europe face on a daily basis. However, the other side of that political coin requires that Muslims in Europe need to have more respect for modern European culture and politics of pluralism, meaning sexual equality. As one woman's poster in India during a recent pro-feminist rally reads, "Don't tell me how to dress. Tell them not to rape." That is why I am so against the manner in which European Muslim communities enforce, through honor codes, women wearing hijabs and burkas. It is why I am so demanding that Muslim clerics and other leaders in the Muslim communities around the world take more of a modernist stand on this subject and recognize that wearing such garments are historical, not how one worships one's Deity. Buchanan also raises another point, less directly, which is that those who most want the new leftist Greek government to fail in its renegotiations with the bankers and creditor class are playing a dangerous game. What will replace the Greek leftists will not be banker or creditor class oriented technocrats, but snarling right wing nationalists of a fascist and even Nazi oriented type. People's cries must be heard and if their cries are not filtered through the progressive oriented ideals of fraternity, equality and liberty, they will be heard as filtered through more "traditional" Middle Ages sort of European Christianity and fascistic "ideals" of racism and xenophobia. Buchanan has, unfortunately, long had a soft spot for those latter Western traditions, and stands against the likes of Hayek, Marx and Thompson, to name the three political philosophers discussed in this long post. Buchanan's demand that Europe's Christians (note his conscious refusal to use the more accepted American oriented phrase "Judeo-Christian") re-invigorate their religious tradition is, in my view, a recipe for more chaos and perhaps even bloodshed. What is instead needed is a First Amendment of separating church and state, meaning European governments need to stop literally economically subsidizing its churches, mosques and synagogues. Second, more economic attention needs to be provided for the poorer often Muslim communities that is also combined with a pluralist and ecumenical approach that combats the racism so often directed by the still white majority Europeans at its minority Muslim and often darker skin colored communities. Third, the one area where Western hegemony needs to be enforced in those same discriminated against communities concerns sexual equality, and that means simply stating that women's rights trump both honor society and religious practices. It is a dance on a tightrope, to be certain, but if Europe's leaders and public writers and intellectuals do not meet that challenge, Europe will certainly find itself convulsed again in sectarian wars, not secular wars. The first thing the EU needs to do toward the ends I propose is capitulate--and I mean that sincerely and literally-to the Greek government's demand for a re-negotiation of its debts. As David Graeber's book, "Debt: The First Five Thousand Years," makes clear, there is ample and consistent historical precedent to bail out debtors and not just bail out creditors. And frankly, it is far more effective and doubly frankly, kind, to bail out the debtors.

Overall, I continue to find The American Conservative to be a political journal where even my disagreements with its writers are inspirational and move forward our discourse--and prove once again that to label people as "liberal" and "conservative" without Daniel Bell's qualifiers for the political, economic and cultural realm is to obscure and dumb down rather than enlighten our discourse.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Who is worse? Dick Cheney or Robert Christgau? So hard to choose...

Hard to choose, hard to choose. Cheney undermines the political commonweal while Christgau undermines our nation's culture.

We might as well fete Henry Kissinger while we're at it,

Christgau is still at it, praising Kayne West in that typical, condescending Maude Findlay manner and deciding that anyone who attacks stupidity in corporate radio is elitist while speaking and writing in an elitist style (it's something Sarah Palin wishes she could achieve...). It is really sad that he is being treated like some sort of royalty when he deserves nothing but derision for contributing to the Idiocracy in a voice that aped anti-corporate hipster language.

Frank Zappa's line about rock critics essentially being morons is directed precisely at people such as Robert Christgau, Robert Hilburn (who wrote for the L.A. Times) and most anyone who ever wrote for Rolling Stone or Cream magazine. They missed Zappa and they really missed progressive rock when they did not attack it. Their tone deaf criticism ensured that corporate America was able to restore three minute songs that sounded like the commercials they were promoting.

I guess it's nice that Christgau realizes now what garbage exists in the so-called hip-hop world but he helped give it legitimacy in the first place. But just as war criminals in our nation never seem to fade away, Christgau rolls on as a cultural war criminal.

Oh well. I wish I'd never seen the article in

As I say these days, we are lucky that the most interesting music seems to be coming out of film soundtracks, where directors are at least interested in artistic endeavor. One thinks of the "Walter Mitty" (Ben Stiller film version) soundtrack, the "Begin Again" soundtrack, "Into the Woods" and "Last Five Years" as examples of truly interesting recent soundtracks.


Where New Dealers intersect with libertarians on eminent domain law...

If people in the U.S. thought the Kelo decision was bad, there is something going on in India to really scream against.

Please read this article about the laws in India that have no due process procedures, no concern about the people who have worked and owned their land for generations or any means to address the inequities other than a frustrated protest.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The John Lewis Bridge?

Maybe one day it will be called John Lewis bridge and not Edmund Pettus bridge?