Saturday, January 31, 2015

It's all Greek to me...

Markets or democracy is a really good juxtaposition to help understand what has happened and is happening in Greece.

This article from the ranking American foreign policy establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs, is very insightful. If we root for Tsipras to fail, we won't necessarily get the moderate pro-banker (a la Obama), we'd likely get the right wing seething fascist or neo-Nazi.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Interesting essay on "political correctness" comparing Marcuse and Mill

The American Conservative continues to be one of the more thoughtful journals of our time and place in America. Here is an interesting article comparing J.S. Mill with Herbert Marcuse and speaking more kindly about Marcuse than I admit I ever have...

The phrase "politically correct" began as an internal critique on the Left, particularly the economic Left critiquing the zealousness of the cultural Left. One heard it in a song from The Bobs back in 1985 (note it is before the craze began on the right and in corporate owned media) called "Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country." Sadly the song is not available to hear for free, but here are the lyrics.

It then began to be used as a hammer against the entire Left, political, cultural and economic and it has never stopped being used in that manner.

What I find sadly lacking is that the Right and conservatives also have political correctness, if what political correctness means is oversensitivity to language that may be offensive to someone's being, deeply held philosophy or the like. Political correctness on the Left is about sensitivity to racism, sexism and the like while the Right wants to make fun of women, gays, blacks, Latinos and minority religions in a given society without consequence. Political correctness on the Right is about sensitivity to religion (one's own of course), white males, traditional hierarchies and symbols, capitalism and the like, while the Left wants to make fun of religion (one's former oftentimes), white males in pickups from the American South and business people, again without consequence (example: try to be a Marxist or pro-union as a corporate manager and see how far that gets you or maybe draw something satirical about the American or Israeli flags and see how much vitriol you get from mostly right wing people...). I tend to support the right of both sides making fun of pretty much anything perhaps coming from a Lenny Bruce era perspective. Does the sort of humor exhibited make me uncomfortable and go against my ultimate sense of some decorum? Yes, but long ago we learned comedy is not pretty.

So even as I myself decry the shallow manner in which people call others racist or sexist, I am also wary of the use of the phrase "politically correct" because it does tend to be used as a way to de-legitimize legitimate grievances in our society and de-legitimize the Left in ways that reminds me of ways in which the American discourse leaders decided after World War II that Reds and liberal New Deal internationalists were no longer allowed to be part of the political and social conversation, i.e. the Red Scare and later McCarthyism.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Nice review of Victor Serge's "Midnight in the Century"

The Los Angeles Review of Books has published a nice and detailed review of Victor Serge's "Midnight in the Century."

What I have loved about Serge's novels is the way each opens with the first four or five characters about each of the disparate characters who then slowly come into contact one way or another with each other. Sometimes it is serendipitous. Sometimes it is planned. Sometimes they are pushed together.

Serge's novels are about systems as much as people, landscapes as much as communities, History and Time as much as a chronology of events.

The reviewer does not articulate these points quite this way, but allows me to say it in a way that a reader may now understand.

Victor Serge was a truly remarkable mind and being. He is one of the most important chroniclers of the Western 20th Century. If I had to list my favorite Serge novels, it would be 1. Conquered City; 2. The Case of Comrade Tulayev; 3. Midnight in the Century; 4. The Long Dusk; 5. Unforgiving Years; 6. Birth of Our Power; 7. Men in Prison.

His masterpiece is his non-fiction work, "Memoirs of a Revolutionary," and his second most amazing book is "Year One of the Russian Revolution."

Serge is a compelling figure both from a literary-historical view and a biographical view.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A leader's speeches can matter if the leader has earned that respect

This article from The American Spectator--I know, not on my blogroll or a magazine I don't tend to quote from positively, at least--is outstanding in showing how a bully pulpit can indeed work. RFK spoke to liberals and conservatives simultaneously and that was part of his genius we never saw work on a national scale because several bullets struck him down.

ADDENDUM: It was the American SCHOLAR, not SPECTATOR. As my favorite commenter says, a Freudian slip. I guess I wanted to find something to agree with the American Spectator about?

The appeal of fascism

Mike Huckabee has written a book that is an example of an appeal for Fascism in the sense that he wants his readers and people who listen to him to believe we don't have anything to learn from scientists, social scientists and engineers. Jon Stewart showed Huckabee a thing or two that shows how corrosive Huckabee is in promoting hatred of people who live on the coasts and those who are knowledgeable about public policy and science.

Huckabee does not see that while he is right to give credit to the two guys in pick ups who have a tool box to fix a car that breaks down in country road, that does not mean we should ignore or belittle scientists who study climate change or social scientists who analyze government budgets, policy issues and the like. Each has an important role in society. And that's why I would want to increase the wages of those two guys in the pick up truck and I also want to protect those professors who are being undermined by the use of adjunct professors who work part time and get a small stipend instead of a salary.

Finally, one thinks of Digby's city mice and country mice theme. The difference is Digby is really concerned about how this divides us unnecessarily while Huckabee wants us to be divided so he may promote a corporate uber alles, i.e. fascism.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The progressive rock-punk rock connection

I found a fascinating article in a Cambridge University sponsored journal called, "Popular Music." The article is titled "Know History!: John Lydon, Cultural Capital and the Prog/Punk Dialectic" by Sean Albieez, from Vol. 22, No. 3 (October 2003) issue of "Popular Music." In it, see JStor cite here, the author makes a decent case that a few punk rockers, but using Johnny Lydon aka Rotten, were progressive rock fans and fans of jazz, classical and other more serious music.

I had long known of John Lydon's fanboy crush on Peter Hammill and we know that punk rockers would eventually admit they loved Robert Fripp and Steve Howe, for example. I even recall the second keyboardist (Ian Parker) for The Tom Robinson Band liking the Canterbury sound and particularly the band National Health.

But I liked this article for putting a lot under one roof, so to speak. The people who polarized or separated punk rock from progressive rock were the idiot music critics who wrote for Rolling Stone, Village Voice and culturally vacuous magazines (The political writing in those two magazines is much more thoughtful, of course, but the music writers have been morons like classic Darwin Award winner, Lester Bangs, or yutzim like Robert Christgau). It is a shame that the current cultural historians are relying on these critics to describe the era and that has made things worse. Articles like this from Albiez are excellent correctors.

ADDENDUM: I found on the Internet my article the LA Times published in 1995, before the full start of the Internet, on progressive rock. It was in response to a typically ludicrous attack on progressive rock from the odious Los Angeles Times rock critic, Robert Hilburn. Hilburn at least would admit publicly his ignorance of music theory and music appreciation, and admit he was essentially a misplaced journalism major more interested in lyrics than music. But he was still part of the anti-intellectual Sarah Palinesque attack on progressive rock ("You think you're so smart!" or otherwise dismissing progressive rock music as "pretentious."). Oh, and the law firm at which I was affiliated at the time no longer exists nor does that phone number apply any longer. Again, this was pre-Internet when email was not a known alternative for most people. I do recall my firm's phone ringing from callers around the world--literally!--that upset my then partner as people were very happy with what I wrote. I was also invited to a ProgRock festival in Los Angeles later that year and treated very kindly by Greg Walker and others as there was, again pre-Internet, no outlet in major corporate owned media for anyone to defend progressive rock. What I had not known and was pleased to learn from Walker and the others I met was that there had been a full on second act in the 1980s and 1990s for progressive rock, including bands like Spock's Beard, Flower Kings and others. I did not know about certain other international prog bands even in my experience or era of the 1970s, bands such as Mezquita from Spain, for example. The Internet, of course, allowed for the international community of progressive rock fans to join together and continually enrich each other.

I should say the reason the Los Angeles Times published the article at all was because an editor, who admitted to me he did not know progressive rock, or much about any music, thought my letter to the editor needed a respectful treatment as an article because it showed there was a deep unfairness in the way his paper (and he saw apparently other papers) were treating the topic of progressive rock. Hilburn never responded to the article, of course but my memory is he never took on reviewing a progressive oriented rocker again. I have to admit I sometimes emotionally feel like I want to live long enough to dance on the graves of Hilburn, Christgau and John Palmer of the NY Times. As my Italian mother would say, Son, that is your "Italian" coming out in you. She also says, You know what Italian Alzheimer's is: It's where you forget everything but the grudges. Yes, better to be positive and just enjoy the best of progressive rock.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Republicans in Congress want to weaken Obamacare to the point of adding to the budget deficit and debt

Business Week has the scoop here.

No wonder the Republicans in Congress want more "dynamic" scoring from the Congressional Budget Office and are replacing a guy who has been fairly reasonable in the past....

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

George Romney's ghost for president in 2016

The noise for Mitt Romney to run again is strange and only shows to me the power of the 1% to drive the political dialogue in corporate owned media in our nation. Still, if only Mitt Romney could channel his Dad, George Romney, then Mitt would probably earn my vote in 2016. Look here for George Romney's campaign brochure in 1968.

And what people may not recall is George Romney, as governor in Michigan, and as an auto exec, had good relations with labor and believed in the utility of labor unions in a civilized society.

George Romney was a great American and we miss his presence in our society. His son, Mitt, so apparently scarred by his father's candor in politics and a belief that his father's candor did his father in, has made a career that has left him without credibility with a large swath of the American population. I always thought I'd like Mitt if I met him privately as there is still something decent about him underneath the political noise and garments. He needs to find his inner George Romney. It's there somewhere....But if he finds it, he'd have to run in the Democratic Party these days. George Romney is well to the left of Obama and the Clintons and is in Bernie Sanders land.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Skeptics can't scream 1998, 1998 anymore....

Scientific American reports 2014 is now the hottest year recorded for the planet. Higher than 1998. And that the hottest ten years are since that year of 1998.

The only thing skeptics have left is their argument that CO2 is not a source for warming, something skeptic Anthony Watts has backed off somewhat from himself (It's now a factor, he says, but manageable). I don't think the anti-CO2 argument makes it as the lab and computer studies show that it is. And we also know that it is not only CO2 anyway, it's methane too. Either way, the planet is warming and there is a human activity that is contributing to it.

Now can we get to a public policy discussion on this? Sad to say, the answer to that question is No. A majority of Americans will either shrug collective shoulders and others will say, "It's cold today, the scientists are wrong."

Monday, January 05, 2015

Oh boy, do I feel guilty now...

I read articles like this from Chris Hedges about the violence committed against animals in the name of agribusiness and food in general, and I realize, we ought to at least take some baby steps here--despite the belief of the person whom Hedges interviews, who says it is still a tidier concentration camp.d

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Smart article on brain and sex

Sex meaning "gender."

Read it here at Salon.com.

The article shows us that we know a lot about areas of the brain, but little about how the areas function and interact in any sense to conclude men and women think differently over their lives. The authors of the article show they have read both their Stephen Jay Gould on "The Mismeasure of Man" and E.O. Wilson's insights as to how environment does effect physical change in the evolutionary context (recently in "The Social Conquest of Earth"). It does show us that maybe we have to provide more effective early math and science to girls before the societal pressures of girls not to worry their pretty little heads about math and science have pushed them away from those disciplines. But if we go to the Finnish model, maybe that "solution" goes away too. See my below post from earlier this morning.

Poor neighborhoods have poor performing schools...That's the connection

There is a now old sociologist, Christopher Jencks, who, in mid-career, made himself a non-person for corporate-owned television and radio appearances for the rest of his career because he said, in effect, the more he learned about solving social problems in the United States, the more he realized the answer required a re-distribution of wealth. This is a brilliant article from The Baffler by Emmett Rensin and David Shor in the tradition of Jencks, as it relates to the issue of effective public education. One translation here: In the title and in the article, the term "neo-liberal" is used to describe people who are more likely to support abortion and gay rights on principles of decency, but are anti-union and likely to support trade treaties that beggar the working and middle classes. In other words, it is a label fitting both "moderate" Republicans and "corporate" Democrats. It is also a label still favored in European politics, but makes for difficult and distorted reading when the term is used in America.

And for those who say everything is on the Internet, no it is not. Here is something not on the Internet from my personal book library, but now we will at least add a part of it to the Internet:

Jencks, from his book with others on the inequality in schools in the US, called "Inequality: A Reassessment of the effect of family and schooling in America" (1972), page 265:

"...In America, as elsewhere, the general trend over the past 200 years has been toward equality. In the economic realm, however, the contribution of public policy to this drift has been slight. As long as (we believe)...that public policy cannot contribute to economic equality directly but must proceed through ingenious manipulations of marginal institutions like the schools, the progress will remain glacial. If we want to move beyond this tradition, we will have to establish political control over the economic institutions that shape our society. This is what other countries usually call socialism. Anything less will end in the same disappointment as reforms of the 1960s."

Earlier in the book, at page 14, Jencks noted his book will deal with individual differences in income and opportunity rather than group, though that would also be discussed. He noted in 1972 that white workers earned 50% on average more than black workers, but then noted the top 1/5th of whites earned 600 times more than the bottom fifth of whites. This led him to conclude he is "far more interested in a society where wealth and poverty are entirely eliminated than in a society where they are merely uncorrelated with skin color, economic origins, sex, and other such traits."

Once we filter out the nostrums on eduction from the Hillary Clinton-Arnie Duncan-Michelle Rhee-Rahm Emmanuel-Laurie David crowd, we can now understand what the head of Finland's schools is talking about. See this interview with her in The Atlantic magazine.