Friday, December 30, 2011

The Alchemy of Culture

When culture changes, it is often imperceptible to most people. How many of us thought pink and blue represented something deep in the culture when in fact it is largely a 20th Century phenomenon?

It is why I always say to younger women who claim they are not "feminists": Just try going back to the 1960s workplace and tell me you wouldn't be to the left of Gloria Steinem...

When studying history, culture is often the most difficult thing to grasp. Just think how our views about homosexuality have changed over the past 20 to 40 years, or how sexualized our culture is now when we see two women kiss each other on the cheek, or two men living together such as "The Odd Couple?"

It is also why I think that some people have such a difficult time imagining the 1960s political culture where we actually thought we could do something about poverty and other societal ills. I am not saying we can't, but it is striking how defeatist we have become over the decades.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ron Paul's Six Minutes

He doesn't even get 15 minutes because he is against the Empire. We will read, hear and see far more negative things about Ron Paul than positive things about Ron Paul.

Still, my sense of why Paul surged in Iowa is this:

Ron Paul’s appeal is less about libertarianism per se than (1) his Manichean or conspiracy laden view of the world and (2) his anti-war stance. One does not have to be libertarian to be anti-war, and Manichean views are sadly not limited to religious fundamentalists. So Paul’s appeal among certain strata of Iowan voters is not what the libertarians at are really after. It is more of a populist fueled rage that animates that strata of Paul supporters.

Personally, I just eat popcorn while watching this particular inter mural political sporting event. I wish there was a Ralph Nader equivalent running to Gary Johnson as a Libertarian Party candidate. Johnson strikes me as being a better libertarian on some things without Paul’s baggage. It is rather depressing to see our choices for president next year boil down to a smart banker (Obama) and dumb bankers (the current crop of Republican candidates sans Paul, who then sounds more like a Goldline salesman when he gets rolling about returning to a currency based on precious metals).

What's really funny is the Santorum surge. It shows the desperate nature of the Republican electorate. Still, their electorate is trying to act. Our side is just sad, detached and only engaged in any sense when we contemplate the Republicans.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Very Serious Pandering to Republican Hackery and White Racism

Read all about it here at Crooks & Liars.

If the Obama administration lawsuit does not succeed in invalidating the Voter ID law in question, then it is a clear undermining of the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 1982. To require people to pay to get the ID in order to vote is a poll tax.

Romney knows better. He is in full pander right now. And it is frankly disgusting.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Clown Show May Produce a Winner After All...

I simply did not know there were many Republican primary states with "winner-takes-all delegates" structures instead of proportionality structures. Since the former is the case, the Republicans may wind up facing a choice between Gingrich and Romney, with Ron Paul a potential kingmaker (Paul could end up winning Virginia as only he and Romney qualified for the primary and now also due to the continuing allegations of his support of racists through the 1990s. Among too many white voters in the Republican primary, a charge of white racism against blacks and other minorities is not a negative at all.).

The only way the Clown Show produces no winner overall before the convention is if folks like Bachmann, Santorum and Perry stay in the race and keep finding ways to get up 10% to 15% of the vote total. That may keep Romney or Gingrich from getting 50%. Republican voters may yet be that strategic, but the winner-takes-all structures in various Republican primary states may in fact produce a pre-convention winner or someone close enough to be pushed over the top at the first ballot.

If there is a deadlock at the convention, I still say watch for Jeb Bush to emerge from the shadows.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Official editorial of a moderate Israeli newspaper...too radical for American Jewish ears?

This official editorial from the editors of Yediot Achronot says it is time for Israeli leadership to find a way to deal diplomatically with Hamas.

It is an editorial one is not likely to find in most American Jewish newspapers or magazines. And it is one more example that proves why Americans of all creeds who wish to understand Israeli affairs do better by reading Israeli newspapers such as Ha'aretz and Yediot Achronot than most American newspapers, and certainly most American broadcast media. If such an editorial was printed in an American newspaper, or stated orally in broadcast media, such an opinion would be vehemently denounced as "anti-Israel" and there would be whispers of "anti-Semitism" against the writer or speaker if the writer or speaker was not Jewish.

We Americans of the Jewish faith do well by Israel, by the US and by humanity to publicize this sort of editorial.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Idiots getting the scholarly treatment...

So far and just this month, the NY Times Book Review (which I don't read much since the quota was instituted at the NY Times website) has given its valuable and limited space to reviewing books about or by idiots, I mean rock critics from the 1970s.

Here and here.

The rock critics of the 1970s were often drug addled, failed English majors who couldn't tell a diminished chord from a major chord, who had a politically correct sort of racism ("We will not criticize a black music artist") and wanted their rock and roll to remain stupid so they could try and find deep profundities lurking somewhere--though mostly their attempts at profundity were incoherent.

There's already been a book of Lester Bangs essays published, and Lester was the music critic's equivalent to Douglas Feith.

I'm surprised there is no Robert Christgau, Robert Hilburn or John Palmer retrospective coming, is there? These three guys did more damage to music as an art form than most critics, as Christgau came from ground zero in the counterculture, the Village Voice, and Hilburn and Palmer came from The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, respectively.

You want to know why corporate radio is so lame? There are two main sources and one follower: The two main sources are the radio programmers who are like the music executives Zappa spoke about here, and the rock critics, who championed the stupid and attacked the musically talented (Christgau once wrote that King Crimson was one of the 10 worst rock bands of all time. QED). My disagreement with Zappa about record companies is that the record companies at least signed Gentle Giant, for example. It was the radio stations that said, "Sorry, too complex. Not enough like the commercials we are stuffing into every half hour." GG ended up on three or four labels in the US in the ten years of their existence, most of them mainline labels. They tried to promote GG, but again the attacks or ignoring of the band by these critics combined with the radio programmers did in GG as far as the record companies were concerned.

Zappa once got off one line about rock critics that was pretty good, but he overshot himself with the general disdain Zappa sometimes had for everyone. He in fact liked Gentle Giant and many progressive rockers, knew they were very articulate and knew there were fans of his and the progs who understood basic music theory and appreciated complexity and creativity in the musical art form.

The bottom line is that the rock critics of the 1960s and 1970s were dumb or worse cynical about music as an art form, and legitimized the reduction of music to a commodity.

Oh well. Phish understood who Genesis was at least, even if Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep didn't (watch those two iconic actors' faces as the leader of Phish is trying to explain the musical brilliance of Genesis in its early days of the 1970s before they became a housewife band in the 1980s)...

ADDENDUM: I found on the Internet my 1996 article The Los Angeles Times published on progressive rock, and going after Robert Hilburn's drive by shooting review of a Rhino Records compilation of progressive rock. The first paragraph is the "bio" of me, and the article begins in the second paragraph. Backstory: The editor of the Calendar section had started a feature, Counterpunch, which was designed to let readers comment on matters artistic. He liked my rant letter and said he would like to publish it, saying, "I didn't really know about progressive rock, and the bands you talked about. But I think there is something unfair in how Robert (Hilburn) handled the review and the genre in general." Oh, and don't call that phone number at the end of the review as it is not good by a long shot any more.:-) In the pre-Internet and pre-email age, it was so difficult for people with like interests and abilities to speak with each other. I think that is one of the more amazing things about the times in which we live....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Underrated sentiment and nostalgia...

Uriah Heep should have been around today to write the soundtracks to video games...

Here is "The Magician's Birthday" from 1972. It was what we used to call the title track.

Yes, I know there are more important things to comment on today, but I just felt like hearing that song...And it still sounds pretty powerful to me four decades on.

And if we want some holiday spirit, may I suggest the most underrated version of "A Christmas Carol" (all the songs are great!) or the wonderful little old film, The Shop Around the Corner?

I loved the theme song for The Adventures of Mr. Magoo, too...Nice to see YouTube finally has it up for all to hear. It was a very interesting show where the writers took on classic literature and historical figures with Mr. Magoo playing the lead. Could there be something like that today? Imagine SpongeBob playing Gandhi...:-)

Sue Halpern eloquently reviews Isaacson's Steve Jobs bio

I said it at the time of the shallow Janet Maslin NY Times review that we await the NY Review of Books to publish a review on the Issacson bio of Steve Jobs.

Here it is.

After a too long introduction about how Isaacson came to write the book, Sue Halpern eloquently explains the rise of Apple, what Jobs is rightly famous for and what he did not invent. She also deftly tells us Jobs was pretty detestable, which is why I started but put down the biography, and she precisely describes, with just the right sense of moral outrage, the factories in China which Jobs promoted and frankly lied about in terms of safety for or treatment of the manufacturing and assembly workers in China.

Key paragraphs in this review are:

The other reason nominating Jobs to genius status is complicated has to do with the collaborative nature of corporate invention and the muddiness of technological authorship. Jobs did not invent the personal computer—personal computers predate the Apple I, which he did not in any case design. He didn’t invent the graphical interface—the icons we click on when we’re using our computers, for example—that came from engineers at Xerox. He didn’t invent computer animation—he bought into a company that, almost as an afterthought, housed the most creative digital animation pioneers in the world. He didn’t invent the cell phone, or even the smart phone; the first ones in circulation came from IBM and then Nokia. He didn’t invent tablet computers; Alan Kay designed the Dynabook in the 1960s. He didn’t invent the portable MP3 music device; the Listen Up Player won the innovations award at the 1997 Consumer Electronics Show, four years before Jobs introduced the iPod.

And this:

The coolness factor set Apple apart from the start. Jobs’s Zen aesthetic (he was a longtime student of Buddhism), his passion for design, his good fortune to hire Jony Ive, who must be the finest industrial designer working today, and his other guiding philosophy—that function should not dictate form but, rather, form and function are integral and symbiotic—resulted in unique-looking products that, almost without exception, worked more smoothly than anyone else’s. And just in case that was not enough incentive for consumers to part with their money, Jobs transformed the product launch into a theatrical production, building suspense in the months and weeks beforehand with leaks and rumors about “revolutionary” and “magical” features, and then renting out large auditoriums, orchestrating the event down to its smallest detail, and, on launch day, holding forth, typically on an empty stage, in his blue jeans and black turtleneck, using the words “revolutionary” and “magical” some more.

And this:

And so, in many ways, have most of us, and not just by buying what Steve Jobs was selling—the products and the feeling of being a better (smarter, hipper, more creative) person because of them. Through his enchanting theatrics, exquisite marketing, and seductive packaging, Jobs was able to convince millions of people all over the world that the provenance of Apple devices was magical, too. Machina ex deus. How else to explain their popularity despite the fact that they actually come from places that do not make us better people for owning them, the factories in China where more than a dozen young workers have committed suicide, some by jumping; where workers must now sign a pledge stating that they will not try to kill themselves but if they do, their families will not seek damages; where three people died and fifteen were injured when dust exploded; where 137 people exposed to a toxic chemical suffered nerve damage; where Apple offers injured workers no recompense; where workers, some as young as thirteen, according to an article in The New York Times, typically put in seventy-two-hour weeks, sometimes more, with minimal compensation, few breaks, and little food, to satisfy the overwhelming demand generated by the theatrics, the marketing, the packaging, the consummate engineering, and the herd instinct; and where, it goes without saying, the people who make all this cannot afford to buy it?

And throughout she neatly nails Jobs horrible personality, his ruthlessness, megalomania, meanness and rudeness--and even his poor personal hygiene in his days at Atari.

Sue Halpern is my new book reviewer hero. She read the book. She recognized the significant issues raised in Jobs' life story and how it matters to us as a society.

I knew there was a reason my son agreed with me that he should apply to Middlebury College in Vermont. Sue Halpern teaches there!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An ambigous legacy: Vaclav Havel: 1936-2011

Havel's death comes as a surprise to me because I did not know he had finally become ill from the lifelong effects of his smoking and earlier physical abuse he underwent at the hands of Communist dictators.

Still, he leaves an ambiguous legacy because, while he stood very tall and brave against Communist dictators who used the most brutal physical methods of oppression, he strangely allowed Western bankers, led first by Secretary of State James Baker, to push him around using only threats of pressure.

Havel was one of the "willing" who supported the Iraq debacle, and his poetry and music left him defenseless in the face of an IMF-centric philosophy which his banker-picked economic advisers fed him.

This obituary in the NY Times talks about Havel's love for Frank Zappa, and it is someone ironic that Havel passed during Zappadan.

But the story Paul Berman tells in one of his essays first printed in the Village Voice around 1990, and then reprinted in "A Tale of Two Utopias," remains compelling as to how Havel became so compromised as a leader as time went on.

The story is not easily found the Internet and so I summarize it here (this is all from memory, which can be faulty in parts): As the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia was disintegrating, and the Velvet Revolution was underway, Havel somehow directly or indirectly contacted Frank Zappa, who Havel and his artist and musician friends long admired (see The Plastic People of the Universe, a jazz-rock group in Czechoslovakia which took part of its name from the opening track of Zappa's second album, Absolutely Free (1967)). Zappa, in one of those wild coincidences, arrived at the Prague airport just as the American ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Shirley Temple Black (yes, that Shirley Temple!), was at the airport to leave due in part to the political chaos brewing.

When Ambassador Black arrived, she saw a massive throng of people at the airport and she supposedly said to several people with her, "Is this for me? To see me off?" Suddenly, a man nearby in the crowd who spoke some English said, "Isn't it great! Frank Zappa's coming! FRANK ZAPPA!"

The Ambassador was now confused, and had no next to no idea who Frank Zappa was. The man who was from the crowd reacted with confusion. How could Shirley Temple, a former Hollywood icon-actress, not know--let alone not admire--Frank Zappa?

Once it was explained who Frank Zappa was, the Ambassador, fearful of being seen with such a person, hurriedly went to her plane.

The story was later told to Zappa and Havel, and even Havel was confused by the Ambassador's reaction. To those behind the Iron Curtain, American culture was all of a piece, and folks like Havel could not see the fissures and dissension in American culture between high-brow, low-brow, avant garde, commercial, etc.

But now the story goes from funny to...not so funny. And here we leave Berman and listen to Zappa's retelling of the story some time later. It goes like this: Havel now meets Zappa, and says to Zappa, We want you, Frank Zappa, to be our liaison to the American government and American business. We want you to be our economic adviser from America!

Zappa was shocked, and responded, and here I totally paraphrase, "Um, Vaclav, you may need to know a few things and expect some problems with that..." but still agreed to the position. Zappa then came up with ideas for redevelopment by saying, instead of re-wiring certain government buildings that are hundreds of years old, why not use the newly invented cell phones, and promote encryption to protect hacking? He also came up with other high-tech ideas for a nation that is frankly, intellectual and Bohemian (the original Bohemia was within Czechoslovakia's borders, by the way).

Suddenly, Havel received a previously unscheduled visit from James Baker, then Secretary of State under George Herbert Walker Bush (the later Bush's Dad). Baker, sounding both threatening and frustrated, said to Havel that if Havel knows what's good for him, Havel will immediately dismiss Frank Zappa and put in someone who is friendly to US companies and banks. Havel was shocked and now more confused. Why is the US Secretary of State so freaked out--pun intended, Zappa fans--over Zappa? Zappa, however, who knew how brutal American leaders can be to Third World nations in Latin America and Southeast Asia, said, "Vaclav, I will go. Don't fight these guys. They mean business, and it ain't pretty." (I totally paraphrase here for the fun of it, but the essence is true).

See this article from Jack Anderson, the old Washington insider but still somewhat independent journalist, which unfortunately only hints at the real pressure Baker brought to bear--and it was far more than simply Zappa having a fight with Baker's wife and other DC Villager wives over labels draped over records or CDs for "obscenity."

For us, as we look back, removing Zappa as Czechoslovakia's liaison for trade was the first step of a long series of compromises Havel undertook. I couldn't blame him, and neither did Zappa. However, one can blame Havel for pursuing pro-corporate economic policies and supporting the war against Iraq under Bush's son in 2003.

Nonetheless, Vaclav Havel was a towering figure in our literary world, and a truly heroic person who stood up to a more direct and physically oppressive power. It is striking, though, to consider how the people he most admired in the US were those who are ridiculed in our corporate media as "weird," starting with Frank Zappa.

Final thoughts: It is interesting that Havel and Hitchens have passed away around the same time, having each undermined their legacies with their support for the Iraq War II debacle. And they have died just as the American and Western part of that war is finally coming to an ignoble end. It is also ironic that I cite to Paul Berman, who I grew to despise for his mendacious attacks on the memory of I.F. Stone (long time readers of my blog know where to look for those links...:-)). Berman was, like Hitchens, one of those intellectuals of the "left" who wet their pants after the events of 9/11/2001 and hid their cowardice behind jingoistic bravado, which did make them more feted than before on the DC cocktail circuit. That they did not heed the warnings of Randolph Bourne is so obvious, it's painful.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Watch for this...The Republicans will nominate someone not currently running

Jeb Bush is one strong possibility here.

See this posting from Crooks & Liars this morning.

Obama would be toast if Jeb Bush was the Republican Party nominee chosen at the convention. It's then a short sprint to election day 2012. And let's be clear: It will not matter if we liberal-lefties who are disenchanted with Obama all vote for Obama. The low information voter, the so-called independents, will put Jeb over the top.

For months, I've been saying to friends that Jeb is the likely candidate who could emerge from the shadows after a first ballot at the GOP convention does not produce a winner. He reunites the working class conservative cultural warriors and the Wall Street elite, and unites FoxNews with The Wall Street Journal and more than half the commentators on CNN and the major networks CBS, ABC and NBC.

This is why the primaries in the Republican Party are such a clown show. None appear able to secure enough votes to prevail in a first balloting at the Republican Party convention, and after that, the convention delegates are free to support someone else.

Chris Hitchens (1949-2011)

Read a round up of appreciation here and the "official" NY Times obituary here.

I loved reading Hitchens in The Nation magazine in the 1980s and into the 1990s. He really was on his way to becoming as prolific and insightful an essayist as Gore Vidal. But somehow, Hitchens became derailed, unhitched as I often said, in the late 1990s about Muslim hordes and a jealously over Bill Clinton, his former classmate in England in the late 1960s. The events of 9/11/2001 really threw Hitchens into a cauldron of fear, as it did to several other prominent people of the liberal left.

Hitchens became a cheerleader for the Bush-Cheney drumbeat for war against Iraq, and suddenly went from person to avoid at DC cocktail parties to the toast of those parties. Funny how support of the Empire gets one a ticket to the elite "in" crowd while challenging the Empire makes one a person to belittle and often ignore. Just ask Ron Paul, who would find himself feted if he was only a libertarian on domestic economic issues and a statist in matters of Empire and military spending. To take another example, if Chomsky was a cheerleader for Empire, he'd probably have become Secretary of State (he is no more boring in his speaking style than Kissinger or Warren Christopher)....

It is perhaps fitting Hitchens exited life the day after our current president officially announced our nation's exit from a war Hitchens so supported. I figure, since Hitchens often reveled in the death of those he despised, he deserves the Hitchen treatment to that extent.

On the other hand, his voice will be missed. The elite perch did give him space to air his atheist views, and the world, currently in the grip of religious fundamentalism, is better for that. And some more alert readers were made aware of his devastating take down of Mother Teresa, to the point that elite corporate media no longer says that someone is "pure" of heart "like Mother Teresa." But the world is not better for his cheerleading for imperial wars. The world is not better for his near paranoiac fear of Muslim hordes. The world is not better for his endorsement of GW Bush in 2004.

Perhaps the saddest thing for all intellectuals to notice is that Hitchens didn't really count for all that much, a fate true for most intellectuals. As Chomsky first noted in one of his early essays during the 1960s, intellectuals are merely another species of mandarins in our society.

For those in the corporate media, it is sobering to recognize how fast most such mandarins fade from any public consciousness. One thinks of how ubiquitous a George Sokolsky was in the period of the 1930s through 1950s (Sokolsky once advised the journalist and writer, George Seldes, that his problem was that he was a "crook" for the left, which did not pay much. "Be a big crook," said Sokolsky, because that's where the "money" was).

Starting with his imperial cheerleading after the events of 9/11/2001, Hitchens became a combination of Sokolsky and Sidney Hook, the resident "Marxist" who could often be counted on to attack anything to the left of Eisenhower. It is Hitchens' last years as courtier by which historians will often mention him, and the Empire will find ways to obscure his earlier writings--as it already has.

I guess that's why I find myself re-reading Randolph Bourne these days, and John Jay Chapman...Both were highly praised at a time when there were media outlets not controlled by monied interests, but each has been nearly completely forgotten as corporate media strengthened its hold in our now corporatized culture. The Internet has been a great source of revitalizing Bourne to some extent, but this also explains why corporate media wants nothing more than to fence off the Internet to maintain its grip. Good thing the media owners can count on most people knowing more about Lindsay Lohan than even the sometimes ribald courtier Christopher Hitchens....

Monday, December 12, 2011

Republicans have their inspiration...

See here.

Convicting a woman for sorcery and sending to jail would have been bad enough. But execution? Unthinkable in any nation that wants to call itself civilized.

Does it tell us anything about why the Bush family loves the Saudis so much? Not really, but the hypocrisy about "freedom" sure looks apparent.

In reading the article, there were 76 executions this year in Saudi Arabia. At this rate, it looks like the Saudis are going to pull ahead of Rick Perry in the execution sweepstakes....Someone alert the Republican debate audiences. They may find a new candidate in a Saudi Arabian. Of course, we just amend the Constitution again to let a "fer-rin-er" be president, as they floated about with regard to our state's not lamented former governor.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bill Maher...What can I say? Just watch it.

Yes, with Bill Maher, there's...ahem..."language"...

But man, this rant on economic inequality, delivered on March 12, 2011, was something to behold.

How did I miss that one?

No, you need more heart

Christine Lagarde, the new head of the notorious International Monetary Fund (IMF), thinks finance needs more women.

No, Ms. Lagarde, you need more people who have a heart. You need more people who think like Michael Harrington.

What was amusing to read in the middle of the article though, was Ms. Lagarde's phony regrets about being a player who neglected her children (I note her children are not going public with an "I want my Mommy" whine from a privileged perch, unlike Rebecca Walker). And of course the point about the social welfare state being more pro-feminist than nearly anything else, which I made in my rant against Rebecca Walker was proven when Ms. Lagarde said the following:

Lagarde rose quickly through the ranks, impressing everyone with her determination and competence. But within a few years, she encountered the classic female “juggle”: after marrying in her twenties (the marriage did not last) she had a son when she was 30, and then a second son two years later, just after being promoted to partner. “I am an old timer – in those days we [working women] just had to prove ourselves and get on and be brave,” she recalls. “I was working until the last minute for both of my pregnancies and my children were very clever to be born in May and June, so I was able to take the summer off and do the breastfeeding, and then go back to work after the summer.

“I would say that in general it is easier in France than in the US to be a working mother – there is not the same kindergarten system as in France,” she adds. “I am happy to say that at the Fund there is a crèche – if you come to the Fund early in the morning, you will see babies, lots of babies in the foyer, being brought in!”

(Bold added)

Ever so subtly, she is noting in France, companies have to pay their female and male workers who take two months off after a baby is born--unlike the USA. Also, there is an amazing state subsidized child care system for every family.

But what are Ms. Lagarde's solutions to the economic crisis in Europe? They are just like any other male banker: "austerity" and "debt reduction"--solutions which will undermine the social ladder that helped her in the first place. How Ebeneezer Scrooge-like of her. In another article from Vogue magazine, Ms. Lagarde described herself, as I'm sure old Ebeneezer did, as a disciple of Adam Smith and a "liberal" in that 19th Century sense, which in the USA means a corporate conservative, like our last several and now current presidents.*

As I said at the top of this post, where is someone at the top who believes in Michael Harrington's philosophy? If Ms. Lagarde wants an affirmative action program, she should promote a diversity of ideas, meaning adding to the IMF Board or Officers a few more Marxists perhaps, or at least someone who understands Harrington--and a Rothbardian or two. Heck, I'd settle for her taking a lunch meeting with Paul Krugman, who she knows, from the Vogue article interview, doesn't think too much of her. But no, Ms. Largarde just thinks the IMF needs some more humans with indoor plumbing instead of outdoor plumbing.

* I doubt she read much of Smith, and probably never read Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments," which Smith considered a necessary foundation in the world he was promoting in "The Wealth of Nations." Even in the latter treatise, Smith recognized, for example, that no combination of workers could ever do as much damage to a community as five businessmen plotting on a street corner (See: Chapter VII, "Of The Wages of Labour"). Also, if Ms. Lagarde was really diverse and deep in her thinking, which she is not, she would have at least perused Thurman Arnold's "The Folklore of Capitalism" (1937), which is a witty and charming answer to Adam Smith, using similar bromides and general statements that sound so authoritative, but are merely after all is said and done, opinions.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Season of Deceit

"Oh baby, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

"Listen to me, baby, she means nothing to me. I love YOU!"

Yes, it is the season of deceit from our corporate drenched politicians, from Newt Gingrich to Obama. Gingrich is working hard to walk back his one season quickie with Nancy Pelosi on climate change and his longer, more torrid and meaningful affair with the individual health insurance mandate. More difficult for him, Gingrich has to convince the Republican electorate that he is just as batty as they are. Meanwhile, Obama has to walk back his multiple affairs with bankers' friends from Rubin to Geithner and his love affair with Dick Cheney's civil liberties policies in order to try and convince us that he really cares about regular folks and may even have an interest in saving the nation.

What was really funny to me was how, in 24 hours of each other, each of these deeply compromised politicians disinterred Theodore Roosevelt and proclaimed themselves the inheritor of his mantle. It brings to mind Chomsky's point in the 1990s that Gingrich and Clinton were essentially the same in their pursuit of the financial and corporate agenda.

is Gingrich talking with Glenn Beck:

GLENN: ...Let’s start with ‑‑ let’s start with a piece of audio here where you were talking about healthcare and you went down the progressive road with Theodore Roosevelt.

GINGRICH: And for government to not leave guarantees that you don’t have the ability to change, no private corporation has the purchasing power or the ability to reshape the health system, and in this sense I guess I’m a Theodore Roosevelt Republican. In fact, if I were going to characterize my ‑‑ on health where I come from, I’m a Theodore Roosevelt Republican and I believe government can lean in the regulatory leaning is okay.

GLENN: Regulation and the government scares the crap out of me and I think most Tea Party kind of leaning conservatives, and Theodore Roosevelt was the guy who started the Progressive Party. How would you characterize your relationship with the progressive ideals of Theodore Roosevelt?

GINGRICH: Well, that depends on which phase of Roosevelt you’re talking about. The 1912, he’s become a big government, centralized power advocate running an a third party candidate which, for example, Roosevelt advocated the Food and Drug Act after he was eating ‑‑ and this supposedly the story, after he was eating sausage and eggs while reading up to Sinclair’s The Jungle, which has a scene in which a man falls into a vat at the sausage factory and becomes part of the sausage. And if you go back to that era where people had ‑‑ dealing with the Chinese where the people had doctored food, they had put all sorts of junk in food, they ‑‑ you know, I as a child who lived in Europe and I always marveled at the fact that American water is drinkable virtually anywhere."

And here is Obama yesterday:

Theodore Roosevelt...was the Republican son of a wealthy family. He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy. He believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.

But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest. And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for customers with better services and better prices. And today, they still must. He fought to make sure businesses couldn’t profit by exploiting children, or selling food or medicine that wasn’t safe. And today, they still can’t.

In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here, to Osawatomie, and laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”

For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist. But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign: an eight hour work day and a minimum wage for women; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.

Don't we wish we could believe Obama? I do--but I don't. I wish he'd just stop this new season of lying to us and tell us how he really feels, which would sound like this:

"Folks, I believe in the slow death of America. My opponents, including Gingrich, Romney, Paul, Perry and the rest of them, they believe in a faster death of America. And they're so crazy, they want to let the whole planet burn, waters to rise and what not. And they want to make sure our hedge fund friends have to send their girlfriends to Sweden for an abortion when mistakes happen. That's the real difference between us next year. It is indeed 'make or break time' for the middle class. And we're--sorry! I mean they're breaking alright. Heck, I forgot. I am not middle class anymore. Not by a long shot. Anyway, with a few more trade treaties like the ones which a few sell out Democratic Party friends, plus the Republicans and I recently passed, we'll soon be winding up for that final knockout of everything Franklin Roosevelt tried to set up before most of us were born. If you re-elect me next year, I promise to redouble our efforts to truly put Social Security and Medicare on the road to ruin. We'll stay in Afghanistan for the rest of my time as president, wasting hundreds of billions more, and we'll try but make sure we fail to repeal rich people's tax breaks. And right now, I get to blame the slow death of the middle class on those dirty Republicans! Wink, wink, nod, nod. You may ask, Why are we so-called leaders doing this to our nation? Well, we're doin' it because we can. Yes, we can--suckers."


If I were to re-write Donovan's "Season of the Witch," it would sound in part like this:

"Vegetarians tell us they love meat!
Oh no!
Must be the Season of Deceit, yeah!
Must be the Season of Deceit!"

Sure is strange. Very strange.

But don't worry, Democratic Party stalwarts. Next year, I'm likely voting for Obama-- but only because the Republican candidates are all crazy or trying to be crazy. We're in for a really dishonest cycle of populist rhetoric, but the election is just a choice between the smarter banker, Obama, and whatever dumb banker the Republicans vomit out of their convention next summer.

That's really it. There's no point in watching this latest clown show in the Republican primary.

For me, I can't wait for the NBA season to start.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Deanna Durbin at 90

A heartfelt 90th birthday to a woman, Deanna Durbin, who, at a young age, turned her back on Hollywood and stardom. And lived to not tell about it.

Just ponder this: Judy Garland, who MGM held onto while they dropped Durbin in 1938, accepted the moguls' lure. Garland, sadly, has been dead for 42 years.

In her youth, Durbin was an accomplished singer and a decent actress. See here and here for her singing. And here she is emoting while singing in "Lady on a Train" (1945).

And here are Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin in 1936 in one of those old-style MGM shorts, "Every Sunday," and here, from 1939, "3 Smart Girls Grow Up."

Happy Birthday, Edna. Hope nobody bothers you today or this week...:-)

Happy Zappadan 2011

The Zappa Estate loves taking down the recordings on YouTube, but we Zappa fans (who bought the albums and CDs, okay? :-)) persevere and evangelize...

Happy Zappadan (December 4 to 21), based upon the death and birth dates of the revered Francis Vincent Zappa.

Some Zappa for us all:

From the opening track from The Hot Rats album

From the Apostrophe album.

From The Grand Wazoo album

And Zappa's 1980s band having some fun with The Allman Brothers' Band's "Whippin' Post."

The history of how Zappa came to do the song in the 1980s was that, in the early to mid-1970s, the joke that went around prog rock audiences in the NYC area was to scream out loud at any concert, "Play 'Whippin' Post,' man!" It was said at concerts for Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Chick Corea's Return to Forever, you name it. And I recall during The Grand Wazoo Zappa tour in September 1972, someone yelled it out at the Felt Forum arena concert I attended as a mere 15 year old. Zappa suddenly stopped the concert, looked out, and said with mock seriousness, "We don't play 'Whipping Post'....any more." And then, back to the music we went.

Even in the video near the end, you see Zappa's bemused face as his keyboardist Robert Martin sings this white man's blues (the other keyboardist in the band, by the way, was the amazing Alan Zavod, who had earlier played with the equally amazing Maynard Ferguson Big Band; hear Zavod lead this cover of a Chick Corea song from an outstanding Maynard album, Chameleon).

The Zappa band during the 1980s was incredibly tight and sharp. And funny. They did a wonderful job with that classic Allman song, the original of which I provide here--so outstanding itself! And here is the full 24 minute live version from the Fillmore East in March 1971 that became instantly legendary and immediately led to the shout outs at so many other concerts. They don't make country bands like the Allmans anymore...:-(

Happy Zappadan to one and all, especially those who don't "get" Zappa.

Famous parents, whiny children...who write

Here it is again. The child of a famous parent ripping the famous parent.

This time, it's Alice Walker who is the bad Mom. And this time, we get to hear from a privileged daughter of a feminist who decides the entire feminist project is to blame for her mother being emotionally distant, and women need to go back into the home and be homemakers making and caring for babies.

Throughout her screed, it never occurs to Rebecca Walker to compare her mother's actions with say, Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist crusader who talked about home and hearth, and yet, was on the road most days of every year for several decades. What happened in the relationship between Rebecca and Alice Walker is what happens with many famous people and their children. The successful parents are often distant from their own children, and are more "into" themselves than the children they are "supposed" to care for. Ever see how Ron and Nancy Reagan treated their children? Oy.

I started out reading the article thinking, well, Alice Walker is some piece of work. But by the time I was a quarter way through, I was retreating from that and started seeing how the daughter's narcissism resembled what she claimed to exist in her mother:

Instead, when I called her one morning in the spring of 2004, while I was at one of her homes housesitting, and told her my news (of being pregnant after getting married to a nice man) and that I'd never been happier, she went very quiet. All she could say was that she was shocked. Then she asked if I could check on her garden. I put the phone down and sobbed - she had deliberately withheld her approval with the intention of hurting me. What loving mother would do that?

Worse was to follow. My mother took umbrage at an interview in which I'd mentioned that my parents didn't protect or look out for me. She sent me an e-mail, threatening to undermine my reputation as a writer. I couldn't believe she could be so hurtful--particularly when I was pregnant.

(Bold and parenthesis added added)

So her mother is upset...because the daughter ripped her mother in a public interview. And we are to believe the mother should not respond harshly because the daughter is pregnant? Talk about non-sequiturs. The daughter was pregnant when she ripped her mother and that I guess is okay in Rebecca Walker's world. And isn't it funny how Rebecca was "housesitting" at one of her mother's homes shortly before this episode? Nice to be a wealthy daughter...My daughter would put up with a lot from me if I was rich, trust me on that. She'd be glad to find her way in the world and drop me a postcard sometimes.

I also love how, despite being a supposedly distant mother, when Rebecca became pregnant at age 14, and decided to have an abortion, this same supposedly distant mother supported her and even went to the abortion doctor with her. The daughter now implies she is angry for her mother not saying, "Oh no, dear, just have the baby." And if she did have the baby, what would have happened to the daughter's chances of getting into Yale University a few years later, which she says in the article she later did?

The daughter is revealed as someone who wanted to be taken care of by an earth mother. I understand that. My wife is an earth mother and my children love that both Mom and even Dad spend time with them and hang with them. But really, does Rebecca Walker ever wonder, even once, that maybe her mother's stone silence at her eventual pregnancy was "I wonder if this still young woman is ready for a baby?" I'm not really defending the narcissist player mother here, just asking for a little kindness from a daughter to her mother.

But the daughter is not satisfied with this personal attack on her mother. No, at the end of this whiny piece, we have to be insulted with this:

The ease with which people can get divorced these days doesn't take into account the toll on children. That's all part of the unfinished business of feminism.

Then there is the issue of not having children. Even now, I meet women in their 30s who are ambivalent about having a family. They say things like: 'I'd like a child. If it happens, it happens.' I tell them: 'Go home and get on with it because your window of opportunity is very small.' As I know only too well.

Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They've missed the opportunity and they're bereft.

Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.

But far from taking responsibility for any of this, the leaders of the women's movement close ranks against anyone who dares to question them--as I have learned to my cost. I don't want to hurt my mother, but I cannot stay silent. I believe feminism is an experiment, and all experiments need to be assessed on their results. Then, when you see huge mistakes have been paid, you need to make alterations.

This woman is so obsessed with herself she has obviously not read any of the sociological literature on (1) the subject of divorce, (2) deciding to have or not have children and (3) the often Hobbesean choices women face in a society that is still not women-friendly. She is completely ignorant regarding the economic factors in an American society that are anti-social and anti-family that have next to nothing to do with feminism and nearly everything to do with not having national health insurance and national child care programs. She would be enlightened--perhaps--if she spoke with a European or Canadian feminist, or even our nation's own Barbara Ehrenreich about structural economic issues and how these create more adverse effects on women than men.

I once saw a Bill Buckley show in the 1980s that debated the issue of feminism with Canadian feminists. Within the first five to seven minutes, the Canadian feminists said the social welfare state was as much a liberator for women as anything else in society. I have also noted over the years, especially when I read about how difficult it was to be a homemaker in the 19th Century, how important advances in technology, particularly washers, dryers and dishwashers, have been for women when dealing with the strong patriarchal cultural undercurrents that remain even in socialist oriented societies.

Yet, this daughter, this young, privileged narcissist, writes with the ignorance of an upper class homemaker who fails to see her status as stay-at-home Mom exists because she married well. This ungrateful daughter does not see that both her father's wealth and mother's success from an economic version of nothing provided her wealth and access to be able to meet someone who was able to let her play mother to a child in a safe, nurturing environment.

And yet, just as her mother was a scolding feminist saying get out of the home and hearth, she now scolds professional women to go home and have kids--as if there will always be a loving, supportive well-off man for each and every one of them.

I am not saying Rebecca Walker is completely wrong, but her policy prescription is classic late Sixties cultural liberalism meets modern conservatism: It is a policy that is profoundly--yes, profoundly--ignorant of the economic forces in our lives. It is a policy narrowly focused on the personal and not the societal (See this quote from Christopher Hitchens about "The personal is political").

And what we see in her article is a shallow policy prescription combined with the whine of the modern memoir writer. We also see the child of privilege who fails to connect the dots between the economic fortress with which she was provided and the tradeoff the successful parent makes to provide that economic fortress.

Could Alice Walker have been a more emotionally connected mother? Surely. But that first wave of modern feminists had a right to act as they did. They were coming from a culture that every modern woman, including the US educated college girls proudly wearing burkas, would find oppressive. As I always say these days to younger women who disdain being a "feminist": "If you went back to the workplace in 1962, in a week, you'd be considering getting a gun and telling Betty Friedan and even Gloria Steinhem to get out of the way for a revolution."

You want a relationship with your mother, Rebecca Walker? How about apologizing to your mother, and acknowledging the economic support you received from her success? How about giving your mother some space to apologize, too, for not being as emotionally connected as she should have been? I'm sure Alice Walker, a smart, creative and ultimately empathetic woman, has some regrets. But when you publicly rip her in this petulant manner, and prescribe policy prescriptions that make us think you've taken Michelle Bachmann pills, you make it awfully hard to reconcile.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

A sound, practical idea from two governors

Two governors (from Washington State and Rhode Island) have asked the federal government to change the designation of marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug so that doctors may prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes.

This is something I had proposed about five years ago when the Supreme Court upheld medically assisted suicide by noting that the difference between drugs used to kill people and marijuana was that the latter was a Schedule I drug that was completely prohibited, while the drugs used to assist in suicide were Schedule II drugs. See here.

It is time to move marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug. It makes sense. And it will have an extra salutary effect of preventing unnecessary incarceration of people for merely smoking marijuana. Personally, I don't drink alcohol and don't smoke anything. But I have come to the conclusion that the drug war has largely failed, and is counterproductive from a societal standpoint.