Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Nicholas Brothers: a slow motion tribute

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The Nicholas Brothers were probably the best dance act of the Golden Age of Hollywood and only Jim Crow could have kept them from being as famous as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I hope you enjoy this slow motion tribute to their art. DS

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Frank Miller's rant: a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

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We are cohabiting with a wounded political-economic system that is pouring legitimacy out of its every vein and with every beat of its heart, spurting incoherency from every artery and its heart is beating very fast as it thrashes around. In this company paranoia is a default option.
Paranoia is a home game for the ultra-right, because that is where they live in the flushest times... it is in the times of the disintegration of the most common and garden variety certainties that their message resonates most dangerously.... times like these. To some extent all of us are vulnerable to that message now. Awareness is our best defense.
In trying to get to the heart of any movement's mentality the art it produces is the most accessible path. Artists exist to reveal just as politicians often  exist to conceal. A picture is worth a thousand words: "Socialist Realism" tells you more about the bleak mentality of "Really Existent Socialism" than a hundred "World Peace Conferences" ever could.
Probably the most fertile and creative artist on the American ultra-right is Frank Miller,  the author of endless noir comic books, screenplays and films.  I would say that you could learn more about the American ultra-right and neocon mind set from even  tiny samples of Miller's prolific production than by a wastepaper basket full of articles and policy papers by such neocon icons as William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer or the American Enterprise Institute.

Lets look at a brief sample of what he does.
Now let us visit him personally and catch his vibe in the following short interview.

A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

This brings us to Frank Miller's Occupy Wall Street rant. Here is a juicy bit:
The “Occupy” movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. “Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.(...) Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy. Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism. And this enemy of mine — not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
I would maintain that if a group of such reasonable, nonviolent protestors like the people who make up  OWS: men and women of all ages, and from all walks of life, can so stimulate the juices of a talented crypto-fascist such as Frank Miller, then they are doing something very right; it proves that they are drilling very close to the nerve of the wounded beast I opened this post with.
Summing up: there are few artists of American fascism as talented or as prolific as Frank Miller and to have attracted his attention so powerfully is a victory for America's progressive movement and should be celebrated as such. DS

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thoughts at Thanksgiving 2011

 David Seaton's News Links
We've been through this before
Read carefully the two quotes below as if they were a Zen koan on the order of "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "does a dog have Buddha nature?", and see if you notice the cognitive dissonance they produce.
Consumer spending is not only the key to economic recovery in the short term; it’s also necessary for balanced growth in the long term. If our goal is to repair our damaged economy, we should bank on consumer culture — and that entails a redistribution of income away from profits toward wages, enabled by tax policy and enforced by government spending. James Livingston - New York Times

"For capitalism is abolished root and branch by the bare assumption that it is personal consumption and not enrichment that works as the compelling motive."
Karl Marx - Das Kapital - Vol. II, Ch. IV, p. 123
Meditating on the above, first, on the the need for carefree consumer spending in order to avoid an even deeper recession, and then on the essential capitalist virtues of thrift and capital accumulation, sound fiscal policies and solid currency, I began to get some understanding of where we are and the dangers we may be facing.
We are being urged to drastic cost cutting and thin-lipped austerity in order to manifest the capitalist virtues of thrift and the sacrifice of immediate gratification, with a view to accumulation, which when manifested will paradoxically lead to even greater economic hardship, certainly in the short term... and as Maynard Keynes said, "in the long run, we are all dead".
For some reason, known only to my neurons, the following simile occurred to me:
In cities such as Beirut and Cairo, a sophisticated middle class lives in a liberated, western style in the midst of a deeply conservative, Arab society, where all men, Christian and Muslim alike expect to marry virgins. In consequence, the best plastic surgeons in Europe are charging rich, young, Arab women high fees to perform Hymenorrhaphy or hymenoplasty, the surgical restoration of the hymen. This relatively simple operation is perfectly safe when performed by a skilled professional under hygienic conditions, and is, of course, performed with the patient under anesthetic.
What conservative economists are asking western consumers, the motor of the world's economies, to do right now, is to restore our capitalist "virginity"...  but instead of being in the hands of competent surgeons, we are being asked to undergo surgery performed with dull knives by incompetent, butcher-quacks, with dirty hands (politicians etc)... and without anesthetic.
Once this ordeal has been undergone and our "virtue" restored, it is hoped that we, thus painfully re-cherry-ed, will soon return to our former libidinous lubricity.
The question would be: is this trip really necessary?
For many years, people have been getting jobs, owning a home, getting an education, paying their medical bills, all because of easy credit. Now, it seems to me, that having a job, owning a home, getting an education, paying medical bills, are basic human needs that almost all human beings rightfully aspire to, and rightfully demand. The system provided all those things, therefore the system was considered "good".
Now the credit has been shut off and humans no longer can get a job, own a home, get an education and pay the doctor, therefore the system is "no good" and should be changed so that people can return to owning a home, getting an education and paying the doctor.
But what was our system really?
"Personal consumption" and not "enrichment" was the compelling motive that moved the economy, and that according to Karl Marx, who knew a thing or two about it, is not capitalism.
As the quote from Marx at the top of the post indicates, our economy had long ceased to be classic capitalism and had become, what for want of a better word, I would call "consumer socialism". The state printed money and practically gave it away at absurdly low interest and every obstacle to lending it, such as credit worthiness, was removed and people had jobs, owned homes, got an education and paid the doctor.
If we really are going "tighten our belts", there is a very real chance of our entering into a full blown depression similar to the 1930s and we would be well advised to remind ourselves that only two countries avoided the Great Depression of the 1930s, to wit, Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia and the United States only climbed out of the depression by entering World War Two and creating a command and control economy with unlimited public debt, severe price controls etc. Thus, during the war the American economy came to resemble those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and after the Second World War, the Cold War soon began, which established the Military-Industrial Complex as a continuation of America's sui generis  wartime "corporate state", which was the beginning of America's legendary prosperity.
So now, at the this late date, we are expected to apply classic, capitalist "fundamentals", when history shows us the result?
Like my grandad used to say, "yez payz yer money and yez takes yer cherce".
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. DS

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Globalization: fun and games

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Open "Google Translate" and set the translation to English to Chinese (traditional), then write in the word "jokes", which will produce the Chinese ideogram 笑話, then paste that into Google-Google and it will produce the  following search results (click here). 
Choose one of the pages at random and press the "translate this page" link. I chose this one (click here).
Here is a sample Chinese joke:
A family of three sisters also married, while back home after the honeymoon
Whisper them in their bedroom with her ​​mother and asked her how they felt the first night.

Embarrassed to talk about her public
I saw a magazine on the table, said Sister turn to air ads like this
Civil Aviation Advertising: out of thousands of times, happy as an immortal

Then turn to cigarette advertising sister
It read: one in hand, food for thought

Then turn to a sister family of soy sauce ad
Read: bit mellow, delicious

Finally, the three sisters have to tell her mother arguing with her ​​own feeling
Mother not to turn up a chocolate ad
Says: just melt in the mouth, do not melt in the hand
I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.... Brave New World. DS

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking on the bright side of life - Part Two

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"Melancholia" - Lars Von Trier
Looking at the political paralysis of the American political system, the wasted lives and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ceaseless unrest in the Arab world, the increasing possibility of a war with Iran and the sense of imminent financial collapse, I get the feeling I am only hearing the other shoe drop.
With a little historical perspective you might see that the mysterious process of transformation, a continuum, that began only 22 years ago (a blink of the eye history-wise) with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent sudden, unforeseen, collapse of the Soviet empire is also attacking the remaining economic, military and political structures of world power. In other words, in time, we won't see these as separate, unconnected events, but as one continuous, unfolding, tragedy, such as the period of similar length between World War One and World War Two; a tragedy that was rooted in the culture, economic and political developments of the 19th century as ours is rooted in the culture, economic and political developments of the 20th.
Nowadays as was the case in Eastern Europe as the USSR fell apart and its grip loosened, our "satellites" and our client regimes are in revolt and/or collapsing too. Perhaps the financial system is just a "leading indicator" of this ongoing metamorphosis.
I am coming to believe that we are living through some sort  of process of deep systemic change and end of an era that might have begun with the industrial revolution: a period which we don't have enough distance or perspective to properly understand and that the fall of USSR was simply a warning, something similar to the water receding before a tsunami hits. Foolishly, instead of taking precautions, we wandered out in the tidal flats collecting seashells... now the tide is rolling in and it is too late to run for cover. DS

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How paranoiac should we be?

Critics in Europe are very uneasy about the new Italian ECB chief, the Greek premier and the prime minister-designate of Italy’s past or present relations with the Goldman Sachs bank. Key European crisis figures Mario Draghi, Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti all have backgrounds with ‘Government Sachs’. Euronews

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) said international adviser Mario Monti, who yesterday was asked to lead a new Italy government, has “discharged all his obligations” to the firm. Goldman wishes Monti success in the “extraordinarily important task” he has assumed, according to an e-mailed statement today. Bloomberg
David Seaton's News Links
There is this wonderful Spanish saying, "when you see your neighbor's beard on fire, put your whiskers to soak", whose American version would be, "what goes around, comes around". I think both versions of this sample of folk wisdom apply to what has just happened in Italy and Greece, where the pressure of the financial markets have caused two governments elected by universal suffrage to be brought down and replaced by technocratic governments which have been chosen by "experts" to apply "austerity measures" to the population of these countries, without consulting the voters. If instead of the gnomes of finance, this had been done by military officers, we would call it all a coup d' état... now we are not quite sure what to call it.
Now mind you, I am not defending Silvio Berlusconi, the most sinister clown to grace Italian politics since Mussolini, but frankly friends and neighbors, the Italians did vote him into office and have not been given the opportunity to vote him out and are now being governed by Mario Monti, a very nice man, a very intelligent man, but someone that nobody voted for and who happens to be closely linked to Goldman Sachs, of all people. Now that in turn, if you have any attachment at all to representative government, universal suffrage, and stuff like that, rivals the advent of Berlusconi as the most sinister thing to happen in Italian politics since the rise of Il Duce.
Meanwhile, back in Wall Street, mayor Bloomberg has cleared Zuccotti  Park and now, lost among all the exciting news of financial meltdown, it seems that the government of Israel is set on starting a war with Iran, against the opinion of their own military and intelligence community, who would have to be the ones to fight said war... and of course, our Nobel Peace Prize winner, president Barack Obama, isn't "taking any options off the table."
All we need now, to create a "Rapper's Delight" of conspiracy theory delirium, is for somebody to discover how Lloyd Blankfein is set to make money on a war in the Middle East.

As they say, “you couldn’t make this stuff up” nobody would believe it if you did… June 1914 must have been a little like this… Certainly the most historically “pregnant” period I have ever lived (I was born in ’44) and that includes the fall of the Wall… because there was another system perfectly intact (ours) when that went down… now there is nobody here but us chickens boss.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The bright side of life - revisited

“When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle”
Eric Idle
I am in the process of reworking a lot of my material, looking to see if I could ever make a book out of it all, trying to see what, if any, threads of thought might hold it all together. This is a rough draft of some of the reworkings. Thank you for your patience. DS

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Things are looking pretty dismal at the moment. The economic situation is the worst in my lifetime, and I was born at the end of WWII.  The bad news comes fast and furious. When I am subjected to an information overload, I occasionally experience some sort of intuitive flash connected to images, a sudden understanding/epiphany/gestalt.

The other day the Tea Party movement revealed itself to me in a poetic metaphor that put them into a different perspective. Something that although just as grotesque, is at the same time touchingly human in its vulnerability.

It came to me that the Tea Party movement with their confused and confusing agenda, the open carrying of fire arms in Starbucks, the birthers, the militias, the “Last Days” crowd, the Limbaughs, the Becks, and all the assorted, foxy, incoherent mishegoss that goes with them is one and the same thing as collagen lip injections, faces paralyzed with botox or toupees and comb overs: a self-deceiving escape from the inevitable. Fooling the mirror perhaps, but nobody else, certainly not Father Time or the Grim Reaper or the great undercurrents of events. This escapism from the simplest of realities is one of the hallmarks of our era.

The Tea Baggers, like the botox zombies, are just whistling past the graveyard.
Everything we are living right now, from global warming to the juking and jiving of the financial system, from exploding population in poor countries, to aging populations in the rich ones, is crying out for more regulation, more control, more transparency and more taxes to pay for it. This is either going to happen or our world is going to disintegrate into a devil’s stew of famine, pollution, explosively intolerable inequality and endless war… not necessarily in that order.
The world of the future will be a world of control or it wont be.

The world of the future will be a world of iron rules and regulations and with all the privacy of a nudist camp, or it will be a nightmare beyond our powers to imagine.

This process is as inevitable as aging leading to dying.

People do some some weird stuff when staring down the one that the Spanish call “the bald lady”… death.

Just as an aging woman who has had her lips blown up like Donald Duck fools herself into thinking she is still desirable, someone who walks into Starbucks with a pitiful little pistol on his hip fools himself into thinking he has power over his life and future. He sips his latte made from coffee grown in an impoverished third-world narco-state and sits there worrying about a dark skinned “socialist” coming and taking his little gun away.

The word “socialism” is thrown about with so much abandon. The word is used as an automatic disqualification, something both strange and sinister, touched with the “Mark of the Beast”.

However, the world we are fast approaching would be fortunate if it were somehow connected to Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, somehow an expression of international solidarity. Because the alternative, at best, would be a global version of a huge Indian slum, a human ant’s nest crossed by open sewers, filled with hunger, anger and disease or living skeletons listlessly wasting away in starved apathy: the world’s misery huddled at the feet of a few gated communities, heavily guarded by… Predator drones.

Even before our Friedmanite economy showed us its athlete’s feet of clay, we could see that fossil fuels were a finite source and that their continued use might make it difficult for our species to survive.

And if the economy does pick up again, the Chinese and the Indians imitating the American Way of Life with its phenomenal waste of fossil fuel energy could lead to God knows what kind of terminal ecological collapse.

Of course the problem is that to sustain itself our economy must grow constantly, like a bicycle that will fall over if it ever stops. The fact is that we may “running out of road”, reaching some sort of limit, a sort of musical chairs, where the few chairs left have already been taken by the rich while the great mass of the world’s population mills around with nowhere to sit and little to eat after the music stops.

It would seem obvious to me that if we are not going to see the world entirely degenerated into some Hobbesian dystopia, we are going to have to create and run a very tightly organized, strictly regulated and equitable order of society. If the trends we see today continue, I believe that will be inevitable, so fast becoming inevitable, that even a person like me, in their mid 60s, might live to see it.

The question, will be how to preserve the republican trinity, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” in such a tightly ordered society.

These three things often don’t go together or are mixed in very weighted proportions.

Lets look at Germany before the collapse of Communism:

In East Germany, for example, you had a very sinister secret police and steady repression of all dissent. You had very few consumer goods and no freedom to travel. However, you also had total job security, a good free school system (Angela Merkel is a product of that system) and subsidized housing and free health care.

That system was defeated because Western Germany had strong labor unions, good free schools and health and subsidies… and also freedom of speech, assembly, travel and abundant consumer goods… No contest. Obviously West Germany’s “Social Market Society” came closer to “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” than “Real Existing Socialism” did.

However in the future, because of the need to husband fossil fuels and other natural resources, we will probably find ourselves stripping out the abundant consumer goods from the mix and certainly mass tourism to the four corners of the earth, with its frivolous burning of ever scarcer oil, will be a fairy tale that today’s children will tell their grandchildren about.

If we are going to be moving toward a world of limited energy use, zero growth sustainability, less possibility to travel and fewer consumer goods and so forth, about the best we could hope for would be East Germany without the Stasi and with free speech, assembly and habeas corpus.

Right now the dynamic of our system seems to be to “Friedmanize” the world and break down social democracy wherever it is found, impoverish people and make their lives precarious.

This sort of society where the majority is impoverished, while a minority becomes amazingly rich, has been proven to only work with a military dictatorship and police state repression… and even then hunger and precariousness cannot go on beyond a certain point without engendering revolutionary movements.

Admittedly the human animal can continue to flourish in conditions where any other self-respecting mammal would stop breeding and go extinct, but even so, if you oppress them enough, they turn and bite.

Certainly if you increase the percentage of the poor and precarious beyond a certain level the word “freedom” begins to take on different nuances: freedom from what? freedom to do what? That is when some version of Equality, Fraternity, without Liberty, a version of East Germany “uncut” might seem very attractive to many desperately poor and insecure people.

If any young person is looking for something useful to do with their lives, helping to organize and build a world where free people live in brotherhood, sharing out the world’s limited resources equitably, would certainly fill the bill. DS

Monday, November 07, 2011

OWS progress report: the sound of one hand clapping

David Seaton's News Links
Hope where there was cynicism; solidarity where there had been suspicion. The occupations are more effective as a launch pad than a destination. Nobody knows where this is going. It's just great to be on the move. Gary Younge - The Guardian
Winter is coming and the bitter cold of the island of Manhattan and the NYPD may finally empty Zuccotti park. What has been accomplished by the occupation of Wall Street?

Some people would say little or nothing.

They are totally wrong.

Implanting in the broad public consciousness the idea, in slogan form, of "we are the 99% facing the one percent who own everything", is the major and perhaps the most enduring achievement of the Occupy movement and its importance is capital and should not be underestimated for a minute.

The slogan, "we are the 99%" is like one of those Zen Buddhist "koans", similar to "does a dog have Buddha nature?" or "what is the sound of one hand clapping?": they are riddles that if meditated upon long and hard enough will produce the flash of intuitive understanding the Zen masters call "Satori". In this case meditating on "99%" will soon produce a complete and instantaneous intuition as to the nature of society and the firm dedication to changing it.

The idea of the 99% versus a tiny minority that dominates them is at the heart of every popular revolution that ever was. If this simple idea illuminated the consciousness of enough people it would be possible to unravel the system like pulling on a loose yarn of a sweater.

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" still resonate as much at this moment as they did the day they were first pronounced, just as "the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God" does.

There are 7,000,000,000 of us now and we will survive or perish together

The idea of equality is based on our common humanity. I admit I haven't done any field work on this, but I imagine that when Her Majesty, the Queen of England, Defender of the Faith, goes to stool, the aroma of her efforts differs little from that of a humble barmaid and the most expert coprologist would have trouble telling the difference between them. And if you cared to take the trouble to make a similar analysis of Lloyd Blankfein and the person who cleans his office, you would probably obtain the same result. At bottom, people are people.
The idea of gross and exploitative inequality offends the most basic, intuitive, understanding of our species.

An entire new situation will be created by spontaneous generation if the slogan "we are the 99%" continues to resonate.

That the American middle class now support this concept is truly new and if it continues, revolutionary in every sense.

The American Dream has received an indefinite rain check and Americans don't seem prepared to tolerate that.

No-one should ever underestimate the importance of "we are the 99%". DS

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Oakland and OWS... an inch ahead lies darkness

"An inch ahead lies darkness"
Japanese proverb
David Seaton's News Links
Many people are making facile comparisons between today's OWS movement and the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era. A major difference between what happened then and what is happening today is that the 60's anti-war movement occurred in the context of great prosperity and full employment, was led by middle class students anxious to avoid the draft, was not seconded by labor and  in the context of a foreign war was often opposed by the "silent majority" on patriotic grounds.
None of this applies today. Now we are seeing students, organized labor and even war veterans arm in arm lined up against the "one percent" and it is also significant that they are ignoring Washington and concentrating their actions directly on the economic powers themselves, occupying Wall Street and now paralyzing America's most important sea port, Oakland California. 
In other places and other eras, both these actions would have been considered pre-revolutionary.
Copyright D. Seaton
Thousands of anti-corporate greed demonstrators have closed one of America's busiest ports. The authorities at the Port of Oakland in California said maritime operations had effectively halted. The shutdown capped a day in which hundreds of city workers, including teachers, joined the call for a strike.The crowds also stopped traffic at a junction where a military veteran was seriously injured last week as protesters clashed with police. (...) That incident catapulted Oakland, which is on San Francisco Bay, to the centre of the national Occupy Wall Street movement and has spurred fresh demonstrations across the US.(...) The demonstration, which included students, families with young children and union members, began with a rally outside city hall. One large protest banner read: "Occupy Everything, death to capitalism." - BBC

Karl Marx oversold socialism, but he was right in claiming that globalization, unfettered financial capitalism, and redistribution of income and wealth from labor to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct. As he argued, unregulated capitalism can lead to regular bouts of over-capacity, under-consumption, and the recurrence of destructive financial crises, fueled by credit bubbles and asset-price booms and busts.(...) Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare. Nouriel Roubini

54 percent of Americans support OWS, with only 23 percent opposed—but because the system is corrupted beyond repair. This slowly dawning realization is both invigorating—an invitation to engage in the kind of bold, blue-sky strategic thinking that leftists have not entertained for decades—and disturbing, a harbinger of just how nasty the future may get. Gordon Lafer - The Nation
The one place the protestors are not occupying is Washington D.C., they have given Washington up as useless. The idea being that Washington's political class only represents the rich and powerful and not the people who are asked to vote for them. In short they are merely the punks, lapdogs, errand boys, (lackeys? running dogs? :^)) of those entrenched and manipulative economic powers. this is a strategy that might be expressed as "kill the head and you kill the snake".
Certainly from a classic left wing point of view, what is happening spontaneously today is much more interesting then what happened in the 1960s. However, the right's classic answer to this level of domestic unrest and system questioning is to start a foreign war to create a spirit of national unity as an answer to fear...

And what do you know, right on schedule, as Wall Street is being occupied by angry American citizens, we are hearing rumors that Bibi Netanyahu, to the apparent horror of Israel's general staff, the intelligence establishment, and a majority of his country's already angry citizens, is preparing to start a war with Iran. This is something that would probably put oil at an unimaginable price and trigger a worldwide depression, but certainly would take peoples minds off of OWS, cottage cheese and the Palestinians bid to join the UN. Who knows who might be egging him on in this, the candidates are too numerous.

Certainly the Japanese proverb, "an inch ahead lies darkness" is especially appropriate nowadays. DS