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I wonder about the timing in light of the threats to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but maybe it’s appropriate.  Wasn’t that a Time is a documentary about the Weavers named for the song.  It was filmed shortly before Lee Hayes’ death and was released at a particularly formative moment for me.  It highlights the breakup of the band in the 1950s due in large part to the financial problems caused by the group’s blacklisting, and their last reunion at Carnegie Hall.  It’s on KEET tonight at 7:30.

Here’s a clip with an interview with Holly Near (raised on the north coast – what is she doing these days?)

In searching for video clips I came across t his reenactment of the HUAC testimonies of Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes interspersed with verses of the title song.  Is it a Mime Troupe presentation?  They used to perform a number of pieces like this at the Lincoln Brigade reunions.

Also recommended and available on Netflix is the biographical documentary about Pete Seeger entitled Power of Song.  Make sure you watch the extras.

Since I’ve left the Bay Area my exposure to Marxist activists has been limited, and my inoculation to annoyance some of the lamer arguments has weakened.  And I’m not talking about the fellow travelers who navigate intellectual waters influenced by writers like Althuser or the Frankfurt school synthesizing deep cultural and political analysis by picking and choosing which tenets they want to promote.  I’m talking about true believers who are also well-read and even brilliant in areas of science or art, but whose eyes glaze over when politics come up and their default positions come up as a uniform response no matter how complex the topic in particular.

I know I have a reader or two from these ranks.  I just learned that over the weekend.  So I have a question about dialectic materialism, or specifically the notion that the perfection of humanity through revolution and the “unity of opposites” through phases of history identified, categorized, and denominated in such a manner as to suggest the inevitability of progress.  Apparently built into the universe are not random forces, but an evolution which points to the formation of organic compounds which interact with energy and mass to convert to life.  Then such life develops collectively into ecosystems, until intelligence and self-awareness are developed.  From that mix comes society and built into the evolution the elimination of all oppression and strife out of which the “true history of man” is born.

So, my question is – how is it that you don’t believe in God?  For 162 years since the Communist Manifesto, and perhaps before then, you have proposed nothing but intelligent design in the universe.  Yes, you have rejected Feurbach’s thesis of materialism by integrating the Hegelian component, but that really doesn’t explain where the potential for the dialectic comes.  You’re arguing essentially the existence of a grand designer.

Some of you dismiss the question as the product of “idealism.”  Others don’t seem to grasp the question.  None of you has given me a straight answer in 30 years of my asking.   Theologians like Hans Kung and Ignace Lepp have asked the same question, and Marxists like Erich Fromme and Marcuse have tried to answer, but try to do so on their own terms rather than the truly address the question.  The question is simple.  Where did the potential for the dialectic come from?

Any takers?

My mother forwarded a link to this video, a mini-documentary in which Nate Thornton reminisced about the 1934 General Strike.


I saw it at the Museum few weeks ago, and I didn’t realize it was going to be over so soon.  But if you happen to be in Santa Rosa today, it’s your last chance.  It provides a fascinating history of communists in Sonoma County, including the Jewish immigrants who started the Petaluma chicken industry, the Apple Pickers Strike of 1935, vigilante responses such as the one reported in the Press Democrat image here, the Sonoma County residents who were hauled up before investigation committees in Congress, and of course Jack London’s time in the county, during which time he wrote The Iron Heel.

The vigilante episode was particularly chilling.  A group of socialists was kidnapped and brought to City Hall where they were instructed to kiss the flag.  Three of the five refused, and they were tarred and feathered and paraded around the city.  But they continued to organize, or try to anyway, afterward.

I know Eureka has a history of socialists, not necessarily communists, being elected early in the 20th century.  I wonder what else would turn up in a Humboldt County exhibit.  It would probably include something about Jack London who got into a bar fight in Eureka with one of the logger barons.  Somebody around here made a post about it, but I can’t find it.

Addendum: I found the reference to Jack London in this Times Standard article about Old Town’s history containing this paragraph:

“In the early days of Eureka there was a favorite little drinking bistro across from the Vance Hotel named The Oberon,” Waters wrote. “Marble floors, tapestries, pictures of beautiful girls in the raw, etc. Writer Jack London, a confirmed Socialist and Stanwood Murphy, a conservative Republican met in the Oberon. They argued over politics and started throwing punches. The bartenders locked the doors and they fought for over an hour. After the fight they were both in the hospital for a couple of days licking their wounds.”

Just a quick note and reference to this Nate Silver post in which he examines the Olympic medal trends over the past few decades (away from Europe and towards North America and Asia) and concludes that while a centrally planned economy may be bad for many things it is quite effective for Olympics results.

I should add my own caveat however that while it’s true that the Soviet East German programs are gone and therefor those countries can no longer dominate, it’s also true that the US and the rest of the world have taken a larger interest in these sports.  Curling apparently got very good television ratings this time around.  For whatever reason.  And now a generation of 6 year olds dream of the day they can take up their brooms and wiggle them more intensely when their teammate yells “hard!”

Canada beat us in the medal round of Hockey today.  Damn that Obama!

The words of neo-Trotskyist Max Shachtman in  an early 1960s debate with Earl Browder.  Shachtman was a leader of the Socialist Workers Party who became so vehemently anti-Soviet that he actually supported the Bay of Pigs invasion, getting him booed at a famous event in Berkeley.  He retained his socialism however until his death.

Browder had led the Communist Party USA during the war but got booted out for a heresy I’ve never bothered to research.  I was looking for a clip of Schachtman for a post I’m working on, but couldn’t find one.  I came across this old Browder speech accompanied by some old stills of Browder.

I really haven’t read much about Chinese politics lately, and this Wapo article leaves me wanting for more.  This “new left” doesn’t appear to be a democracy movement, and if I’d left my impressions with the first skimming of the article I’d assume it’s actually a response from Chinese communist orthodoxy to the economic liberalization of the past few decades.  It is partly that, but there are hints in the article that it represents something more.

The New Left’s appeal is built on the work of prominent academics, including Zuo, 58, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Tsinghua University professors Cui Zhiyuan, 47, and Wang Hui, 50. They have become especially popular among young people, farmers and laid-off factory workers.

Wang, a professor of humanities who is considered the leading New Leftist, has said that China is caught between two extremes: “misguided socialism” and “crony capitalism.”


The Utopia bookstore — named after the perfect sociopolitical-economic system of Sir Thomas More’s imagination and located northwest of Tiananmen Square in Beijing — has become the premier gathering place for these intellectuals and their supporters.

Members include environmental activists, songwriters, Internet programmers and entrepreneurs, few of whom are shy in speaking out at the weekly meetings. Although attendees of the seminars have been variously described as pan-Leftists, Maoists or nationalists, many participants say they reject labels but are united in their passion to make sure the rewards of China’s development are shared equally among all its citizens.

That the movement is tolerated, so far, might be an indication that increments of political reforms are starting to emerge after decades of economic reforms.  And this “new left” seems to be anything but monolithic.  From the article it doesn’t seem they’ve taken any direct action other than publication and discussion.  No mention of Tiananmen.  No talk of independent unions.  No discussion of problems of power or the suppression of more active dissent.  But active and public discussion of idea critical of the regime is not something which has been allowed to flourish in the not-to-distant past.  And I doubt Wapo has the whole story.  I suspect they’re very careful about what they discuss publicly.  I’m sure the private conversations are much more comprehensive.  I’m sure they’re watched closely.

Lest we forget the events of two decades ago.

And this new movement faces the same problem of the Tiananmen demonstrators, namely, that they’re primarily if not exclusively middle and upper class intellectuals.  But in the latter movement is addressing economic issues, and while the networks all rave about how their contacts in China are buying new cell phones every six months, the conditions on the bottom are nothing to take pride in, even before the global recession.  The benefits of globalization.  Thank you for shopping at WalMart.

Thank you Tom Hanson for insisting that I put The Lives of Others at the top of my Netflix queue.  As in the past Germany has lived in something of denial about life in East Germany until just under a couple of decades ago.  As with Nazism and the Holocaust they don’t like to talk about it too much, particularly as many of the people who were responsible for injustice against their fellow citizens have blended in well during the integration with the west and are now businesspeople, political leaders, and otherwise legal and apparently guilt impervious neighbors with people whom they spied on, informed on, and had arrested.  I guess the idea is that in such an extreme system it was difficult to survive without making serious compromises of humanity, and this movie is one of very few German pop-culture attempts thus far to deal with the issues in any meaningful manner.

The premise revolves around a quote the filmmaker attributes to Lenin about not being able to listen to Mozart lest he lose the resolve to fight the revolution.  The lead is a Stasi agent assigned to conduct audio surveillance on a prominent artistic couple.  He is a purist, a true state loyalist, and suspects the couple of something even before his superior orders him onto the case.  His confidence in the righteousness of his cause are almost immediately undermined when he learns of corrupt motivations behind the investigation, and further undermined as the music, art, and integrity of the people whom he is spying on begin to move him.  The film doesn’t try too hard to shore up the plot with plausibility, though it makes some reasonable efforts.

The officer is played by the late Ulrich Muhe (with an umlaut) who had in real life resided in East Germany where his ex-wife reportedly informed on him (she has vehemently denied this despite official records which seem to make it clear).  The story only makes the film itself more compelling.

Before he died, William F. Buckley saw the film and said it was the best he’d ever seen.  Ironically, criticism that the movie soft pedals the oppression in the GDR comes from a source on the left.  Slavoj Zizek (I don’t know how to do the little umlaut-like things above the letters) made the following points in a review for In These Times:

Like so many other films depicting the harshness of Communist regimes, The Lives of Others misses their true horror. How so? First, what sets the film’s plot in motion is the corrupt minister of culture, who wants to get rid of the top German Democratic Republic (GDR) playwright, Georg Dreyman, so he can pursue unimpeded an affair with Dreyman’s partner, the actress Christa-Maria. In this way, the horror that was inscribed into the very structure of the East German system is relegated to a mere personal whim. What’s lost is that the system would be no less terrifying without the minister’s personal corruption, even if it were run by only dedicated and “honest” bureaucrats.

It’s a point well made.  The lead character, before his conversion, is more scary to me than the corruption.  The true-believers are the most dangerous to basic liberty.  But this isn’t a docudrama.  It’s a story about the versatility of humanity even when we as a species construct situations which threaten to wipe it out.  And it doesn’t oversell the concept.  The conversion is not sudden, and it’s not dramatic.  The ending is perfect.


I just watched Religulous, and while I find Bill Maher’s take and approach hilarious, it’s really not informative.  He interviews an assortment of nutcases, morons, and con-men to make his points.  It would have been more informative, though perhaps not as entertaining, for him to have interviewed serious theologians with his questions.

On the DVD itself I strongly recommend the outtakes in the special features section.  There you’ll find fragments of an interview with David Icke, someone who has received some attention around here.


In 1997 my wife signed us up for cable.  I didn’t watch much of it, but one night I was “channel surfing” and came across some haunting urban cinematography with an equally haunting Celtic score.  It immediately grabbed my attention, and within moments I was drawn into the story.  I think I saw maybe three episodes, then life took me away from it, and I came back a couple of months later but it was gone.  It was entitled EZ Streets, and now a few of the episodes are available on a DVD entitled Brilliant but Canceled: EZ Streets (Brilliant but Canceled is a series of DVDs with, well, what it says it is).

This was a well written, excellently acted, and brilliantly filmed series which aired in 1996, but the pinheads on CBS underestimated the audience and messed things up much the same way Firefly was messed up (episodes shown sparsely, and out of order – in fact they aired just about the same number of episodes as Firefly). It takes place in a decaying fictional city across the river from Canada (think Detroit, where it was probably filmed) and takes a multi-layered noir approach to television crime drama, with very blurred distinctions between good and evil. You’ve got a brooding cop played by Ken Olin perpetually trying to solve the mystery of his partner’s death. Joe Pantoliano plays his likable criminal adversary who weaves a dance through dark comic relief, genuine brotherly loyalty, and creepy malevolence. Caught in the middle is a morally conflicted ex-felon trying to find some footing on some very slippery ground. Their stories are backed by a very strong supporting cast with numerous fascinating characters. Like Firefly, anytime the story seems to drift towards anything remotely cliche, you’re yanked onto new terrain with a backdrop of barren subject photography of neighborhoods in disrepair and a Celtic music score which includes artists like Loreena McKennitt to let you know that a streak of romance laces an atmosphere of despair. It was too far ahead of its time.


I commented before on what I had characterized as “improvements” to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After rereading the story (to my children) and having viewed the newest film version from front to back, I’ve changed my mind.  I’d previously complimented the film for altering the White Queen character, but really, they didn’t have any business doing that.

Let me start from the beginning.  CS Lewis wrote the story.  He was a Christian with socially conservative politics.  As a young man he’d been an atheist and I think had some liberal if not socialist politics, and had been a feminist to a certain degree.  His conversion led him to rethink his feminism and he concluded that feminism is a rebellion against God and his order.  The Bible makes very clear that men have authority over women so he argued, and it’s in the nature of the “mystery” of the sexes that men should have decisional authority even if they are “equal” in intellectual and other respects.  If you have any doubt read his novel Perelandara where emissaries from God and Satan visit a planet which has not yet fallen, both appealing to Perelandara’s “Eve” to go their way.  A good portion of the arguments made the the Devil’s emissary were those made by feminists.  God’s emissary argued the virtues of female submissiveness.  When Eve gets confused, God’s emissary kills Satan’s emissary.  That’s the story.  Sorry if I’ve spoiled it.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis depicted the Queen as cowardly and scheming in the very traditional female sense.  That was his vision.  You may not like it.  I didn’t like it even as a kid.  But that was his character.  It was his story.

It was also in his story where Father Christmas delivers the gifts to the children and instructs the girls to stay out of the fighting.  When one of the girls protests that she could be brave, F.C. responds, “that is not the point, war in which women fight is an ugly thing” or something like that.  In the more PC movie version he simply tells her that war isn’t pretty, missing Lewis’ point and altering the message.

So, to make the story more palatable to me (and if you read my old comments on the film, you’ll see that it is indeed more palatable to me) and others likely to watch it, they stipped CS Lewis of his intention to offend me and make me think about it.  He does so even more in Voyage of the Dawn Treader where cosmopolitan values are seen as more fashion than substance, and cultural simplicity (ie. what the average middle class white kids are into) are indicative of virtue and humility.  I imagine that will be whitewashed from the upcoming film as well.

My point is, I don’t think they had the right to do that.  I didn’t like it when feminism was stripped from Watchmen.  I certainly don’t like the fact that none of the several version of War of the Worlds have been stripped of HG Wells’ original point, which was to present a parable in opposition to colonialism.  I didn’t like it when the political allegories were removed from Wizard of Oz.  I have a much different view of the world than CS Lewis, but his stories were his expressions.  He has been deprived of his voice.  It’s plagiarism as far as I’m concerned.  They took something and appropriated it to their own uses without regard to its vitality.

And that’s limited to men of working age. Here’s the article.  The report for the Oxford-led study is published at The Lancet, but I don’t feel like paying for a subscription just to read the article, which summarizes as follows:

The rapid privatisation programme, part of a plan known by economists as ‘shock therapy’, led to a 56 per cent increase in unemployment, which the study says played an important role in explaining why privatisation claimed so many lives. Many employers provided extensive health and social care for their employees, so through privatisation workers experienced the ‘double whammy’ of losing not only their livelihood but also their means of surviving the crisis.


However, while life expectancy plummeted in some countries, like Russia and Kazakhstan; the populations’ health steadily improved in other countries, such as Slovenia. Previous research shows that unemployment and levels of alcohol consumption are major factors behind these differences, but this study is thought to be the first to isolate aspects of the reforms process that might cause these variations. It finds that death rates are linked to the speed and type of privatization and resulting unemployment – and also to the level of social support available. If at least 45 per cent of the country’s population were members of at least one social organisation, such as a church or trade union, they were better protected from the economic shocks, the authors found.

The summary provided by the Lancet for free includes these summaries of methodology and findings:


We used multivariate longitudinal regression to analyse age-standardised mortality rates in working-age men (15—59 years) in post-communist countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union from 1989 to 2002. We defined mass privatisation programmes as transferring at least 25% of large state-owned enterprises to the private sector within 2 years with the use of vouchers and give-aways to firm insiders. To isolate the effect of mass privatisation, we used models to control for price and trade liberalisation, income change, initial country conditions, structural predispositions to higher mortality, and other potential confounders.
associated with increased mortality rates (3·4% [95% CI −5·4 to 12·3]; p=0·44).


Mass privatisation programmes were associated with an increase in short-term adult male mortality rates of 12·8% (95% CI 7·9—17·7; p<0·0001), with similar results for the alternative privatisation indices from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (7·8% [95% CI 2·8—13·0]). One mediating factor could be male unemployment rates, which were increased substantially by mass privatisation (56·3% [28·3—84·3]; p<0·0001). Each 1% increase in the percentage of population who were members of at least one social organisation decreased the association of privatisation with mortality by 0·27%; when more than 45% of a population was a member of at least one social organisation, privatisation was no longer significantly associated with increased mortality rates (3·4% [95% CI −5·4 to 12·3]; p=0·44).

“Shock therapy” indeed.  Of course, it would be helpful to know precisely which countries were studied, since there were great divergences between them.

I even used this quote once.

It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.”

Attributed to Joseph Stalin. Only there’s no record of him saying it.


October 2019
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