31 July 2008

Semper Fi'

Well, one of my best buddies is leaving for Denver tomorrow. We've had a good run, real good. And I thought I was going to be alright with this...
I'm really going to miss you Scott.

25 July 2008

AVS Poster


Well, this poster does what it's supposed to do, but I have to admit I'm not thrilled with it like I was with the last one I did for The Duel. Rub Till It Bleeds Fortunately I have a couple of weeks before it has to be printed, so I can still play around with it. Comments/ideas are welcome...

23 July 2008

Saint

On Monday I started a tutoring program at the New Holly Community Center, working with an East African refugee group. I thought, and was told that I would be helping 15-20 year olds with their English. Instead I discovered a class full of 6-12 year olds who needed help with their math. Well, I'll grant that it's a learning experience for all parties concerned.

Speaking of small children, this is Saint Cephalus, patron saint of birth defects and sundry obstetrical problems.
Third in the ongoing Saints "Series".

20 July 2008

Ballcourt

The great ballcourt at Chichen Itza, the largest ever built. Look at the size of those fat white people standing in the middle under the stone ring.

Norris Is Responsible

This may be the funniest thing I've ever written.
It's the introductory paragraph of my review of Chuck Norris's made for TV movie Logan's War.

And thus begin the Norris TV years, with a bang and a wailing shriek of flag-masticating-papal-patriotic pressure release. In the pickling years of Chuck Norris's life, he begins to develop the deep earthy flavors and sharp bite of an aged right wing cheese. In the two years since Forest Warrior, Chuck and Aaron's "managed wilderness" masterpiece of Kraft Brand kiddie fare, Aaron has hung up his director's blindfold for a writer's hatchet, and Chuck has recovered from his struggle with diabetes or skin cancer or whatever; instead of looking like a fat twinkie fed bear, he looks like a lean and mean mummy, his waxy skin pulled tight across his face.

18 July 2008

Dead Cat


This is a dead cat on the street of Merida, Yucatan.

16 July 2008

Feudalism


For those of you who haven't noticed it for whatever reason, there's a poll to the right of my blog, please vote to determine what book I should read next. And second, there's a few new entries over at the Lost Video Archive, check 'em out.

Historical Materialism

Historical Materialism by Maurice Cornforth

Maurice Cornforths short Marxist work Historical Materialism is the second of three books on Marxist Philosophy called Dialectical Materialism: An Introduction. It defines Scientific Socialism and the methodology of the Materialist Conception of History, as well as Marx’s laws of the development of society and the evolution of social structures based on economics.

The original edition of this book was published in 1954 but the edition I read was revised in 1962 and printed in the US in 1971. Some of Cornforths assertions have since been proven dramatically flawed, but we can consider some of his less dated observations.
Maurice Cornforth (1909-80) was for a time the “official ideologist of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and according to Wikipedia his “ideas are remarkably consistent with the most current evolutionary thinking in biology and anthropology, even while couched in language that can be Stalinist.”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Cornforth)

The materialist conception of history as Cornforth defines it is the conception of human history measured solely by his technical advances. “The distance traversed from stone tools to the automated factory and the nuclear reactor is the measure of human progress to date.” (p. 27)

Throughout human history mankind has used his unique physical charachteristics to exploit the physical wealth of the world to advance himself scientifically. (p. 27) It is therefore based on these technical advances alone that humankind develops social relationships.
In order for societies to produce their own physical means of subsistence, (in it’s simplest form, food, clothing and shelter) they must associate to produce them, it is a necessary condition for any society that men should associate to produce their material means of subsistence.
1. In order to carry on production people must enter into relations of production, which constitute how people relate to property and to distribution of the product.
2. When people enter into relations of production, they therefore enter into economic organizations or hierarchies of property and class relations appropriate to their mode of production.
3. Social institutions and ideological systems arise according to the economic structure/hierarchy of the societies mode of production.
“By possessing certain productive forces and living within certain production relations, people then form their ideas and intentions corresponding to these real life conditions in which they find themselves.” (p. 24)
Scientific progress then, as noted above humankind will develop new ways of producing their means of subsistence, or mode of production, for example the advance from hunting and gathering to agriculture.
Engels says that the unequal distribution of products that divides society into classes is determined by what is produced, how it is produced and how it is exchanged, and according to Cornforth, this is “what ultimately determines the character of all social activities and institutions.” (p. 35-6)

Social institutions and ideologies such as law and religion therefore rest firmly upon the current mode of production employed by a society, and are essential to maintaining the current relations of production. State laws serve to preserve and protect property rights and relations, so corresponding legal and political ideologies are established. All the institutions developed under a particular mode of production then serve to maintain and consolidate that mode of production. Therefore, the propertied class will use its ownership of the social institutions and domination of the ideological institutions of society to maintain its position. (p. 96)
It follows then according to Cornforth’s interpretation of Marxist Socialism that any attempt to confront the existing social systems they “find themselves confronted with a whole set of institutions, customs, principles and views which serve to protect the existing system and to suppress opposition to it.” (p.108)

Cornforths ideas on Historical Materialism then, do correspond with much of what Marvin Harris has said about Cultural Anthropology, most distinctly in the superstructure of social ideologies developed to maintain or justify current social order. For example, Harris uses the examples of the sacred cow in India and the forbidden pig in Islam and Judaism. Increasing population densities meant that became too costly to divert calories into the raising of cattle for meat, yet they were still needed for farming, so they were deified. Pigs on the other hand were not good for farming but still calorically untenable and so they were tabooed. (Harris p. 221)

Cornforth, as do his sources Marx and Engels suggest that the intellectual elite of society serves merely as a mouthpiece for the ideology of the power base. “The class which has athe means of material production at it’s disposal has control of the means of mental production...” (Marx & Engels, The German Ideology). Essentially this means that the power elite controls access to information which makes sense when one considers the increasing specialization of labor and the creation of a class of intellectual experts since the turn of the 20th century. Additionally the rising cost of college education in the United States and efforts to privatize public schools and libraries with varying degrees of success. Essentially, through the control of information, and access to it, the established system seeks to render opposition sedate and ignorant through programs of mass media/propaganda which reinforce the ideology of capitalist class hierarchy.

In broad terms, Cornforths philosophy of Historical Materialism suggests a science-fiction future of utopian socialist consumerism in which exponential consumption of raw materials and the destruction of Earth and the environment continues under the auspices of global communism. While his ideas of the development of social systems based on modes of production have held true, he failed to anticipate the further innovation of the capitalist system in protecting its own interests.

Cornforth, Maurice. Historical Materialism. New York, International Publishers. 1971

Harris, Marvin. Cannibals and Kings. New York, Vintage Books, 1991

Wikipedia.org. Online. 16 July 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Cornforth

10 July 2008

Bandsman 13th Infantry ca. 1905

Ska Proverb

Suddenly, considering what I understood to be the lyrics of one of my favorite ska songs, I realized there was a deeper meaning there...

The higher the monkey climbs, the more he exposes
I’m not tracing nor complaining on those goings
He that exalteth himself shall be abased
Grief always comes to those who love to brag the most
Meekly wait and murmur not
You’d better hold on to what you have got,
The higher the monkey climbs, the more he exposes

"The Higher the Monkey Climbs"
1966(ish), Justin Hinds and the Dominoes

09 July 2008

Cross Reference

As I've mentioned before the question of alcohol and activity, and their cross compatibility has been on my mind for some time. For that reason, when I found this zine-ish thing Anarchy and Alcohol at CrimethInc. I downloaded and printed it.

After reading it I'm left with mixed feelings, not about the issue, but about the pamphlet itself which reveals little new information (at least to me) aside from some extremist interpretations of history and a measure of fanaticism.

I must say that I agree with the principle, alcohol interferes with our ability to be productive (my primary concern), however without coming across as excessively critical and nitpicky, the authors of this pamphlet go to great lengths to criticize and discredit (literally) all history, as the history of drunken slaves and masters.
I definitely agree that alcohol is a convinient sedative for the masses, however, I tend to think it was co-opted and privatised (which is essentially admitted in the pamphlet)instead of created explicitly for the purpose of crowd control. It is used in such ways now, yes, but upon inception?
Finally, and I appreciate the coincidence here, the author belittles Plato and his mentor Socrates, more specifically the dialogue Symposium (see my previous blog):
"This must have helped the nobles and philosophers to gloss over the fact that their “enlightened democracy” was based on the subject ion of women and masses of slaves. The greatest work of “classical” literature, the Symposium, details a drinking party starring Socrates, whose claim to fame as a philosopher was augmented by his inhumanly high tolerance for alcohol. Studyinghis glorifications of the abstract over the real – provided these weren’t falsely attributed to him by his mendacious pupil, Plato – one can still catch a whiff of the sour breath of a drunk."

Amusing to say the least. While I don't really disagree with interpretation of the details in this assessment of Plato, I think the point has been missed. I would argue that despite the fact that the Greeks were a drunken slaveholding patriarchal culture, it is still important to examine their history because it remains part of the foundation of our own culture, and if one considers the ongoing globalization of Western ideology, its influence, although diminishing visibly, continues to spread.
Overall, I agree with the general point of this zine/pamphlet, but I am disssapointed by the ham-handed means it uses to reach it's end.

Plato's Lessons

Nothing terribly groundbreaking coming from this book so far, though it is interesting to read through these logical arguments on virtue and justice through deductive and indictive reasoning. I couldn't have chosen a better time than right after a philosophy class to read the Great Dialogues of Plato.

Here is my favorite passage so far:

"A base man is that common lover who loves the body rather than the soul; for he is not lasting since he loves a thing not lasting. For as soon as the flower of the body fades, which is what he loved, he takes to the wing and away he flies, and violates any number of vows and promises; but the lover of a good charachter remains faithful throughout life, since he has been fused with a lasting thing."
-Pausanias
recorded in Platos' Symposium, 416BC

05 July 2008

It's Not Just Vietnam, Dude.

An article by Michael Bronski in the July August issue of Z Magazine attempts to draw a direct line from the Vietnam War to films like Dude' Where's My Car?.

It may seem a little silly to debate something like this, but these happen to be two of my primary areas of interest, Vietnam and Film, so I feel at least a bit justified.

Mr. Bronski's article

I was disappointed by your claim that the Vietnam War is somehow responsible for vacant stoner comedy films. To be more accurate, I was disappointed by your lack of a claim. If there is a link between the two I would hope that it is something less generally applicable than what you essentially call denial through ignorance, accurate yes, but an argument that could be extended with little difficulty to the entire entertainment and media industries. I think these films may be more of a reinforcement of the fact that white hetero men really don’t have to be concerned with anything because they’re still at the top of the heap, and no matter how stupid they are our culture still caters to them.

Additionally I find it difficult to step over your claim that these films insist upon “being as non-traditionally masculine as possible”. While the principal actors may not be attempting to kill each other or the yellow communist hordes, their perpetuation of patriarchy, heterosexist gender/sexual (not to mention race) hierarchy and objectification is as obvious as ever.

Where I do concur is that the action film of the 80’s period is a reaffirmation of American machismo, though I am shocked at your apparent amnesia when it comes to the career of Chuck Norris who’s success was built on re-fighting Vietnam. While he was actually a successful martial artist (7 time world Karate champion) the film that made him a household name was 1984’s Missing In Action which spawned two sequels. Other equally obvious examples include, Delta Force and it’s sequels, Invasion USA, Forced Vengeance, Good Guys Wear Black, the list goes on. These earlier, more blatant Norris films, along with the ones Mr. Bronski mentions are as much a part of the counter-revolution as films like 1971’s Clint Eastwood vehicle Dirty Harry. While Eastwood put the PC civilian bleeding-hearts back in their place at home, Norris and Co. went to the source and put the commies in theirs.

The slasher film which gained popularity in the eighties was not a new phenomenon, merely a new incarnation. Slasher films evolved from the Giallo film which was popularized in Italy during the 50’s 60’s and 70’s by directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Giallo films evolved directly from the short pulp novellas (with yellow covers, hence the name) which usually had crime, horror, or erotic themes, much like American mens pulps of the same era.
If the slasher film “betrays a national preoccupation with the deaths of young people”, I would be hard pressed to lay the blame only at the feet of the United States and the Vietnam War As Fritz Langs’ 1931 film M shows, we do not have a monopoly on that particular fetish.

If trends in horror film can be traced to the wars a culture is fighting, I would point to the recent popularity of what one of my friends calls “torture porn” horror like the Hostel films, Touristas and the Saw franchise in which graphic onscreen depictions of people torturing, mutilating, and murdering each-other are the raison d’etre. Perhaps it’s just Hollywood making us feel OK about Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib ‘cause hey, everybody does it, and if it’s in a movie, the real thing seems, well, less real.

Mainstream films do reflect sociocultural trends but those trends have more complex and diverse sources than any single event. Much more than Vietnam and Iraq were happening when these films were made, and so much more is at play.

03 July 2008

Suceptible to Prosecution

The interesting news today in the NY Times is that the negotiations between the Iraqi government and the US over a security agreement- something like, who's law has jurisdiction over what turf for how long - are stalled, but the US has conceeded an important and interesting point. Privately owned military security firms like Blackwater Worldwide (formerly Blackwater USA) will be subject to prosecution under Iraqi law.

Assuming that the security agreement negotiations don't completely break down or reverse direction in the next six months until the UN interim agreement ends (Dec. 31)this is a good thing.

My question is, and I don't know enough about the legal minutia surrounding this particular subject, but, can any sociopath with a gun license and enough money start a private military security firm?

It's clear that these people are essentially unaccountable corporate mercenaries, but, to me it looks like the only thing preventing them from being classified as a dangerous paramilitary militia (of the sort -only bigger- that we were all frightened by back in the 90's)is a corporate charter, and a government contract.
That is, if they weren't chartered by the state of North Carolina (I think, thats their Corp. HQ is.) and on the government (read taxpayers) payroll, they'd probably fill the governments criteria for "terrorist organization".
This is all just conjecture of course.

So, if Blackwater etc. are going to be liable (and this isn't in the can yet) for their actions in Iraq, it makes me wonder what sort of liability they are subject to in the US. They operate here, would they get the same immunity from prosecution of killing US civilians as they have in the past for killing Iraqi civilians?

02 July 2008

Home to America the Just

It's nice to be home after two weeks out of the country. It was a good trip, but I enjouy routine, and I have lots of plans for the near future. The best news is that my garden survived my absence and I'm looking at a lot of fresh food very soon.

On the trip I also finished a short Chomsky book, and a booklet about Historical Materialism, i.e. Scientific Socialism. It was written in 1962, and so the author, while not an apologist for Soviet Communism is certainly full of the enthusiasm that 46 years of history has proven to be somewhat premature. I suspect that there was little enough accurate information available in the US at that time which gave a realistic picture of what was going on in the USSR that the author was making a lot of optimistic assumptions. The only actual contemporary Soviet source he used was a speech Kruschov delivered in 1961.
It was nevertheless an interesting breakdown of some of the principles of Scientific Socialism which at least based on author Maurice Cornforths description, bears a great deakl of resemblance in parts to what I've learned in the last year about Cultural Anthropology; modes of production and cultural superstructure/infrastructure etc.

Today's New York Times features a lead article about the interrogation techniques used by the CIA and US military at Guantanamo Bay. Apparently they were based on a report conducted by sociologist Alfred Biderman in 1957 in which he interviewed former US airmen held as POW's during the Korean War. The tactics the the POW's described the Chinese Communists using to "brainwash" them, and extract false confessions were then compiled into a report which in 2002 were taught to CIA and US military personell. The exposure, stress, and torture techniques described in the report titled "Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance" were roundly condemned at the time, but repackaged and taught to US personell 45 years later. DOD spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder nevertheless describes current US interrogation techniques as "treat{ing} all detainees humanely".

Whoops, sorry we forgot to check our sources guys.