Overweening Generalist

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reinstall Glass-Steagall

Among the many reforms made by FDR in the desperate attempt to assuage the suffering of the Great Depression was what's commonly called the Glass-Steagall Act, which was germinated in 1933 and went into effect in 1934. Probably the major cause of the Crash was rampant speculation, and Glass-Steagall put into effect the FDIC and separated the commercial banking operations and the securities biz.

And, when the dust cleared after WWII it worked pretty well, until 1999.

In listening to the brain trusts (this is a diffuse network, but I define them as the ones who, when you wander around an Occupy site, are mentally equipped to explain in depth what's needed to happen to revive the world economy, if not the Unistat economy, for example, see the video at the end of this post), you will hear calls to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, or the "Financial Modernization Act". What was that? Isn't "modernization" good? (Yet another way words hypnotize us. Or are supposed to hypnotize us.)

It was the move sponsored by three Republicans to effectively get rid of Glass-Steagall. If you listen to this partisan d-bag (Max Keiser, first couple minutes), his assholic simple-minded message is that the Democrats deserve most of the blame and caused the problems actuated by the demise of Glass-Steagall. True, it was repealed under Clinton, but let's not pretend the three guys whose names are on the bill were not Republicans! Just who was supposed to be the targeted audience of dipshit Keiser's tired old line that the Republicans are the adults who understand money and the Democrats don't? This is really offensive, and I'm calling this asshole out, right here. Gramm (R-Texas). Leach (R-Iowa). Bliley (R-Virginia). Then the Hillbilly With a Perpetual Hard-on (D-Arkansas) signed it into law. There's plenty of bought-off blame to go around. We want to fix the problems, alleviate the sufferings and injustices and level the playing fields.

Oh yea: Check out North Dakota Democrat Byron "The Seer" Dorgan (3 mins):

Sidebar Here: What is it about North Dakota and their stark, staring SANE banking practices? HERE's a 2009 article from Mother Jones that lends some decent insight.

Dorgan (U.S. Senate, 1992-2011) deserves more credit for his fiscal responsibility.
On the other hand, the "Gramm" in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that got rid of Glass-Steagall? That's one Phil Gramm, a U.S. Senator from Texas from 1985-2002. A Texas Republican "economist" who became a politician. Hey, what could go wrong there?

He made Time mag's "25 People To Blame For The Financial Crisis." Another, more nuanced analysis of Gramm's yeoman work for the 1% is HERE.

Righteously rubbing yet more salt into Gramm's deservedly tarnished cred, see #4 on THIS LIST of the 10 worst capitalists who helped bring on the economic collapse of 2008.
During the S&L debacle of the late 1980s, early 1990s, possibly the one thing that kept that mess from being far worse was the Glass-Steagall laws, which were still in place. The idea that, less than ten years later no lessons were learned and the law was gutted, should be something culturally memorable, aye?
This idea - gaining a lot of traction in Occupy encampments - of repealing Gramm-Leach-Bliley and reinstating Glass-Steagall is something more tangible (than "Make The Banksters Pay!") that can be done. It's possible, ladies and germs!

Sorry to point out that the corporate media haven't seemed to want to touch this (do you still wonder why?), but let's make the Missing Public Discussion about H.R.1489, The Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011, sponsored by Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), a tad less Missing. You can follow the progress of the bill HERE. As you follow along, note what I predict will be the Usual Suspects fighting tooth and nail so that the bill dies, or becomes inert, de-fanged. This too, should be no surprise. But if we pressure our Congressentities enough and talk about the bill enough, maybe, just maybe we can get this bit of elephant out of the room, leave us a bit more breathing space. It's a long road to hoe, and we know it. But we gotta, right?

Two Occupy manifestoes of clamor for reinstating Glass-Steagall provisions (proto-pro H.R. 1489 statements?) are HERE and HERE.

Has deregulation ever been a good idea? I'm willing to listen to arguments for deregulations in the comments section, but by and large I agree with Double Dip Politics.

YES on H.R. 1489, the Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011!
Here's yet another dirty, stoned hippie from Occupy Wall Street, patiently explaining to the cops what the repeal of Glass-Steagall wrought:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#Occupy Everywhere as of the Morning of October 27th: The Banker Question

With the police actions of the last 48 hours, I fear the movement has already reached a tipping point. Has the worm turned? Are we heading towards mass violence? Who among us actually believes that what happened - as seems to still be ongoing as I write this - in Oakland will make things better? We seem to be very very sophisticated but poorly wired robots who learn nothing from history, much less how to fix our own wiring (which I actually think we are capable of doing, at least theoretically).
What's going unsaid?

What is the function of a banker, really? Why are they allowed to function as more than a civil servant? Someone please answer that question for me.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for my "money" (ha!) one of the most interesting philosophers alive, on October 18, was on Bloomberg TV, afraid that it's "too late," that violent class warfare will now open like a running sore (my words, not Nassim's), that banks really should be more like public utilities, and that the gross bonuses and salaries bankers are paid is absurd, and that this needs to be fixed ASAP. It gets wildly interesting - for me - when Nassim starts explaining a part of Hammurabi's Code and how we ought to model banker's behavior. You need to devote about 14 minutes of your time here, but you might find it worthwhile; I know I did. Here it is:

Some of the take-away points regarding bankers:

      • "They caused the crisis, we know that. Last year, they had a record bonus. This is not something that is rational."
      • "They are hijacking the American economy then saying that you need to pay us bonuses'."
      • "The core of this situation is a problem concerning bank compensation."
      • "The only information you get from bank earnings is the compensation. Only valuable information you can get from [bank earnings] is how much they pay themselves."
      • "Anything above zero is too much money....if we bail you out, you should not be paid a bonus."
      • "If you are a banker, and we will bail you someday, then you cannot earn more than a civil servant of a corresponding rank."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Frank Talk About Porn, Jokey Talk About Sex (from a generalist geek)

First off, apologies to anyone who typed "porn" or "sex" into their search engine, hoping to immediately land on some "HOT PICS BARELY LEGAL" or something like that. This is not your thing, believe me, and I can see you've already moved along...

I wrote on some ideas about sex HERE a month or so ago, and it got a lot of hits, and I thought people were appreciating my humor. But that dashed-off post continued to get hits, sometimes five or eight times the number of the next article people found from the OG. Now I realize people accidentally found me when they typed in keywords. <sigh>

A friend asked me why I put "pornography" in my About Me dealio here (in margin---->). Mostly because it's taboo to say it. I think most adults like porn of some sort, but virtually no one will admit in some public forum that they like porn. It's just not doneAnd so how can a guy like me resist? I do like porn. And so do you. Sometimes I really enjoy it. Other times - most times - I agree with Erica Jong, who once said - I paraphrase from memory - "When I watch porn, after about five minutes all I want to do is fuck. After about ten minutes, I never want to fuck again."

Aye, consuming porn and the Law of Diminishing Returns...

Ubiquity of Porn
I had no idea how accurate I was when I asserted the almost-universal popularity of porn, especially on Internet. I came across this 2009 study discussed in the London Telegraph in which scientists at the University of Montreal couldn't find any men who didn't consume porn. And the average age in which the men first consumed some porn was ten (10). And they don't seem to have turned into maniacs, depraved perverts, or chainsaw-killing pedophiles. Admittedly the sample may be small. ("That's what she said.") 

But if the sample is small, what do we make of 14.7 million web searches in 2009 as monitored in the study discussed HERE? When looking at what the 13-18 year olds typed in (YouTube, Google, Facebook, Sex), it's interesting to note the 8-12 year olds typed in those same four terms, in the same order of popularity. But Under-7 year olds typed in "porn" in fourth place? What do you make of this? Is it a pseudo study meant to alarm parents about the importance of "filters"? Maybe. To quote from Stairway To Heaven, out of context: "Ooooo, really makes me wonder."

Let's get this straight. According to the study of search engine use among kids 7 (seven!) and younger (!), the top four keyword searches did NOT contain "Miley" or "Spongebob" or "Barney" or "Dora the Explorer" or "game with lots of monsters." Nope. "Porn" showed up in the top four. Hoo-kay! 

This may be reaching, but if we combine a five year old male typing in "porn" and then becoming part of a study at a place like the U. Of Montreal years later, hey, the kid's alright! Good for him!

A Very Good Reason To Study This Stuff
The stupendously great and underrated phenomenological sociologist Alfred Schutz developed a term translated to English as "finite provinces of meaning." Schutz thought one inhabited a "primary reality" but this - whatever it is - splinters off constantly into finite provinces, which are alternate "realities" one may temporarily escape into, away from the primary reality. And these are numerous and familiar: aesthetic experience, humor, what William James called "the varieties of religious experience," worlds of abstract thought, sex, and I'll let you think of a few more. This interest in sex - not only your own experience, but what Others find there - seems ultra-healthy and (I hate this word) normal. 

And yet in some other semantic sense there's no way in hell I'm normal. And I hope you aren't either. (Or why are you reading the OG?)
Relax and take in this pic (author unknown) before moving onto the next bit:

A Curious Practice in Porn Films
The porn film empire-biz in the San Fernando Valley is in a tizz, because an AIDS prevention group wants the "adult film industry" to quit with the "money shot" already. They think it sends a bad message, or perhaps a milky, somewhat viscous reminder? Meanwhile, the skin flic industry sees the "money shot" as a distinctive feature of their genre's overall style and ethos, its bread and butter. So we have yet another conflict of valuesSee this wonderful reportage from the L.A. Weekly.

First off, not one of us is reading this unless some private, carefully-confined, even "sacred" money shot occurred, in some jungle-like midst. It probably was not filmed, although with the relatively sudden omnipresence of camera phones, etc, on the historical stage, probably a lot more will be recorded from here on out. Onto hard drives. Can you imagine? As we've learned above, it's not unthinkable that soon, one seven year old boy will ask his friend, "Hey! You wanna see the night I was conceived?" And then whip out the latest iEverthing gadget. All that worrying about porn was crying over spilled milk! <rimshot?>

These kids grow up so FAST these days, I tells ya!

I confess I never quite "got" the appeal of the "money shot." It seems like some highly stylized baroque ending to a performance, much like some mad free-flight virtuoso cadenza from Romantics like Liszt. A raw display of elan and male potency... It's graphically, astoundingly crass to some exponential point that's somehow magnificent and contrived at the same time...I've never known carnally any women who thought that was the preferable way for the...uhhh...efflorescence to occur. As they used to say on Internet in 1996, "YMMV," or Your Mileage May Vary. And I kinda hope it does. What do I know? Maybe I just tend to run with a somewhat less theatrical crowd?

Vaginas, Vaginas Everywhere, But Not a Drop...
Because I find it difficult to keep up with some strains of very popular culture, it took me awhile, but I found that, suddenly, ever since Oprah talked about her "va-jay-jay" on her show, mainstream media, including TV, has witnessed a seemingly much more wide-open discourse about women and their relationships with their genitals. Which seems suspicious to me, I don't know about you. (See HERE for something about the alleged sudden Appearance of the vagina in the public eye.)

Why no big discussion of penises too? Something seems askew here. Although I have noticed a higher-than-normal level of douchebags in the mainstream media, that's mostly just the political coverage, I suspect. Statistically within the range. But I concede the "cradle of civilization" point. And just in general, I think It's a real swell site, my kind of thing - the vagina, that is.

But when I read that article about increasing popular acceptance of the cradle of civ, I thought of a famous sociological paper by James Henslin called "Behavior in Pubic Places: The Sociology of the Vaginal Examination," which the experienced Mae A. Biggs helped him research. Basically, when a male gynecologist does his thing, it's a heavily planned series of events, ritualized behind a professional-specialist's bureaucratic veneer, meant to smoothly and delicately transition the doctor-patient relationship temporarily into a doctor-vagina-nurse standing-nearby to talk with doctor relationship, and then back into the doctor-patient relationship. And it's hard not to see the vagina as treated like a truly Sacred Thing. Very near the end of the article, just before the footnotes, we read:

Apart from the husband and significant others, except in a medical setting and by the actors about whom we are speaking, no one else may approach the vagina other than the self and still have it retain its sacred character.

After the word "character" there's a footnote, which reads:

It is perhaps for this reason that prostitutes ordinarily lack respect: They have profaned the sacred. And in doing so, not only have they failed to limit vaginal access to culturally prescribed individuals, but they have added further violation by allowing vaginal access on a monetary basis. They have, in effect, sold the sacred. - retrieved from Down To Earth Sociology, 12th edition

This would constitute just about the deepest level, for me, in the arguments for and against the legalization of prostitution. I'm for legalizing it, considering it a victimless crime and no matter for the State, but this "sacred" argument does carry some appreciable weight with me.

Is Oprah culturally guilty of anything here? I leave it to the better crackpots to decide this, for now. This OG crackpot gotsa keep movin' along...
A "Rubenseque" Beauty:

Getting Personal
I love reading personals ads. I think it instructive how people present themselves - quite often entirely in language - and how they seem to want to be perceived in a relatively abstract medium. I wonder what I would write were I in that...market. And who knew some hetero-identifying guys seek Asian transexuals, or how seemingly quite a lot of females seem to frankly have "Daddy" issues they want to work out? Etc, etc, etc. For some reason the personals have perennially provided an intellectual's springboard, and see HERE for a recent glaring example. Note how Dalrymple assumes a coding and decoding, a secret language. Which I guess is about right...

Prof. George Carlin once attempted to write a personal ad that would attract no one:

I've always wanted to place a personal ad no one would answer: "Elderly, depressed, accident-prone junkie, likes Canadian food and Welsh music, seeking rich, well-built, oversexed female deaf mute in her late teens. Must be non-smoker."

Next Installment: Molly Gets Her Wig On!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Political Corruption: Three Takes, Possibly Illuminating?

I can't count how often I read some Citizen complain how the Democrats are so corrupt, always have been, always will. They're incurably rotten, those Democrats. Another Voter opines in three steady shades of black that the Republicans have ruined the country, because, why...dontcha see how "corrupt" they are?

I think I remember sorta buying this in my early twenties. I thought the Republicans were more corrupt than the Democrats. And of course this...needed to end? How could I have ever been so naive?

Since then I've changed my mind quite a lot. The charges of "corruption" on the part of one or both parties leave me a tad embarrassed for the naivete of the speaker. It's called "projection" in Freudian terms: I'm projecting myself onto the speaker who's agonizing over a world that, gosh dernit, would be so much better if not for all that corruption.

The unpleasant corollary for me in this is that I now realize how many times I've looked back and remembered that I actually sorta believed certain political ideas, and I blanche; this seems to strongly imply that whatever I think now might embarrass me a few years hence. It's a tough one to swallow, but I gotta live with it.

Perhaps it's a small price to pay if I'm trying to be intellectually "honest."

I said "trying." Gimme some slack? Some slack from the Slacktivists?
I remember reading a lot of history in my late twenties and just being overwhelmed to the point of amusement over how utterly normal political corruption is. And after awhile, maybe you start to develop your own scale of how much true damage corruption can do to the Average Joe, Mrs Calabash down the street, poor kids, someone's dad who's trying to eek out a living for his family, etc.

There's a sort of corruption that seems partisan. I guess it hurts almost everyone a little, but if almost everyone, then hardly anyone, right?

(Is there a sort of corruption that does hurt almost everyone? Say 1% hurt the other 99%? What sort of corruption would that be? What do you call it? I know it sounds far-fetched. Forget I ever brought it up.)

Then there's the kind of corruption that various factions of the Ruling Class deem too damaging to the official narratives. I think that's a big reason Nixon went down. (There are many more historical examples.)

I guess a Reader starts to develop some vague, inchoate and heterogeneous taxonomy of corruption. But the thing is, you do expect it. It's not cynicism, it's realpolitick, or maybe just "living in the real world." Hence, my visceral reaction when a fellow citizen complains about corruption. I often feel a mixture of contempt, embarrassment, and admiration of a naive yet noble worldview.
1.) Noam Chomsky
When I started reading Noam Chomsky I quickly came across numerous variations of his views on corrupt politicians. Basically, the Chomsky view is this: He's glad when politicians are corrupt, because that's normal. One corrupt one undermines another, then the undermined one's allies return the favor. It cancels power out. If some dipshit politician is in it for the money and himself and his pals, the local machine: at least they'll eventually get busted by some other competing corrupt group of opposition. On and on, welt sans kaput.

For Chomsky, the problem is the True Believer with charisma, who really wants power in order to change Everything and make it right. Like Hitler. And Chomsky has been saying for at least 30 years that American fascism, just below the surface, harbors these creeps, and we're subject to one sooner of later. And that's scary. He's perfectly happy to see yet the same old narrative of some jackoff preacher-politician, railing about "morality" and then getting caught with 15 Rolls Royces and a homosexual boy in a motel room. On tape. On the Six O'Clock News. That's no threat.

Here's a typical Chomsky bit on corruption, among many variations:

"If Hitler had been a crook...We're very fortunate in the United States, we've never had a charismatic leader who weren't a gangster. Every one of them was a thug, or a robber, or something. Which is fine, they don't cause a lot of trouble. If you get one who's honest, like Hitler, then you're in trouble - they just want power." - interview with Matthew Rothschild, 1997.

                                                      Boss Tweed, synonymous with "political corruption" in 
                                                                 Unistatian history

2.) Robert Anton Wilson 
The middle period writings of RAW (which I consider as 1975-1985, with 1959-1974 the first period and 1986-2005 the third and last, not that anyone had asked) contains an abundance of non-Euclidean political writing, by which he meant that he saw value in left-libertarian and traditionally anarchist thought, and individualist-"right" libertarian ideas. Thinking beyond the stale left/right metaphor of political ideology. And other ideas too. (For a particularly brilliant elaboration of breaking out of right-left political thinking, see this Wilson essay here.) He rarely had much use for the Democratic or Republican parties. Which is an understatement. He seemed to pretty much loathe the Republicans always. And when I interviewed him we took a break on his balcony so he could smoke and I distinctly remember him talking about the Democratic party (in 2003) and ending his funny little diatribe with a big audible raspberry.

He used various sorts of libertarian ideas in a whole host of ironic moods, and I think he not only liked to play with any idea that was about individual freedom, but he thought there should be far more Ideas about politics in the public mind, period. And in his 1980 book The Illuminati Papers he used his pirate-libertarian free market anarchist-individualist character from his novels, Hagbard Celine, as a persona in articulating a set of "Celine's Laws."(see pp. 118-125) I consider each "Law" a gem of ingenious political satire, and yet each one holds a profound "truth," also. The First Law is National security is the chief cause of national insecurity. The Second Law states Accurate communication is only possible in a nonpunishing situation. It's the Third Law that applies to our subject of corruption.

Celine's Third Law states, An honest politician is a national calamity. Wilson explains that do-gooders, politicians who truly "mean well" tend to pass more and more laws, which creates more and more criminals. Why didn't I realize this before I read RAW? The more laws, the more restrictions on individual freedoms. "The chief cause of the rising crime rate is the rising number of laws being enacted. An honest politician, who keeps his nose to the grindstone and enacts several hundred laws in the course of his career, thereby produces as many as several million new criminals."

The thing about RAW here: this is hilarious and sorta mostly "true." The man had a gift for being wise and cosmically comedic at the same time. An interviewer once told Wilson that when he read his books he was never sure when he was serious or when he was joking. And RAW replied:

"I'm most serious when I am joking."

Back to RAW's Hagbard and our topic of corruption, and that an honest politician is a national calamity.

"At first glance, this seems preposterous. People of all shades of opinion agree at least on the axiom that we need more honest politicians, not more crooked ones. Please remember, however, that people of all shades of opinion once agreed that the Earth is flat."

Which then follows RAW's take on corruption, and compare and contrast this to Chomsky's:

"Your typical dishonest politician (bocca grande normalis) is interested only in enriching himself at the public expense, a goal he shares with most of his fellow citizens, especially doctors and lawyers. This is normal behavior for our primate species, and society has always been able to endure and survive it." (p.124, The Illuminati Papers)

3.) Gustav Papanek
Who he? Here's some background on Papanek. I encountered him a year or so ago when reading desultorily in economics. I was reading a bunch of sociology of religion stuff and was interested in emerging economies (like China and especially Indonesia and the Far East, but also Latin America) and how religions linked to development of markets, modernities (I'm convinced there are many variations of "modernity"), and just generally the weird mix of belief systems and economics. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss and Al Franken: O! The Things I Don't Know!

I took a load of notes, and I have some good ones from Papanek in a book with the boring title of Business and Democracy.

But more recently I read the semi-autobiography of one of my favorite intellectuals, Peter Berger,  who I tend to not harmonize with on politics, as he's too conservative for me, but I love his thought, his writing, and he's funny. His 2011 book is titled Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore.

Berger's talking about his collaborations with Papanek near the end of the book, about certain ideas that contribute to emerging economies - such as "the state pursues intelligent economic and social policies - that is, it favors economic growth and has a concern for the welfare of its population." Another item that caught my eye and which pertains to our subject: "Corruption should be kept within reasonable limits."

Berger wonders why economists can't seem to tell the difference between "bad" and "good" corruption, and Papanek tells Berger he can elucidate the difference, calling it "the Papanek principle of corruption." Very briefly, "the corruption may not exceed the corruption itself." Wha?

It gets unpacked this way by Berger, after talking with Papanek:

"It is acceptable corruption if the head of government appoints his wife's uncle to a position in which he has nothing whatsoever to do (indeed he may have an office without a telephone that he ritually visits once a month to collect his salary check). But, as a result of the position, he draws a huge salary, lives in a government-supplied villa, and drives a government-supplied Mercedes. However, the corruption becomes unacceptable if the position entails real power over a sector of the economy - such as the power to wreck the state-controlled electricity company." (p.219)
There may or may not be a "lesson" to be learned by combining Chomsky, Wilson, and Papanek in these ideas about political corruption. I don't wanna get all didactic on my Dear Readers, if any. And besides I'm stoned and want to go play my guitar now, but before I send this blogspew into the Ethernet, I'm reminded of a zen anecdote I gleaned from the aforementioned Dr. Robert Anton Wilson.

I remember it thus:

A zen student asks the zen master, "What is world peace?"

And the zen master replies, "Two drunks fighting in an alley."

Thanks for reading, grasshoppers!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One-Eyed Shark Fetuses and Other Animal Wonders

If I recall Hamlet's lines to his chum Horatio, it was something like, "Yo, Ratio-dude, there's like a crapload of things in heaven and earth - especially earth - way more than are even dreamed about in your Plato 'n shit." (William Shakespeare, Hamlet Unplugged, New Revised Edition for the victims of Unistat's secondary school system)

And Hamlet might produce as Exhibit A, this:

Caught off Baja California, a victim (?) of a genetic condition called "cyclopia," which apparently can afflict humans also. I do not want to see that picture; this one was disturbing enough. I found Marty Feldman quite enough for my tastes. But this? It's like Nature imitating Art, namely The Simpsons, and the Fukushima jokes were flowing like irradiated sake yesterday when this critter emerged and flopped all over the decks of the Internet. Chime in with the best pun or joke you've heard about in the comments, if you wish.

Wild Lighting Among Scorpions (and Other Critters)
An enchanting aspect of life is animals that give off light themselves, as if they had captured some sun and are radiating it back so we can see them propel through the oceans or scurry along the lands or flit through the warm summer fields. The more biology-based term is bioluminescence, and very many animals and smaller organisms and even some mushrooms have it. Biologists theorize that this light-emitting property evolved for many "reasons," namely as a communication device, to repulse foes, to attract partners, and as camouflage.

It works when a chemical in the body called - appropriately - luciferin reacts with oxygen and gives off energy in the form of light on the electromagnetic spectrum such that we humans can see them with our naked eyes. Marine biologists estimate that in the darkest depths of the ocean up to 90% of the odd critters bioluminesce to some degree. And many species of squid shine their inner lights, too. But closer to home, fireflies, glow-worms, and some spiders "do it" too.

Check out this scorpion, as seen under blacklight at night in California's Mojave Desert. I can't tell if this is due to luciferin or not, but it sure gives me pause:

It appears that geneticists have learned quite a lot about this complex process, and I imagine the psychedelic uses when they have genetically engineered Christmas trees that already light up on their own. This is apparently a very real possibility. There's an idea for planting trees that give off their own light along dark stretches of road, so as to save on electricity. There will be crops and houseplants that start glowing when they need water. Foods will light up when they've been contaminated by bacteria. The creepiest suggestion I've seen along these lines: using bio-luminescent markers for possible escaped convicts or mental patients. For more on this phenomenon, and proof that I wasn't yankin' your chain with the Christmas tree and escaped convicts and all, see this informative article.

O! Brave new world that has such freaky stuff in it! (Okay, that'll be all from my quote-manglings of The Bard for this blogspew, I promise.)

Zombified Ants and Moths: The Curse of the Fungi! The Dread of the Virus!
This eerie science fiction-y horror mechanism really kills me, because when I lived in Los Angeles I used to love to visit a tiny place called The Museum of Jurassic Technology, which one of Unistat's best non-fiction writers, Lawrence Weschler, wrote an entire book about, called Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder. The Wilson here is David Wilson, an Irishman with a devastating wit, and a MacArthur "Genius" Award under his belt. When I first read Weschler and then visited the MJT, I realized the museum was one big work of guerrilla ontology: it seemed like a real museum, but the claims made, the very choice of exhibits, made you wonder very deeply if your leg was being pulled, or to what extent it was being pulled, and when. Some of the stuff was so weird I felt Wilson had to be putting me/us on. Other stuff seemed reasonably plausible, if exceedingly odd (like the exhibit of microminiaturized art by "Hagop Sandaljian," who apparently "really" existed and did this stuff, after he developed a new way of playing the violin. But I digress...

Each time I returned to this magical place, I felt I "knew" which exhibits were based on "real" things, which ones were wildly imaginative fakes meant to confound us, and which ones were just "strange but true" verifiable "facts." But I was never totally sure of myself. The feeling of not being quite sure is the test, the crux, the heart of the matter, I now feel. It's like a test of a person's "negative capability." I think Wilson's impish humor mesmerizing.

One exhibit I felt was too fantastical to (maybe?) be real was the impressive visual display of the Stink Ant from Cameroon, which supposedly had its brain infected by some fungal spores, which made it climb to the top of tall trees in the rain forest, nail itself to a leaf, then die and rain down spores onto the forest floor for other ants to get infected and repeat the same zombifying dynamic, over and over.

                                          Here the fungus Ophlocordyceps camponoti-balzani grows directly out 
                                          of the head of its zombified host ant in the Brazilian rain forest. For more, here.

I thought Wilson was really fucking with me on that one. It plays into our deep-seated paranoia of being invisibly, indiscernibly invaded from without and being deprived of autonomy and agency, like the great Manchurian Candidate-ish Communist scare, the "chemtrails" you read about in conspiracy books, the Illuminati that have brainwashed the entire population, and you're the only one who can see through it! You must wake up the Others, somehow!...this is a long list, folks. Needless to say: etc, etc, etc.

But it turns out Wilson was on the up-and-up with this story. There's a moth in the Brazilian rain forest that, instead of mixing in with safe tree-bark, gets infected by a virus (a baculovirus), whereby it climbs to the top of the tree, to be eaten by birds, or if not eaten, dies, liquefies, and rains down virus to the underlying foliage or the forest floor, to be picked up by other unsuspecting moths, and the story repeated. Biologists working on this problem don't know the exact story, but they're working on it. It does happen! The mechanism is understood, but as scientists sometimes say, not well understood.

The Cameroonian Stink Ant story from the Museum of Jurassic Technology is HERE, sketched out. I didn't believe it. If you live near LA, I strongly encourage you to visit this little museum, which is a work of art in itself.

This bizarre zombification happens to other ants, too. A fungus in the area emits spores, which get into an ant's system, and instead of a worker ant going through his absurdly strict meta-communist life of working his pre-programmed routine doing what he does for the good of the hive and then dying, the spore zombifies the ant, and he leaves his comrades, climbs up a tree to a leaf that is 30 centimeters off the ground, with the sun alighting on the leaf just so. The ant clamps his jaws to a vein on the underside of the leaf, then the fungus's chemical attack totally overwhelms the ant's nervous system: the ant's body turns into a spore-producing factory as its carcass continues to emit infectious spores for up to a year.

One scientist says the fungus in this case is the same fungus that gave rise to LSD, so ponder that for a few long moments, friends! (I have done LSD and was "never the same," but I assess the changes as wholly positive. Hmmm...If this isn't cosmically hilarious, I don't know what is!)

If "God" created everything, He/She/It had an exceedingly bizarre sense of humor, I must say! (Maybe even a "devilish" sense of humor? Muahahaha!...Hey! It's almost Halloween. Humor me?)

To further your reading on this exceeding weirdness, maybe start HERE and HERE. Good pics there, too. BREAKING NEWS: As I was finishing this bit, Wired Science came in with this one. Wow!

How Your Cat Subliminally Manipulates You
I have two male cats, one an indoor-outdoor "tough guy" who likes to share his prey with us by leaving half-eaten mice, rats, gophers, and even birds on our doorstep. He's actually a really sweet guy, very easy to get along with. He sits patiently by the door and stares until we notice him, then we let him out.

The other cat is 16 and about 95% indoor. I fell in love with him at first sight when someone was giving away kittens. He's all-black, with long hair, sorta like a Maine Coon. Here's a typical Main Coon. My guy is all-black with a huge furry tail and probably has some Maine Coon in him:

When my guy - Mister Jinx, if you must know his name - was around six or seven, he began to seem like a spoiled brat. And I blamed myself. I gave him everything he ever wanted, whenever he wanted it. It seems his two favorite things in life were eating and sitting on my lap late at night when I watched old movies, like the films noir I wrote about recently.

Then I began to notice his crying demands were becoming overly annoying. He'd developed a sort of meow-cry-purr that demanded I drop whatever I was engaged in and feed him. Or sometimes he just wanted my attention, to be picked up and held.

Then, one day, I stumbled onto an article that provided that "Ah-Ha!" moment most of us reader-types find so delightful. It turns out this is a common thing: cats develop a strategy of crying out in just such a way that it activates something subliminally parental in us, probably evolved over millennia to keep us attentive to our human children. Here's a short report on this.
I find wonders in the animal-human-plant symbiotic world contain innumerable opportunities for moments of transcendence, and at times the astonishment at how wonderfully weird "reality" seems to lead to what the Greeks called ekstasis, or "standing outside one's self."

If you have any favorite animal-plant-human stories along these lines, feel free to turn me on!

                                          Bioluminescence, by Rachel Anderson. So far scientists  
                                                                have found no mermaids. So far...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Ideas From a Dead Kennedy, OR: WWJD?

Jello Biafra is as fiery as ever, and I give this idea-loaded rant-spiel a 10, even though I can't dance to it, on account of a strained achilles and subsequent stoned, just like inability right now, man situation. The stamina alone is impressive. Jello, to whatever degree you appreciate his ideas, seems to me a classic talker. It's not just me: he's been included on all sorts of collections of "counterculture" speaker-artists (The most spellbinding one I've ever heard was/is Terence McKenna, on multiple occasions; the trippiest - to me - was/is Buckminster Fuller. My favorite all-around talker is/was Robert Anton Wilson. Not that you'd asked.) and poets and just all-around interesting people to listen to who are not in the corporate media mainstream. Jello's barbed sneers, snotty-attitude punk intellectual stance, and a lurking lunacy amid the solid-Left political ideas make him not only an influential non-Marxist left thinker, but a captivating "What is this Fearless One going to say next?" guerrilla-artist-performer. His overall rhetorical profile fascinates me.

Just another articulate punk. Enjoy, even though the "free trade" agreements Jello's railing against have basically been "rammed through" already. (Oh yea: And you must think about whether you want to say "Barackstar" now instead of "Obama."):

One of the most articulate people I've talked to at Occupy Berkeley is a guy named Lars, who has to return to Afghanistan in two weeks. He's really thoughtful and extremely well-read. I asked him, "How did you get caught up in the military?" He said he was like most poor American kids: no hope, a 1.74 GPA in high school. He later read very many books on his own. He taught himself how to learn, how to think, how to question his own assumptions.

He's been a cop too. I mentioned the cognitive dissonance most cops must feel when they're assigned to police protesters in the streets, like Occupy. Lars: "Most cops are not critical thinkers." But he concurred that there is some notable dissonance.

Aside from the wildly disparate issues we encounter at an Occupy meeting or rally (abolish the Fed, end the War on Some People Who Use Certain Drugs, make the bankers "pay," Medicare for all, slash the war budget, end oil subsidies, massively re-regulate the banks, Monsanto is Sheer Evil, end the Tar Sands pipeline deal, forgive the $1 trillion in student loans, Unistat out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and everywhere else, etc, etc, etc. Today I saw a hand-made placard that read I'll Believe a Corporation is a Person When Texas Executes One), Lars and I think the primary problem is to get money out of politics as much as possible, and we are totally stunned that billionaires have been allowed to buy Congress and the Presidency. (And just about everything else.) This is so out in the open as to almost be invisible to some people.

We allowed this to happen. I think we first have to own that we allowed our system to be bought. When you look at it, it's true and at the same time completely insane. Or to me it is...

Anway, I like Lars. He's a great guy, and I hope he gets out of this next 10 month tour safe and sane.

But getting back to the mentality of sombunall police-critters: some of us will likely have a run-in with a few over the next few months, and let's hope they aren't the most virulent types, like Jello sings about in this golden oldie.

And now, on to some roots rock:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More of My Hungarians: John Alton, Mister Film Noir

Just so we're all on the same page here, watch this first. It's 5 minutes long. Go ahead and skip it if you're a film noir junky, though:

John Alton - who some of my film noir friends and I call "Mister Film Noir"- was born on 5 October, 1901 in Sopron/Odenburg, Hungary, died June 2nd, 1996 in Santa Monica, California. He made an enormous number of films - in both Hollywood and Argentina - many of them for very small studios, as "B" pictures. His visual style is one of the great joys in my life and Alton is one of my favorite artists in any medium. And he was "only" a cameraman! A "DP" in the screen trade, or Director of Photography. Ahhh, but he was the Paganini of the DPs!

And his dazzling use of camera angles and especially the use of lighting techniques was/is, to me, transcendent. I can watch an Alton film with the sound off and just marvel at the mood and imagery. Check out this sequence from Raw Deal, a 1948 noir Alton shot with Anthony Mann as director. The male actor is Dennis O'Keefe and the female is the always wonderful Claire Trevor:

Alton had the uncanny ability to use a vast array of camera and lighting effects that complemented the story. I would even go so far as to say his camerawork overall added another, deeper - I hesitate but will proffer "profound" - dimension to any film he worked on, because his virtuosity, in the highest aspirations of the German Expressionistic aesthetic, brought subconscious layers out from "under" the film's surface "meanings." But the psychology of perception forces me to admit, this is only my gloss.

Any film has the writer's/director's/actors'/and other of the filmmakers' intent; once the film is released diverse members of the audience may perceive aspects that were unintended by the makers, or, to choose a bit of fanciful flight, were unconsciously incorporated by the makers, and picked up by (some, but not all?) the audience.

It seems to me that Alton's work fits squarely with this idea. Any film I've seen that he worked on stays with me for days after. Such are the peculiar qualities of light that play upon human consciousness. Hey, they're almost all films noir, but I will find my mind is still interpreting something a few days later, at some odd moment, like when I'm in the shower or brushing my teeth, or sweeping the patio. Ostensibly the great noir films Alton worked on were "merely" crime films, as some relatively clueless critics have written. Oh, no. I think there's much more going on. But you'll have to watch Raw Deal, The Crooked Way, T-Men, The Black Book, Border Incident, The Big Combo, Mystery Street, Witness to Murder, The People Against O'Hara, and the stunning color-noir Slightly Scarlet and see for yourself.

Here's a trailer for He Walked By Night, a film released in 1949 with lots of Los Angeles area locations and night-for-night shots. It's 31 seconds long and someone added modern music to the trailer, but the imagery here looks like the greatest Fritz Lang Expressionistic film from the early 1920s:

No noir camerman ever captured the dark, mean streets of labyrinthine Los Angeles between the years 1945-55 like Alton, in my opinion. Other noir films Alton shot that featured Los Angeles exteriors were The Crooked Way, Hollow Triumph (AKA The Scar), The Big Combo, Talk About A Stranger (suburban LA), and a lot of the incredible T-Men.

In perhaps the most influential essay on noir, "Notes On Film Noir," published in 1972 by Paul Schrader and also collected in Film Noir Reader (first volume), edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini, Schrader writes:

"Perhaps the greatest master of noir was Hungarian-born John Alton, an expressionistic cinematographer who could relight Times Square at noon if necessary. No cinematographer better adapted the old expressionist techniques to the new desire for realism, and his black-and-white photography in such gritty film noir as T-Men, Raw Deal, I, The Jury, The Big Combo equals that of such German expressionist masters as Fritz Wagner and Karl Freund." - p.56, Film Noir Reader

Some directors loved to work with Alton, and perhaps most notable, noir-wise, was Anthony Mann. Robert E. Smith elaborates: "A favorite Alton technique frequently employed in the Mann films is to dispense with lighting from above altogether, using only lateral illumination. The consequent reduction in light intensity greatly lengthens and accentuates shadows, resulting in a very dramatic lighting scheme of small points of illumination, around which strikingly deep shadows fall. Large portions of the mise-en-scene are thereupon drenched in darkness, lit just enough to vaguely distinguish whatever objects might be there. Often the only source of illumination will be the studio's artful and often poetic approximation of natural light, such as the moonlight which shines through the venetian blinds of Marsha Hunt's bedroom in Raw Deal..." - p.191, ibid, "Mann in the Dark: the Films Noir of Anthony Mann"

Another director, Joseph H. Lewis, was asked about working with Alton on Lewis's film The Big Combo:

Q: How about John Alton on The Big Combo?

Lewis: The man was, unfortunately for him really, so good, so brilliant, so magnificent. He was too good for the studio that he was at, and he frightened all other photographers. He frightened the heads of the photographic departments. He frightened the executives who hire the photographers. And what was the result? They kicked him out. [More on this later: the OG]

Lewis continues: All you had to do was say to him, "Look, John, I see a girl coming out of a door that only has one little inch-wide streak of light. And as she comes through that light comes clean across her face, but only one inch at a time. And she emerges from darkness now into another sun-lit room and passes through that only for an instant. Then into complete darkness so you only see a silhouette of her against a white background. This is how I see it, John." Now, you know, I was only shooting off the top of my head. He'd say, "Fine." And I'd go sit for a few minutes and suddenly he'd say, "Ready." I'm not kidding. He had them all buffaloed with his technique. Me, too. It was magic. He'd put a light there, a backlight there, and a front light kicker here and say, "Ready." - p.83, Film Noir Reader 3

Here's the director John Sayles talking about another Mann-Alton noir, Border Incident, released in 1949. It's 2 minutes, 53 seconds:

Sayles opines that Alton was influenced by Gabriele Figueroa here, especially in "low-angle" shots, but I think Sayles is shooting from the hip: Alton had an entire theory of low-angle shots well considered before he ever went into Mexico. (Much of Border Incident was shot in Mexicali, according to the 3rd edition of the encyclopedia Film Noir, edited by Silver and Ward.) Alton likely got the low angle nuances nailed with all of his work in Argentina before he returned to America after ten years. (See his filmography.)...Speaking of Ricardo Montalban (as the above trailer did, briefly), Alton worked with him again, less than a year later on Mystery Street, which your public library or NetFlix might have. It's a solid noir film with Montalban as a scientifically-minded detective and he's good, but, to me - surprise! - it's Alton's style that steals the show...

Alton wrote a book on his techniques, titled Painting With Light. Most of it is textbook-ish, and quite technical. But get a load of some of the chapter titles: "Mystery Lighting," "Special Illumination," and "Visual Symphony." Just as Paganini's Caprices set the bar higher for every virtuoso violinist in Europe for at least 50 years during the 19th century, so Alton's book is his technical manual for dazzling camera and lighting virtuosity. If you're not interested in the arcane technical minutiae of camera and lights for movies, read Todd McCarthy's wonderful introduction to the book, which is perhaps the best biographical writing on Alton that I've seen.

[For more information on John Alton, see HERE and especially HERE.]

John Alton said that "black and white are colors." He thought that studio lighting absolutely required the simulation of natural light, at the service and aim of what he called texture. He thought it essential that the DP think like a DP and not like a director, and that a new director who once worked as a DP must try to only think like a director. As Alton said, "I didn't become a director because every time I looked at a scene, I saw the light on the actors' faces, and didn't hear what they were saying, so I knew I wasn't going to be a good director."

What amazes me is that he accomplished all of this while working on some of the cheapest - but great! -B movies of the late 1940s, when studios had very little money. But that's why studios like Republic and Monogram loved him so much: not only was he extremely good, but he worked at such a speed that it saved them money.

Actually, the drive to save money seems to favor an artist like Alton. Not in remuneration, but in freedom to stretch out his craft in an almost luxurious way...The old studio system allowed very many gifted artists to work "a lot" and in Alton's case it amounted to a series of technically breathtaking bravura performances...

In 1951 Vincent Minelli brought in Alton to film a dance sequence for his film An American In Paris. The DP for the rest of the film felt slighted, but Minelli said he'd wanted to do something edgy by bringing in Alton...to film in color. And Alton won an Oscar for his work then. Alton lost the job on Singin' In The Rain precisely because his style was "too dark." (And I for one am glad Alton lost that job!)

The thing that Joseph H. Lewis said about Alton frightening others? Eventually Alton got sick of Hollywood and the egos and attitudes and became a sort of Garbo figure. (He did photograph the pilot episode for TV's Mission Impossible, though.)

There is so much I've left out about John Alton, one of my favorite Hungarians. But I must add this passage, from his Painting With Light, because it reveals something about his feel for noir films:

"To realize the power of light and what it can do to the mind of the audience, visualize the following scene:

"The room is dark. A strong streak of light sneaks in from the hall under the door. The sound of steps is heard. The shadows of two feet divide the light streak. A brief silence follows. There is suspense in the air. Who is it? What is going to happen? Is he going to ring the bell? Or just insert a key and try to come in? Another heavier shadow appears and blocks the light entirely. A dim hissing sound is heard, and as the shadow leaves, we see in the dim light a paper slip onto the carpet. The steps are heard again...This time they leave. A strong light appears once more and illuminates the light on the floor. We read it as the steps fade out in the distance. 'It is ten o'clock. Please turn off your radio. The Manager.'"

I suspect we have another modern Illuminati with John Alton, but maybe that's just me...

Finally, here's a short titled "John Alton: Cinematic Poet."It's a 58-second edited clip from the climax of He Walked By Night, the culmination of a manhunt through the sewers of Los Angeles after a Unabomber-like figure, played by Richard Basehart. Many people think the idea here was stolen from the far more famous film, The Third Man, but He Walked By Night was shot at roughly the same time as Sir Carol Reed's film, or possibly slightly before. It depicts a modern underworld of the Fallen quite graphically. No dialogue is necessary. It's all texture and light and gloomy and doomy, with violence-sodden mood. It feels incredibly desperate, claustrophobic, and Sartrean No-Exit-ish to the nth to me, maybe even gnostic. Note: it's just after World War II and the LAPD has already incorporated military weapons. See what you think about this Doomed World:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Handful of Hungarians: First Up: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

It's easy to find material online about the sad Hungarians. The suicidal and depressed Hungarians. Where the Danes are often cited in Happiness Indexes (which Unistat does not maintain, for rather obvious reasons) as the happiest people or near the top (usually with the Swedes, the Icelanders have slipped lately, due to economics, or so I have heard) the Hungarians...? Well, something seems amiss.

But I've long noted that some Hungarian intellectuals and artists have vastly enriched my life. It's an inordinate influence, it seems to me, given the population, and the sheer numbers of artists and intellectuals that have captivated me since my late teens. There may be something in their genes, or in the national ethos of "between-ness"- not quite East, not quite West - groped at by the writer I linked to above - in my second sentence.

The authors of The Xenophobe's Guide to the Hungarians - two Hungarians - write about the deep-seated pessimism in the Hungarian mind: "With Hungarians pessimism is a state of mind. They are happy to cultivate this gloomy view. As they put it, 'An optimist is a person who is poorly informed.' Hungarians are realists: in the their folk tales they live happily 'until they die,' not 'ever after.'"

Maybe they take school very seriously (too seriously?), and so a larger pool of "prepared minds" unleashes more creative genius on the world, I don't know. It does seem that mathematics is/was very well-taught, and very many children gain an enthusiasm at an early age for numbers and solving equations and just generally thinking mathematically. I would call the Magyars the People of Genius, which is often said about the Jews, and clearly, many of the Hungarians I admire are part Jewish, but I still don't feel satisfied I've pinned down what it is about the Magyar people that so resonates with me.

So on with the first of my love letters/appreciations for these magnificent Hungarian nervous systems...

Genius A: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

(Say something like "MO-hoylee Nawj")

Born in Hungary in 1895 and died of leukemia in Chicago in 1946, after studying law before World War I, he was injured in the war and at age 23 fell in with avant-garde intellectuals and artists and decided to pursue art. In early 1919 he supported the Hungarian Communist Party (AKA "Red Terror," nothing threatening to the ruling class there!), but was never all that active, being far more interested in artistic ideas involving Expressionistic play of light and space, and futuristic ideas about industrial design merging with art. The Hungarian commies were defeated pretty quickly, and by late 1919 Laszlo fled repression for Vienna, then quickly to Berlin by 1920. He became a teacher at the Bauhaus in 1923, just as the school's interests were transitioning from Expressionism to industrial design.

                                    Here's a good example of Laszlo's use of lines, graphics, and space

                                    Light Display: Black-White-Gray: Constructivism. If you want to see 
                                                    the thing in kinetic splendor, for 13 seconds, click HERE.

After five years he left the Bauhaus and worked in film and stage design in Berlin. As the political climate began to get cloudy, he bailed for Paris, then the Netherlands, and by 1935 he was in London, by 1937 in Chicago. He worked for the Spiegel catalog in Chicago after the New Bauhaus in Chicago closed for lack of funds. He'd met Walter Paepcke, chairman for the Container Corporation of America, who liked Laszlo's ideas and technical brilliance. In 1939, with Paepcke's backing, Laszlo started the School of Design in Chicago, which later morphed into the Institute of Design, which later became part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, the first school in Unistat to award a PhD for Design.

Nothing I write here can adequately explain why I admire Laszlo so much. Even looking at his stuff in other corners of the Internet seems to fall short. If you can't get to a museum to look at his stuff, get thee to a library and look at his works in those big art books, 700s in the Dewey system.

Here's a guy who did pioneering work in photography (he declared that photography could teach humanity a new way to see); he worked in metal sculpture, sometimes with moving parts. He designed posters for the London subway system. When he needed a job in London, he designed a display for men's underwear, which I once saw I forget where, but it was really cool. He was a painter, did photo montage, experimented in typography, studied the art of printmaking, sculpted, ran with Dadaists and Surrealists and people like Walter Gropius. His cousin was the conductor Sir George Solti. His father was Jewish, so we're glad he made it to London and Unistat in time. His overall virtuosity in the plastic arts totally blows me away. His vision was utopian: art and technology would merge, science and design would work synergistically, unlocking a dynamo of creative energy within the human mind and society, and the future would see ever-improvement.

He was romantic. The open source software company Laszlo Systems say they were influenced by him.

I've recently been reading about his experiments with photograms and the use of light, and the effects of light's absence, and think he and Man Ray and El Lissitzky and their brethren may have found a trapdoor into the Illuminati...(I said "maybe.")

Some wonderful writing on Laszlo by one of our best writers on all things avant, Richard Kostelanetz, HERE.

Oh, yea: Moholy-Nagy even took a deep interest in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and here's his info-dense grid-like structural map of the deeper psychogeography of that most postmodern of books (click to enlarge):

Occupy Wall Street: I Am Not Moving (A Short Film)

7 minutes, 12 seconds. A minor masterpiece of in-your-face immanent critique, expiration date as of yet unknown.

The quote after Hillary Clinton, "Hypocrisy has its own elegant symmetry," was from Julie Metz's Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, which the OG has not read.

But he appreciates the line.

Not sure how applicable this warhorse is, but I'll trot it out nonetheless: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately." - Ben Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9, 1975: Actualism in Action!

On this date in 1975, "Dr. Alphabet's Poetry City Marathon" took place. Actualist Dave Morice "composed a poem of paper taped around a city block, sideshows were performed by the Ducksbreath Mystery Theater & the Blake Street Hawkeyes..."

I hadn't known anything about the poetry movement of Actualism until I read about it in my friend Jack Foley's 1284 page (in 2 large vols) Visions and Affiliations, an immense chronicle of West Coast poetry and art (mostly poetry) from 1940 to 2005. The quote in the first paragraph above is from p.457 of Vol I. Foley's books are staggeringly compendious; nothing like this has ever been done regarding West Coast poetry from 1940, and very likely never will be done again. If you want to know about the history of California poetry from the second half of the 20th century until...recently, this is The Real Deal. His erudite yet delightfully readable cover-to-cover to cover-to-cover chronicle of the poetry scene in California is subtitled "A California Literary Time Line: Poets and Poetry." For me, it's been a veritable education. One looks at these two volumes and, after saying "Wow," "Just...wow!," one wonders how anyone could have accomplished such a feat, and I imagine I'd've needed roughly 17 million 3x5 note cards...

So back to Actualism. (For the goods, see Vol 1 of Visions and Affiliations, pp.452-458) It appears to be a sort of melange of Dada, Groucho Marxism, and street theater. It started around April of 1970, and held annual conventions that were free, although after a while they charged 50 cents per day. They were "annual" but no one is sure how many were held. It was centered in Berkeley and San Francisco...and a few other places. It appears to have begun in Iowa City, but I guess that's another story.

One of the chief Actualists was Darrel Gray, who wrote in an essay "What Is Actualism?":

"I want to emphasize that Actualism is not an aesthetic 'movement' in the usual sense of the word. It owes nothing to literary history that it could not find elsewhere, least of all aesthetic theory or literary criticism...Actualists are serious about their art...But most of them would agree with what Nietzsche said on the matter: 'Maturity is a return to the seriousness of the child at play.'"
-pp.21-22 of Gray's Essays and Dissolutions. Found in Foley, p.455, op.cit

                                         Vol 2 of "Vis-Aff" by Jack Foley, aided and abetted by Adelle Foley
                                                                          Quite a work! 

Here's one guy who was part of Actualism that you may know: Andrei Codrescu. Actualists had often urged a "calculated naivete," but Codrescu wrote:

                                     ...Revolution. The word is like a revolver on a 
                                      sunlit window sill.
                                      It is one of the few words that sets
                                      my heart on fire. Girl also sets my heart on fire.
                                      Girl & Revolution. Revolution & Girl.
                                      I am twelve years old and I intend to stay that way.
                                     -"Sunday Sermon," Codrescu, Selected Poems

At (probably?) the first Actualist convention the price of admission was "spontaneity." Instead of chairs lined up in perfect little rows, you came in and found all the chairs heaped in a large pile in the middle of the stage. You could visit the Actualist Museum, which featured a jar of peanut butter, and the Olfactory Factory, which was jars of mysterious odors. If you won the door prize, you were awarded an actual door.

One Actualist, Joyce Holland, started her own Actualist poetry magazine, called Matchbook. You could subscribe, but you might have trouble receiving your copy. You see, Matchbook was actually printed on a matchbook with tiny pages stapled to the front cover. The post office made her wrap the issue in aluminum foil. And it seemed every poet in America was an Actualist. Matchbook was the first magazine to feature one-word poems. In another Actualist magazine, Life of Crime, in the "Volume: Actualism / Number: Shmactualism," the mysterious Holland's birthday is given as April Eighth, because that's the first day of the year, if you decide to alphabetize month/day.

Many Actualist readings/theater were held, but if for some reason you were deemed to be using too much time, you got the hook, just like an old vaudeville act. Indeed, Actualist "writing events" appeared on the old TV shows Tomorrow (with Tom Snyder) and The Gong Show.

By the end of the 1970s the disparate bands of Actualists realized they had some disagreements, and the movement splintered into "punks" and far more serious L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets.

Foley doesn't link the Actualists to the Discordian Society or the Church of the Subgenius, but they all seem of a piece to me: brilliant, irreverent, anarchist humor and creativity, a branch of political satire and dissent, a marginal space for a certain type of artistic weirdo. In other words, something of the best in the American character.

In closing, I'd like to quote Actualist Joyce Holland:

                                     Wex fendible whask
                                     optera caffing, thatora!

                                    Neppcor-inco fendision
                                                   ubble snop!

Brief Take on the Stickiness of Religion, 1965-2011

When I've read books written by academics and other "serious" highbrows that were published in the mid-1960s to early 1970s, I've always been struck by the idea that religion was on its way out in the First World, due to the forces of modernity. Philosophers, historians, sociologists of religion, and even religious thinkers themselves believed this. This appears to have been a widely-held view.

Some of the religious thinkers "liked" the idea that religion was on its way out, and the demise of religion was hailed by a seemingly large minority of highbrow religious thinkers because they - as I read them - saw the Churches as too demystified, too watered-down. They sought a renewed private or small-group mysticism, a renewal of the feeling of the mysterium tremendum.

The world was seen as rapidly secularizing, and most of the books I read from that period seemed to think this was not only accelerating, but inevitable, and basically a good thing for society. Of course there were many conservatives and religious thinkers who thought this was the harbinger of the end of the world, and there was some interesting writing on eschatology, from estimable people like Russell Kirk.

But yea, anyway...almost all those books and those great thinkers turned out to be wrong. Why?

One of the gods of sociology, Max Weber, thought that rationalization (which we would see as almost synonymous with modernization) would historically and progressively provide a "disenchantment of the world." Enlightenment rationality would further increase, and overarching collective myths that cohered and provided a consensus for all values and beliefs would weaken. The values and beliefs handed down to us would begin to seem less and less plausible, and maybe humanity would be forced to think for themselves?

No, how could that have been correct? But this view seems widely held by intellectuals during this period, of circa 1965-72 or so. (I have only read a few small stacks of academic books from this period, but this is augmented by intellectuals who have written books lately, who have reflected back on this period of the 1960s and confirmed what I'm saying here.)

                                                       The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago

Here's basically what I think went wrong in intellectual thought: they assumed this ongoing, accelerating process of rationalization would lead to more and more plurality, which would lead to more and more secularism.

And it seems modernity/rationalization does seem to lead to pluralism - more choices for "belief" - but pluralism did not inexorably lead to secularism. People indeed did have more and more choices, but quite often they chose religion.

Now, it seems I'm begging the question: why the stickiness of religion? Even in a vastly pluralistic society of choice? (Remind me to bring up Giambattista Vico's "conceit of scholars.")

I will leave this Q beggared, as my answers would be too windy right now, and I hope someone else has better answers than I do.

Mutt: This guy seems nuts to even think religion would go away. Both he and the 1960s intellectuals he vaguely says he's read.

Jute: Yep. Just another Internet pseudo-intellectual. Does he even realize no one really cared what the "intellectuals" - that group that Woody Allen compared to the Mafia: "They only kill their own" - thought, either in 1965 or now?

Mutt: Agreed. Hey, this new software that allows us to easily hack into some dipshit blogger's inane "observations" and add our own comment...this is pretty fun!

Jute: Totally worth the $2, even in today's money. I wonder what will go through his mind when he wakes up tomorrow and sees this? Hey! Let's go invade another blog, shall we? I'm drivin'.

Mutt: Shotgun!

*Mutt and Jute are kindly on loan from the good people over at Finnegans Wake, Universe Next Door Productions. Thanks to everyone! It's been quite a ride!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I'd Rather Not Write About the Federal Reserve (three more vids - two [?] from Occupy - early October, 2011)

I have my reasons. One reason: I went through a period of reading about the Fed's history, the conspiracy theories about it, what some ballsy economists have said about it, etc. I find very many educated people I talk to know little or nothing about it. (Part of our paideuma?)

I'd say Google "Federal Reserve history" and "Federal Reserve conspiracy theories" and just read and read and watch vids. Then Wiki it and note the books on it, maybe read one or three over the next few months...if that's your thing. The best book I've read on the subject, so far, is William Greider's Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. HERE's an article by Greider from 2009 on the topic.

I have other reasons for not writing about the Fed, and they're related to writing about Ezra Pound on banking: it's an oddly dicey thing, requiring too many caveats; there's too much baggage, and you're climbing onto a vehicle with a ton of unsavory characters, most of them who still seem to have a point, but...Oh anyway. If you want to weigh in on the Fed, go ahead. In the comments section. Set me straight!
Speaking of the Fed, the closest thing to a Mario Savio for the Occupy Wall Street movement - that I've seen - is this young guy (first video, below), a Ron Paul supporter. I think Ron Paul's particular ideas of laissez faire are probably wrong, or I simply find too many faults with them, given my non-privileged vantage point and current understanding about how people "really" act. I do think Ron Paul has the sanest foreign policy ideas of any of the candidates running, including Obama.

This fiery young guy I find gripping, and you're not going to see this on corporate TV. (The person who titled it chose to put Beck and Rush in the title, but they are not mentioned by the young firebrand):

Compare this to the tenor or Mario Savio's now 47 year-old "machine speech," from the Berkeley FSM:

This third video I found fittingly October-Halloweenish creeeeepy. The production values seem oddly high. It's Free Speech in my book, and enthralling. It's purportedly from "Anonymous," and the text fascinates me. I'm captivated by the history of extreme speech, and avidly collect books filled with what almost all citizens would find "outrageous" speech/texts/ideas. Those who've studied the antisemitic and notorious hoax  The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion will recognize some tropes here. I see up-to-date left-wing anarchist tropes here, too. I see some riffs that remind me of Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.  I'd guess the writer(s) of this text were influenced by Georges Sorel, although that's a preliminary guess. According to the Wiki link I gave for Mario Savio, above, Anonymous has sampled from Savio, too. (It all comes full circle!)

I daresay I agree with the general thrust of the message; there are many who will want to shy away from some of the more inflammatory rhetoric, delivered in a diabolically "cool" style, almost cartoonishly suave, with hip middle-eastern quasi-qawwali music swirling around in the background. Rather than an impassioned speech like the one from the young New Yorker above, who is thoroughly steeped in 20th century populist rhetoric about monetary reform and the 2008 bank bailouts, this one seems more aptly placed as conspiracy rhetoric. One group alone is the problem...They cause Everything Bad...

I confess a marked squeamishness about the violent undertones, which at times percolate to the surface of the text. Especially "frontier justice." That's what interests me most about this video, uploaded to YT the first week of October, 2011: the sorts of rhetorical flourishes used. This one has some doozies. And I don't understand it: did they get a trained actor to deliver the text? It's a marvelously well-chosen speaking voice for this sort of rhetoric, and there's the now-familiar Anonymous V For Vendetta mask...

Which brings up another point: Anonymous seems to me to leave themselves open to a particular sort of Agent Provocateur: what's to stop the Far Right from adopting the same masks and calling themselves Anonymous? How would the original "Anonymous" group defend themselves?

Another thing we will not see on TV, to say the least!:

Does anyone think I've been irresponsible for including this on my blog? Speak now, free-speechers!