Friday, December 23, 2011
One of the strangest and most persuasive groups in the left is the massive artist contingent. Almost all artists are failures. However, many among this vast 99% of failures believes with all of his or her heart that they are geniuses whose work should be supported by the rest of us. Very seldom do the rest of us feel that this is the case. I've never bought a piece of art, and probably never will. I would rather look at an ant walking through a macaroni noodle, or look at a tree. Most of us feel that with most artists, their work on canvas or paper is a defacement of the price of the paper which was worth more before it was tampered with (it's hard to write a poem on a piece of paper that's already got something on it). And yet the million marchers for art believe that it is almost a moral imperative that they be paid for their creations, and their often childlike belief that they are important (often in the face of all opposition) leaves me in a state. And yet these folks can be fairly persuasive. They have an education (usually) and they can push around most people, and get used to doing this. Many of them want socialism because they believe that in a socialist system their art will get the attention it deserves. In actual praxis, this has almost never been the case. I have come to hate the notion that artists should be supported by farmers, and taxi drivers, and police officers, or the business community, as if they have the right to demand money from taxes paid by people with actual professions. Artists are basically people that have not planned their future (if they did they would not be artists), and now want the rest of us to bail them out. But there is something wonderful about a failed artist. Their egos are so huge that many of them feel the world owes them a living, because everything they do is entitled to compensation out of the public purse. The 1% who can make a living from art, or sport, or anything like play, are to be heralded. The vast 99%?
In the 1890s there was a utopian colony based on Proudhonian time banks in Port Angeles, Washington. This colony had a strange capitalism. If you spent an hour growing potatoes you could go into the time bank and get a poem someone worked on for an hour. And if you wrote a poem, you could get a sack of potatoes. Obviously, everyone was dragging in poems and songs, and soon the place went belly up.
Should the artist automatically be paid the same as all other workers, and should their work be considered the same as the growing of potatoes?
In some cases (Camille Pissarro's Potato Harvest above) you get an amazing artist whose worth is almost limitless. More generally you get a painter whose worth most people think is quite limited: even laughable. My own poems are often laughable. I probably write a hundred for every one that has promise. Then occasionally one or two will stick. I realize they are done, and generally, they go right into print. Some artists are like that with almost everything they make. If it says Picasso on it, it's generally thought to be excellent, and in some sense it is (Picasso was morally deficient, and this is also evident in everything he did, but one has to look close to discern this).
Should society pay everyone equally without regard to what they are making? Many artists believe yes! But art is by nature a very competitive enterprise in which almost everyone will fail. In all fields of endeavor those who are the best at it get paid better than the failures. Can you even be a mess at working at McDonald's, or working at Burger King, or sweeping up a building? Less likely, but obviously some are better at sweeping up than others. Should the ones who make a big mess get paid the same sum as those who do a neat job? Should it be legal to fire the ones who simply can't do the job right?
John Stuart Mill comments on the vast 99% in competitive fields: "In other words, society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors, to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere, only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit -- namely, fraud or treachery, and force" (p. 101, On Liberty).
"Trade is a social act" (p. 101), Mill writes. But who should choose what gets made and who should buy it? The arts are strange because if you are in the right place at the right time (the right gallery in the right city with the right critical backing at a time of high economic activity) you might be able to make a killing. Generally, however, you are in the middle of nowhere, and can't get the work to market, and if you could, no one would be interested. It's maybe easier to make it in sports. There are more sports. But the shelf life of a sports star is usually ten years or less (one tear in the rotator cuff and you are toast and your market value is nil if you are a pitcher or a quarterback or a badminton player). A very famous artist can work in their nineties (Picasso) and still attract interest. Most however never generate any interest, or some generate it after their death (Van Gogh).
Wages for art are weird and susceptible to strange variation, but usually they amount to zero. I have poems coming out in Potomac Review, Passager, Poetry East, and Christianity and Literature, and the grand sum I'm getting for those poems is eight copies (altogether) of the journals. Almost no one reads poetry. Very few seek it out. Many write it. I don't know anyone who has made a living out of it aside from teaching it. Some few sell 60,000 copies. I think Ginsberg sold that number of his Collected. Billy Collins wrote a book or two that were bestsellers.
Most poets work hard at poetry. Should they get paid as if they are working in a McDonald's? Or as if they are working in a hot real estate market? Or even more?
If so, who is going to lay out the loot?
Some argue that the labor theory of value is the only good one, and that if you put in a certain amount of labor, you should get paid. Manual laborers often insist on that. Should bad workmen receive the same salary as the good (based on a sentence by Mill on p. 93)? Should a poet who works really hard at it get a salary?
If you are merely investing paper in Wall St., ought you to make any kind of living at all from the risk of investing? From the day laborer's vantage point, it doesn't seem to be real work, just as working on mathematics may not seem like real work to someone who digs ditches for a living. What kind of effort went into the creation of the wealth of a speculator? Should they be able to risk all without having a net beneath them? From the vantage point of the artist, this is as much of a ripoff as their paintings, so why shouldn't the government also pay for artists who've risk their entire life on the hope of becoming famous?
If a person spends their time immersed in brothels or in drug use, should they get the same salary as someone who spends their time working 9-5 in a gas station? To the questions of equity and fairness should be added the question of equality.
On what should the value of a thing be placed? Should it be based on the time it took to create? On the labor that went into it? On its perceived quality? Or on whatever you can get someone to pay for it? Or something else?
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I'd like to do a new poetry contest. This one will be based on the Book of Revelation, and has to have imagery somehow derived from that book. Anything up to thirty lines will be ok. Contest will end on January 1, 2012 (if the universe doesn't disappear as per the Mayans) at 12:01 am. You can enter any number of times. The voting will be done on Jan. 1, and you only get one vote (all ordinary commenters here can vote as can participants).
This time there is an actual prize. It's a white 100% cotton t-shirt with the words Lutheran Surrealism printed on it. It's a double-large XX so should fit anyone. Some company approached me and I bought two of them. I will keep one for myself. Here's an example of the kind of poem I mean which will hopefully inspire others. I can win the contest but if I do I will choose one of the other contestants to get the tshirt so the tshirt will definitely be awarded:
Her demure eyelids a magenta
My aunt touches an ash to the ashtray
The end of her cigarette sparkles
Between her frail hands
A glass of plum coffee rests
She takes the cigarette between her pale lips
And squints as she inhales smoke
(Pauses to read Book of Revelation)
Exhaling, small errant clergymen
Tumble like scorpions with women’s faces
They research the air for dark epiphanies.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
When I went to college I sought out creative writers that would help me with writing.
Obama said on the other hand that he sought out "Marxist professors," on p. 101 of Dreams from my Father. I still find that that phrase defines the man. You are what you seek.
As a blogger I know I should try to find more contemporary business. I should go after issues that burn and blaze. Whenever I mention gay marriage, for instance, I get two hundred comments. Many tomahawks are thrown.
But I want to open debates, not wars.
My problem with Marxism and with Democrats remains that they are not enough about the country and too much about certain factions of the country. Marxism divides the population into good and bad. Good is defined by oppression. Bad is defined by success.
Then they set about redistributing from the successful to the losers. They want the votes of the losers to help them win.
They've been very successful with this strategy.
But I don't think the country itself can succeed if that's the national strategy. We are likely to become a failure as a country, since failure on an individual level is what's rewarded by those in power.
Imagine a classroom in which the F's got A's and the A's got F's. Everyone would try to get an F, so they could get an A.
What if you went to college to major in failure? What if whole countries were set up in order to inculcate failure, in order to attract aid from the IMF?
One wonders about the algorhythms of success and failure. One problem is that those who are smart and successful often keep doing better and better, while the losers get further and further behind.
Sports seems to accentuate that separation between the gifted and the crummy.
At any rate, I think what we sought out in college is what we tried to become, and by now, many of us have more or less become it. Has Obama succeeded?
His wife is proud of him. He's the king of the losers.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Jacob Mchangama is a Danish lawyer whose article "The sordid origin of hate-speech laws," appeared in the December-January 2011 issue of Policy Review (Hoover Institution). I picked it up, being fairly certain that he would trace the hate-speech laws that now dominate European law back to communist efforts to limit freedom of speech during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was published in 1948 under the aegis of Eleanor Roosevelt at the UN.
McHangama does exactly that, but is quite penetrating in his discussion of the history of the hate-speech coda that various communist countries such as Russia, Yugoslavia, and China attempted to add to the UDHR document, without success. McHangama writes, "led by the US and UK, the vast majority of western democracies, albeit with differences in emphasis, sought to guarantee a wide protection of freedom of expression and in particular to avoid any explicit obligation upon states to restrict this right" (49).
"Incitement to violence," was put forward by China as something worth banning, especially with the memory of racial violence and genocidal ideation that occurred in areas under Nazi administration. But it never quite cleared the committee, and the UDHR continued to protect freedom of expression. UDHR is not a legally binding contract but rather a kind of agreement on principles but there is no policing.
On the other hand, two new documents are policed by the EU. One is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the other is called The International Convention for the Elimination of all Racial Discrimination, which is legally binding and has been ratified by 167 states. "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."
This sentence (article 20) is a pickle. The US is not a signatory to this document as the US has backed our own first amendment, and has gotten increasingly on the side of freedom (outside of US campuses, which have illegally and unconstitutionally attempted to ban hate-speech). The problem with the ban on any form of discriminatory speech is that it can and has been used to close down freedom of discussion and the right to speak toward some elements of the population. So there is a lot of discussion. During the Cold War, Poland was afraid "that freedom of expression could be abused and 'contribute decisively to the elimination of all freedoms and rights'" (50). So instead they pounded their own population into silence, which proves only that any principle can be abused.
Against this, the United States, most Anglophone countries, and the five Nordic countries, backed freedom of speech.
The silencing of dissent, which was routinely practiced in communist countries, is now also routinely practiced in many Muslim countries. The attempted silencing of the Danish cartoonists was actually backed by European laws, and yet, there were other laws that seemed to allow them to publish. Europe hangs in the balance.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has attempted to use the UN to ram through speech codes that would be universal, and which state, that "everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah" (cited on p. 55). In other words, the entire UN would be held accountable to Shar'iah law, and those who do not hold to this would be accountable for blasphemy.
With Christian and Jewish and Islamic and other groups unable to criticize one another (any statement that insults the religious feelings of others would be banned) one wonders what wouldn't count as a religious feeling, and how all of these various might counteract one another and instead of lead to a global discussion might lead instead to a global silence in which like-minded people were reduced to whispering in corridors. Communists and feminists and fornicaters and global-warming fanatics would and could use the hate-speech codes to block any criticism of their beliefs as insulting to their feelings.
McHangama rightly objects to the closing of free speech throughout Europe. He does this partially on the basis of where these ideas have been (communist dictatorships). He also objects to the way in which Islamics have jumped on these ideas in an attempt to silence the free world's sense of repugnance toward Muslim doctrines of intolerance toward women, and secularists. One need only think of the shooting of dissenters in Iran or the way in which women were not permitted to have an education under the Taliban to think of the ways in which silencing has been practiced within Islam.
Meanwhile, on a related note, I'm also reading JS Mill's On Liberty (originally published 1859; Barnes and Noble edition, 2004). Mill is no longer a well-known philosopher having been eclipsed by postmodernism, communist-Marxist thought, and Anglo-American thinkers such as Peter Singer and Martha Nussbaum (who both have their Marxist side). Still, Mill deserves to be revived, insofar as he is a very strong advocate of freedom of inquiry. Mill was a utilitarian who believed in the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Mill writes,
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind" (17).
Mill writes, "All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility" (17).
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
I am studying grammar, and working on the problem now of complete and incomplete sentences. I went over this with my second grader and he pretty much had the hang of what is and what is not a complete sentence, but it was intuitive. I have never read a really good account of what makes a "complete thought," except the sense that the sentence is finished (no more information is needed). I decided to make a series of comic vignettes that would teach simple concepts, but do so in a memorable way. Here is my first effort. I wonder if the final word is too much, and should be changed to "Creep!" for the sake of smaller children? I was inspired by the notion of a local middle school teacher (my daughter's teacher) that what was needed was something vivid and interesting to teach grammar. Would a series of a hundred violent little comic vignettes such as this help the matter?
A LITTLE LEARNING IS A DANGEROUS THING, by Kirby Olson
The gorilla looked across at his captive: a hunter still in safari hat.
“Are you ready to die?” asked the ape.
“No.” The man managed to answer. He thought it was too funny that the ape could talk. The ape drank a glass of coconut juice then got up and placed his enormous leather hands on the hunter’s ears.
“What?” The hunter giggled.
“Want to play cards?” the gorilla asked.
The gorilla said, “Ok, would you like some sherry?”
They played War. The ape kept winning.
“Cheater!” screamed the man.
At this, the ape leaped up and tore the man to shreds. Asked by the judge, later, what had set him off, the ape replied, “My superior frontal lobe entitles me to treat the less-endowed with whim. As for this instance, the fact that the man continually spoke in one-word sentences, which I have been raised to believe were incomplete, is sufficient.”
"Hel-lo? Single words can function as complete sentences within quotations," the judge responded. "You seem to have had a very slight education."
The gorilla fumed. He had been brought up in the jungle, and his only grammar study had been with a woman passing through by the name of Jane. The gorilla wondered if he could make a leap at the judge's throat, and make it. Unlikely, given the chains on both sides, as well as the bailiff. He decided to test the judge's hypothesis.
"Bastard!" He seethed, as he was led away in chains.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Sandusky was hauled in today for failure to post bail. He's been charged with ten counts of child molesting. What's odd is the silence from the Foucauldians. Michel Foucault is the world's most famous theorist and his work bears heavily on rape and child abuse and sex sex sex. Many of our finest thinkers adore Foucault, and you'd think they'd be mounting an enormous defense of Jerry Sandusky using his work, or at least attempting to frame the controversy with Foucauldian thinking. But scanning the web, I can't find anything. Not even a surreptitious Foucauldian defense of Sandusky. Scott McGaha, in the Foucault theory project gives us some penetrating paragraphs to show us how much we're missing without Foucault's minions weighing in on this matter.
"Cahill, in Foucault, Rape and the Construction of the Feminine Body, attacks Foucault’s theory on rape. In a 1977 roundtable discussion of his theories from Discipline and Punish, Foucault proposed that rape was not any different than other form of physical assault. He claimed,
“…in any case, sexuality can in no circumstances be the object of punishment. And when one punishes rape one should be punishing physical violence and nothing but that. …[If rape is punished differently] what we are saying amounts to this: sexuality as such, in the body, has a preponderant place, the sexual organ isn’t like a hand, hair or a nose. It therefore has to be protected, surrounded, invested in any case with a legislation that isn’t that pertaining to the rest of the body. …It isn’t a matter of sexuality, it’s the physical violence that would be punished, without bringing in the fact that sexuality was involved” (Foucault quoted in Cahill, 2000: 43).
Cahill then argues,
“that rape can not be considered merely an act of violence because it is instrumental in the construction or the distinctly feminine body. Insofar as the threat of rape is ineluctably, although not determinately, associated with the development of feminine bodily comportment, rape itself holds a host of bodily and sexually specific meanings” (2000:43).
An article in the American Criminal Law Review uses Foucault’s ideas about punishment to call for legal guarantees of equal punishment for both stranger and nonstranger rape (Shanahan, 1999)
“Foucault asserts that the penalty for a crime should be calculated in terms of its possible repetition; the penalty should account for the future disorder, not the past offense. The penalty should ensure that the particular criminal has no desire to recommit the crime and that the crime does not spawn imitators. …More recent estimates suggest, however, that nonstranger rape may pose the greater risk to women because ‘in most rapes the victim and her assailant were familiar to each other.’ …Foucault’s measure of the injury a crime inflicts upon society supports imposing severe penalties on nonstranger rapists. The current system of punishing nonstranger rape less harshly (if at all) than stranger rape violates two of Foucault’s basic tenets: current rape law neither deters an individual rapist from repeating the crime nor discourages imitators” (Shanahan, 1999: 1375-1376).
Westlund uses Foucault’s definitions of power to examine domestic violence. She claims that women experience both pre-modern and modern forms of power (according to Foucault’s definitions of power), “the former in the primal acts of violence and the latter in contemporary interpretations of her mental health as pathological” (1999: 1045).
“Women discipline their bodies through an elaborate system of self-surveillance; rituals of cosmetics, fashion, hair and skin care, diet, and exercise furnish innumerable examples of how women internalize panoptic relations of power and regulate themselves before and anonymous male gazer….Battered women, I argue, experience pre-modern and modern forms of power side by side: not only do they have to deal with instigation of terror by an all-powerful ‘sovereign’ but they are also often compelled to turn for help to modern institutions of such as medicine and psychiatry, police, courts and so on. These institutions revictimize battered women by pathologizing their condition and treating them as mentally unhealthy individuals who are incapable of forming legitimate appraisals of their situations and exercising rational agency over their lives” (Westlund, 1999: 1045)."
Perhaps there is a deep underground discussion amongst Foucauldians going on. Maybe. You'd think that feminists would be using Foucauld to understand the outrage around Sandusky. But I just haven't seen it. What can account for this silence?
Monday, December 05, 2011
I finished reading The Book of Revelations last evening. I like how much math is involved in it.
8:7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8:10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters.
8:11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
With all the stars falling (an actual star falling I think would cause a bigger disaster than what is here described), and grasses getting burnt up (humanity is said to arrive along with the birth of grasslands, as our ability to stand up in the grass gave us an advantage over monkeys and other low creeping thangs).
There are also all these cool quotes. Manson used to run around citing this one:
9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
Rainbows abound, and seven of this and seven of that. Dragons pop up out of nowhere, and a woman has two wings like a great eagle. 666 appears as the sign of the Beast of the Apocalypse. It's a very cool book. Plus, Jesus speaks again, and he is quite specific about all those who are misleading others about his project:
2: 20: Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
This isn't exactly the Sermon on the Mount, in which love conquers all. Jesus says,
2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
That last word must have bothered Luther, because it continually appears as the final arbiter of good and bad, and Luther didn't want that to be the final arbiter. He wanted faith as the final rubric. So he denied this book in his youth, but later came to believe it was a truly Christian book. What changed his mind?
It's a lovely strange fiery book, with imagery that seems allegorical to a degree that nothing else in the Bible seems to portend. But finally it is works that matter in this book.
20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
What works, exactly? Not sleeping with Jezebel is seemingly a good thing. Not playing ball with 666. Fighting against Gog and Magog counts. Listening to the still small voice of faith rather than worldly inducements, in general. Not blaspheming God while He destroys the earth with hellfire seems to be a goodly thang.
A certain number from each of the 12 tribes are sealed, which I think means saved, but it doesn't seem to depend on anything they did. It was foretold. They are saved from hunger and thirst (7:16), and they will cry no more.
But Jesus says he wants us white hot with faith, not lukewarm 3:16.
But not hot in the body, hot only in the spirit. Anyone who teaches or learns fornication (sex outside of traditional marriage?) is going to get it.
Jesus is also quite elderly now, with a snowy white beard and hair (white like wool, as white as snow -- 1:14). But he's tough as heck: 1:16 "And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength."
This was supposedly written by John, who also wrote the fourth Gospel. He calls himself John four times. He is imprisoned on Patmos, an island. It takes place somewhere between 60-95 AD, and is thought to be an attempt to send comfort throughout the Christian west, which has been under siege by the Romans for decades now, and yet the light continues to spread. It's a beautiful book, and I think it's my favorite book. The only book that touches it in sheer beauty is John's own Gospel, and some passages from St. Paul when he's talking about love and angels. Is 666 meant to be Rome, or it some aspect of each of us?
Friday, December 02, 2011
O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Those of you who make them his friends is one of them. God does not guide an unjust people. - 5:54
Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah's religion reigns supreme - 8:39
It's not as if the Arab Spring was a protest movement along the lines of the WCTU with slogans such as "Long live Carrie Nations!" or "Stop Demon Rum!" Their message is far more simple, "Kill the infidel!"
The Iranian Revolution, not the American, is their model. Ahmadinejad is their notion of a cultural hero. We have paved the way for a Middle East replete with such figures -- screaming for the blood of internal (Christian) minorities and bringing their countries ever further back toward the 6th century, with any progressives lined up and shot.
I'm not saying that Mubarak wasn't barbaric. Qaddafi was daffy. Hussein was hardly sane. But they knew what they were dealing with, and knew how hard they had to hit to keep Iranian style revolutions from happening throughout the Middle East. I'm not saying that the Shah of Iran was the GB Shaw of his nation. But the Shah didn't have foremost in his mind the need to kill all the Jews, and then all the infidels. Ahmadinejad thinks of this. He wants to eradicate Judaism and America. He has said so. http://www.iranfocus.com/en/?option=com_content&task=view&id=4164
How can we not see that this is a prevailing sentiment through the Arab Spring?
Our aid and comfort in the Arab Spring has enabled genocidal movements to get to power. Have we learned nothing in ten years of war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Now we are going to see the complete denial of women's rights, the erasure of homosexuals, the right to freedom of inquiry and speech squashed, but maybe you'll say well, how's that different from what went before? What, then, about beard length? At least beard length used to be a cultural option. How long will this last? The least we can say is how the Arab Spring is going to help American interests around the globe is not immediately apparent.