Thursday, March 11, 2010


I've sort of rediscovered the fact that I like to draw. I'm thinking about maybe taking an art course over the summer. Anyway, the pictures above are, in order:

1)A space pirate from Metroid Prime 2 that I never finished
2)George Orwell
3)a skull
4)George Orwell again
5)a stick figure waving a red and black anarcho-syndicalist flag
6)Me, with sort of a mustache.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I had to put up with a particularly odious rant by Mr. Glenn Beck today. Among the incoherent assaults on human reason Glenn Beck dished out today, was the claim that the student protests in California were supported by socialist groups and therefore a vile assault on American democracy (apparently, socialists oppose - gasp! - massive cuts in public education, more proof of their nefarious agenda), that progressivism constitutes a new-age "earth cult," that children should not be allowed to think for themselves (lest they fall victim to leftist propaganda!) and that if we don't re-educate our children to undo the damage done to their minds by the evil leftists, we will lose the Republic within a generation. Glenn Beck is essentially on a one-man crusade to instigate a third Red Scare. It would be funny if it weren't so frightening, speaking as a leftist.

I think it's about time to introduce you all to a relevant piece of leftist jargon: reactionary. As in, someone who defends the interests of power from threats from below. As in, Glenn Beck is the ultimate reactionary. This is a man who claimed that net neutrality, the idea that people shouldn't have to pay different rates to access different websites, constitutes a communist plot to take over the internet. His proof: some random Marxist is in favor of it. Of course, so are countless technology firms, and virtually everyone outside of the telecom giants and people who watch Glenn Beck, but this is irrelevant. Anything that leftists so much as support is guilty by association. Glenn Beck's scorched-earth policy towards leftist politics is the mark of a man who is truly unstable, certainly unfit to host his own television show on the #1 watched cable news network.

But like I said, Glenn Beck serves a purpose: to defend moneyed interests from threats, whether real or perceived, from the Left. It is thus no accident that he managed to worm his way onto Fox News in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The forces of reaction need his McCarthyite rantings now more than ever, to blunt the growth of leftist politics in a climate that is ripe for it and to co-opt people's legitimate concerns over the direction of the country into a tool for the most conservative wing of the establishment. This accounts for his leading role as a demagogue for the Tea Party movement.

Take for example, his cavalier dismissal of the March 4th protests against education cuts in California for its association with socialist groups. This association is not imagined. But what does that relationship imply? Precisely nothing beyond the fact that socialists oppose cuts in social spending, like the majority of Americans. It does not compromise the integrity of the movement, as Glenn Beck implies. On the other hand, what does Glenn Beck's opposition to the March 4th protests imply? All movements against cuts in social spending will always have socialist hangers-on. The implication, of course, is that movements against things like cuts in education can never be legitimate, since they will be invariably be associated in one form or another with socialism. The implied message Glenn Beck is giving to his viewers is that they should not move to defend their standards of living.

One of the key dynamics of the recession thus far, and it has been abundantly clear to all Americans, has been massive welfare spending for corporate interests and austerity measures for the rest of America. The Glenn Becks of the world would have us sit on our hands and do nothing in the face of this obscene injustice for fear of association with socialism. In fact, Beck routinely mocks the very idea of "social justice" on his program as a socialist/progressive Trojan horse. According to Beck, we must not question the bulk of the injustices inherent in modern American society. Beck would therefore have us think like peasants.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Anarchism and Citizenship

Being left-liberal with a general anti-statist bent, one would think that I would be a natural fit for anarchism. Certainly I sympathize with some of anarchism's core values and criticisms of the status quo. But I want nothing to do with the contemporary anarchist movement in America, because it is the most worthless, ineffectual, anti-intellectual wing of the left.

Which is not to say that I have no respect for historical anarchism. Anarchists played a major role in the fight for the eight hour workday in 1880s Chicago, for example. Many of America's greatest social critics, from Thoreau to Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, have been either explicitly anarchist or anarchistic in their view of society. And perhaps the greatest, and in my opinion, the noblest, of all the failed proletarian revolutions that litter the early history of European capitalism was the revolution in Spain that coincided with the Civil War of '36 to '39, which was generally anarchist in character. Firms were collectivized and controlled democratically, the resultant savings were passed on to the consumer, and by and large a functioning, largely voluntary, anarchist society existed in northern Spain in the first year of the Civil War.

Obviously, for an ideology such as anarchism to be taken seriously, there must be an extremely thorough theoretical foundation for that ideology's imagined new society. No revolutionary ideology can be seriously entertained by thinking people if there is not even the recognition of this one essential necessity. And there used to be serious dialogue to this effect amongst the radical (and crucially, largely working-class,) anarchist intelligentsia. The Spanish Revolution was the culmination of six decades of practical, programmatic thinking within the Spanish anarchist movement.

However, one will search in vain in the modern anarchist movement for even the recognition of the importance of elaborating upon the anarchist idea of working-class revolution. In fact, there is minimal concern with the working-class itself. Instead of practical, empirical thinking, there is endless debate on anarchist websites such as, on the need for "diversity of tactics," which translates to "throwing rocks at cops." They can hardly even be considered "radical," because their radical thought rarely extends beyond protest. That their protests usually descend into violence serves to obscure the impotence of their actions amongst anarchists, who frequently conflate their protests with revolution. It would be charitable to call this mindset "existential;" a better word would be "worthless."

The modern American anarchist is not radical. In fact, he can hardly be considered a leftist because there is an almost total disdain on his part for making his movement a mass movement, which is the principle concern of actual leftists. Actual leftists seek to politically empower their friends, neighbors and co-workers, with an eye toward achieving the total emancipation of the masses from all class distinction. The American anarchist, being a libertine, deliberately obscures the question of class which is supposed to be absolutely central to leftist politics, because he himself is thoroughly petty-bourgeois in his outlook towards life. The class question is thus of little utility for him.

One is led to question, then, what exactly constitutes the modern American anarchist's politics. The answer is fairly simple. His is the politics of confrontation. He concerns himself with combatting what he loosely understands to be repression by breaking windows and smashing shit. Politics are merely tangential to this central concern. His politics exists only insofar as it gives him the excuse to riot. And he loves the riot. It is thrilling to him; it is what he lives for. It allows him to break through the shell of his middle-class existence for a fleeting moment and live on the other side of the law, outside of the safe confines of the shelter of his upbringing. In a word, he is a supreme narcissist because his politics are tailored to suit his own psychological needs.

Evidence abounds throughout anarchist literature. For example, from an article by the highly influential publishing collective CrimethInc entitled "Your Politics Are Boring As Fuck":

"For how many of you is politics a responsibility? Something you engage in because you feel you should, when in your heart of hearts there are a million things you would rather be doing? Your volunteer work—is it your most favorite pastime, or do you do it out of a sense of obligation? Why do you think it is so hard to motivate others to volunteer as you do? Could it be that it is, above all, a feeling of guilt that drives you to fulfill your 'duty' to be politically active?…

…You actually do us all a real disservice with your tiresome, tedious politics. For in fact, there is nothing more important than politics. NOT the politics of American "democracy" and law, of who is elected state legislator to sign the same bills and perpetuate the same system…But the politics of our everyday lives…When you involve yourself in politics out of a sense of obligation, and make political action into a dull responsibility rather than an exciting game that is worthwhile for its own sake, you scare away people whose lives are already far too dull for any more tedium…

…Join us in making the 'revolution' a game; a game played for the highest stakes of all, but a joyous, carefree game nonetheless!"

So there you go. Politics shouldn't be thought of as a "responsibility," because that's boring. Political action shouldn't be judged by the concrete impact it has on society, but by how "exciting" it is. Can there be a more distilled example of selfish, emotional infancy? I'm sure the millions of Spaniards who gave their lives for the anarchist ideal would love to be harangued about how they should have made their movement more fun. But this is what anarchism has degenerated into. Anarchism has become antipolitics. And all of this dovetails easily with the prevailing norms of society, of instant gratification, of selfish individualism, of anti-intellectualism.

My theory is that CrimethInc is a front group for the FBI whose purpose is to de-fang what would otherwise be the most radical wing of the left. It would make perfect sense. Everything that CrimethInc publishes is so stupid, so inane, so ultimately reactionary that it's impossible to think that any self-respecting leftist could be behind it. Everything about CrimethInc seems deliberately calculated to encourage lazy, nonchalant, willful impotence in its readers. This is a publisher that encourages its readers to dumpster-dive rather than suffer the indignity of getting a job. That claims that deodorant is a capitalist plot to kill the "animal within." Can any thinking person take such nonsense seriously? Anarchists can. To quote George Orwell, they are "fiddling while Rome burns, and unlike the enormous majority of people who do this, fiddling with [their] face to the flames."

Friday, February 5, 2010

We've Got Olympic Spirit!

Here's something that blew my mind, in that I've never even considered that there could be a protest movement against the Olympics itself. From the excellent Edge of Sports blog by David Zirin:

"Only 50 percent of residents in British Columbia think the Olympics will be positive and 69 percent said too much money is being spent on the Games...Bringing together a myriad of issues, Vancouver residents have put out an open call for a week of anti-game actions. Different demonstrations on issues ranging from homelessness to indigenous rights have been called. Protesters from London and Russia, site of the next two Olympics will be there. Expect a tent city, expect picket signs, expect aggressive direct actions. Tellingly, according to the latest polls, 40 percent of British Columbia residents support the aims of the protesters, compared to just 13 percent across the rest of Canada. Harsha Walia of the Olympic Resistance Network said, 'We are seeing increasing resistance across the country as it becomes more visible how these Games are a big fraud.'"

Supposedly the Winter Olympics in Vancouver is ten times over-budget and according to the most recent estimates, the economic impact of the games will be offset by the security costs alone. Meanwhile homelessness in Vancouver has quintupled according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, allegedly due to the games but I can't be sure. To be frank I think the whole thing is so farcical it's funny. You have to screw up pretty bad for there to be a significant protest movement against something like the Olympics, and for that movement to enjoy widespread support among Vancouverites? Hilarious.

Also while I'm at it I'll post a link to his decent piece on the whole Tim Tebow Superbowl hooplah. I kind of wish everyone would shut the hell up about it, and focus instead upon how the Saints are going to cream the Colts.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Venezuela and Wishful Thinking

Here's an interesting little tidbit: The Venezuelan parliamentary elections of 2005 had an abstention rate of about 75%, whereas the presidential election of 2006 had an abstention rate of only 25%. I don't know what this means exactly, but it certainly does not bode well for parliamentary democracy in Venezuela, since it seems to indicate a general cynicism among the population with the Parliament and a great deal of trust in the executive.

In related news, the recent 2009 Venezuelan referendum that abolished term limits for elected officials passed with 54% of the vote and 70% of eligible voters responding. In other words, a small minority was able to ratify the abolition of a key democratic safeguard against tyranny (it's also worth noting that the current constitution was originally ratified under the auspices of Chavez as well). This is all part of what is called in official propaganda as the "Bolivarian Revolution."

Meanwhile, as the living standards of the average Venezuelans fail to rise significantly, new revelations of staggering levels of corruption within the Chavez government arise every day, and government workers are threatened into voting for Chavez, things are going swimmingly for Venezuela on one front: what some Venezuelan leftists refer to as (if I remember correctly) "celebrity tourism." I was extremely disappointed to see Noam Chomsky appear in Venezuela a few months ago at the behest of Hugo Chavez, and appear on national television in that country to essentially act as Chavez's spokesman (Noam Chomsky is a celebrity, albeit outside of the United States). Many other leftist celebrities have made the trip to pose for photo-ops with Mr. Chavez.

Leftists talking up Chavez's Venezuela is the equivalent of progressives during the 30s openly praising Huey Long's Louisiana. It should be seen as an apotheosis of corruption. Like China in the 1960s, Venezuela serves as a stand-in for the hopes and dreams of leftists in the real world. And this fatally undermines leftism. If Leftists are willing to support a corrupt government that has made millionaires out of a select few of Chavez's cronies, then they should be even more supportive of the nepotistic two-party system we have here in the United States.

Ironically, one of the main camps on the Left to escape this disease are the Trotskyists (ironic because Trotskyists idealize tyrants of their own). A recent article on the World Socialist Website, a Trotskyist publication, reports:

"Meanwhile, a wave of banking scandals has exposed the vast enrichment of a layer of businessmen close to the government, the so-called bolibuguesía, referring to the new layer of capitalists created by Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution. It has also called attention to the accumulation of wealth by a number of prominent political figures, who have become millionaires while promoting '21st century socialism.'”

Of course, the reason for this hostility is probably that Chavez has called for the convening of a fifth International, which would compete with the Trotskyist Fourth International.

The irony about all this is that there actually are much better vessels out there for leftists to put their hopes and dreams into. The socialist Ecuadorian government, for example, is far from perfect, but to my knowledge (which is admittedly scant), they have largely escaped the corruption and nepotism of the Venezuelan government. There is also the myriad of socialist and social-democratic governments in Europe. Then there's Bolivia, where the local "Movement Towards Socialism" is far more genuine than Venezuela's. The president, Evo Morales, is a former union organizer who rode a wave of grassroots organization into the presidential palace. The old Aristide government in Haiti, before he was kidnapped by US Marines and forced to resign, was also a real reason for hope. They built more schools in Haiti than all previous Haitian administrations combined, doubled the minimum wage, and slowly began to improve Haiti's crumbling, virtually non-existent infrastructure.

I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

Howard Zinn died last Wednesday. What really depresses me is that I didn't even find out about it until today. That got me thinking: How widely was his death even reported?

Perusing the NBC Nightly News website, which is the broadcast of choice here at the apartment, it appears it was not even reported on Brian Williams' nightly broadcast. Checking the ABC news website, it appears it was not reported there either. What about CBS? Nothing there either, as far as I can tell.

He death of course, did merit commentary in the left-leaning Nation, and in the two national newspapers of record, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Dallas Morning News ran an AP article about him. So I guess the moral to this story is I should read newspapers more.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Books: Liberalism Against Populism

Here's an interesting book I've been reading off and on for the better part of a year. The basic argument of Liberalism Against Populism is that social choice can vary wildly depending on the method of voting used. Por ejemplo:

"Even under proportional representation, slightly different methods of summarizing can produce markedly different results. The French parliamentary election of 1951 provides a persuasive illustration of this fact.

In preparation for that election, the parties of the center, the so-called Third Force, which had jointly controlled the National Assembly from the election of 1946, slightly changed the electoral procedures in a way that greatly enhanced their opportunities to remain in control. It seems likely that the ordinary citizen did not observe much difference in the procedure...Without this manipulation, both Gaullists and Communists would have had more seats, and that fact very likely would have changed the Cabinets between 1951 and 1955 from mostly Third Force coalitions to either right-leaning or left-leaning ones...

In 1951 two changes were made. In some districts, parties were permitted to form alliances and seats were assigned b the highest-average formula applied to either parties or alliances...

In Paris and its suburbs, Communists and Gaullists controlled probably two-thirds of the votes. The procedure of a majority alliance could not help the Third Force parties, and they did not permit it in the 75 seats there. Instead, they changed the formula of counting votes from the highest-average method to the largest-remainder method...The right and center parties gained 9 of 75 seats or about 12 percent of the Parisian seats."

This is both a somewhat disturbing and somewhat obvious, drawback to electoral democracy. One could even conceivably legitimize a measure that the majority of the public opposes by putting it up for a vote and having it pass. This, for example, explains why incumbents in Cuban elections often win by margins of 90 percent or more. It also explains, to take another example, why Republicans made such huge gains in the 1994 congressional elections even though the majority of the public opposed the things written in "Contract with America."

William Riker lays down three properties that an electoral system should have: monotonicity, undifferentiatedness, and neutrality. Monotonicity means that "if one or more voters change preference in a direction favorable to x, then the resulting change, if any, in the fate of x should be an improvement for x." Undifferentiatedness is "the technical condition underlying equality." It is "the condition that any permutation of a set of individual judgements leads to the same social choice. This means that the votes cannot be differentiated either in weight or in the roles played by the voters because if judgments are rearranged among voters in any way the same outcome is produced. Neutrality is that idea that "if neither alternative has an advantage, reversed preferences will lead to a reversed result." For example, a two-thirds majority requirement for some measure to pass violates this rule, since a vote of 51-49 yields the same result as 49-51.

According to Riker, "Simple majority decision on binary alternatives is consistent with the democratic purposes of voting (by reason of strong monotonicity); it is fair to all voters (by reason of undifferentiatedness); and it is fair to all candidates (by reason of neutrality)...unfortunately, there is no fair way to ensure that there will be exactly two alternatives. Usually the political world offers many options, which, for simple majority decision, must be reduced to two."

And that's all I got for now.