Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Women Writers. . . .

Yesterday I got a few books in the mail. I got the five volumes of Our Village by Mary Mitford about whom I am writing a book. It is a really nice set, though the age (over a hundred and fifty years old) make reading it difficult because the bindings are leather rather than cloth. In older books cloth binding is actually much better because the hinges are much less likely to crack. Anyway it is a great set to have and incredibly rare; there is only one other complete set on the Internet and it is going for over five-hundred dollars.

Writing this book on Mary Mitford has been really interesting and I have been enjoying it. One of the things that it has really made me think about is the degree to which women writers have been ignored. Mary Mitford herself has been overlooked historically but she still has some degree of reputation in literary history. But her work and life story has led me to numerous other women writers who are incredibly interesting but who have been almost completely forgotten. Among these are Mary Howitt, Barabara Hofland, and Adelaide Proctor. But perhaps the most interesting discovery for me is a woman named Harriet Martineau. Martineau lived between 1802 and 1876 and fought through poverty and difficult health problems to become a remarkably educated and erudite author of over 50 books of philosophy, sociology, political economy, and fiction. Interestingly she often used fiction to make a very clear political point, and she did so without coming off as overly didactic. She was genuinely a good writer and a brilliant thinker. The more I learn about her the more I think that if she had been a man she would now be very well remembered and would have affected a great deal of influence.

Anyway, the other book that I got in the mail was one by Martineau that I won on Ebay for only a few dollars. It is from 1845 and is so rare that you cannot find another for sale anywhere on the Internet except as a print-on-demand version. It is a very small book of some 175 pages and is called The Charmed Sea. The remarkable thing is that not only is it very rare and interesting, it is in almost perfect condition. It looks as though someone bought it when it was first published and put it on a shelf and never took it out again for a hundred and sixty-five years.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Long Until Change These Initials (RCMP) - Into These (SS)??

This is a deeply troubling development. I think if one looks carefully at the actions (or inactions) of the RCMP since the now famous, unlawful statement on their part that they were actively investigating Ralph Goodale, it is becoming increasingly clear that the national police force is profoundly corrupted. There should be little question in people's minds that the RCMP is directing itself or is being directed to ignore the CPC's legal transgressions while pursuing everyone else's. Each step in this direction, like the one today, takes it further from the realm of conspiracy theory and into the realm of stunning and dangerous, banana-republic style police corruption. If you aren't troubled, you're not paying attention.

Technology and Your Monthly Expenses. . . .

As I understand it, Apple is now talking about producing a TV which is also an internet device. Even before it became one of the primary topics of tech-talk, I thought that since so many people don't actually use a personal computer for anything but web-based functions, the future for computing was through the television. However, as time has ticked by I have grown more doubtful of this possibility. The reason for my doubt is . . . . well, money. Just as leasing vehicles has allowed the car industry to inflate the price of automobiles to ridiculous levels, the modern tech industry is nickeling and diming us to death. Every new tech device you purchase seems to come with some built-in monthly cost. As I understand it Google's new personal computer in which everything you do is done through the so-called "cloud," is really just a computer that comes with another monthly bill to access Google's cloud.

Last year we tried Netflix in our house. The content, though not overwhelming, was good and there was lots of entertainment to be had. The problem was that by the end of the month we had an extra bill of fifty dollars for extra net usage. For that price I could have purchased a movie channel package and watched three times as much new content for less money without having to worry that the kids are further pushing up my internet bill every time they go online.

It seems that companies like Apple and Google are consciously driving technology not for the sake of convenience and innovation but to find new ways to drive up the amount that people will pay every month for access to a service or network. Young people are getting jobs just to finance their cell-phone bills and it seems ridiculous to me. I don't want to access the internet through my television just so Rogers can send me an extra bill every month. I don't actually gain anything except a bigger screen for my web access, and anyway I can purchase a cable for a few bucks that will put my computer monitor screen on my LCD TV without any new technology.

I think that there is something fundamentally wrong with the technology model that is being developed today. Remember (if you are over 40) when they told us that in the future we would have a lot more leisure time and we would be a paperless society? That didn't workout for the simple reason that capitalism has a mindless growth incentive that makes leisure fundamentally problematic. Regardless of how much resources and technologies we develop and have, capitalism as an economic system cannot function unless people are continuously, mindlessly, exhaustively working and consuming. The problems with this are many and obvious. Beside the environmental issues that such a system brings up, economists like Schumpeter (to say nothing of Marx) long ago pointed out that as capitalism drives people out of work through innovation in production and international competition, capitalism will put more wealth in fewer hands and the modus operandi of the system itself will begin to corrode its function.

Returning to the issue of Apple TV, where are we going with this? Why should people purchase a device that will do almost nothing for them which will essentially include another monthly expense in an already stretched budget? The way forward is open source networks, and reductions in patents and copyrights (something Adam Smith ironically would ague for) in order to make technology actually work for people rather than people working for technology. The problem is, of course, how to make the economy do the same thing?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It is Always Too Soon. . . .

Many Canadians are deeply saddened by the death of Jack Layton. And I too have been affected by the untimely death of a committed social democrat who galvanized the feelings of a nation in the midst of an era of increasing despair, cynicism, greed, and corporatism. Short of being an empty-hearted, soulless, monster, how could one not be affected by the life and death of a man who was so optimistic, so guileless, so energizing, so compassionate, and so heartfelt?

But most of us are not directly affected by Mr. Layton's death. Though my spouse met him on a few occasions, I never even saw the man in person. And the truth is, personal mourning is the privilege of Mr. Layton's friends and loved-ones. They will all mourn in a profound and personal way, and spend their lives trying to put this life and death into perspective the same way I have struggling so hard to cope with my father's death. It is a struggle that will not end.

But outside of the personal mourning that those close to Mr. Layton will endure in the coming months and years, is our collective sadness. And a fundamental part of that sadness is a profound and genuine frustration. It is a frustration that we don't like to express in words, but it is one that always seems to be with us. It is the frustration that we can't help but thinking that so many of those who fight so tirelessly for justice are cut down in their prime while those who actively thwart the cause of justice go merrily on. We know, at some level, that it is not really true; that the good and the bad all live by equal odds or, as the bible tells us, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. But at these times we cannot help but think that the odds are stacked in evil's favor. That since it is easier to destroy than it is to build, and since real compassion is steeped in sensitivity, the good really do die young.

Jack Layton was taken from us too soon. I know other good people who have been taken too soon. But then with good people, any time is too soon. If Jack Layton died at 90 years old, it would have been too soon because such people are what Bertold Brecht called the 'indispensables,' those who work their whole lives to make the lives of all of us better.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

State Broadcaster my A**. . . .

I have never watched SunTV except for a few moments as I was channel flipping. I was recently in Toronto and SunTV was in the lower channels at the hotel so every timed I channel surfed I went by it for a few moments and at one point actually saw one of the SunTV wackos refer to the CBC as the "state broadcaster." Apparently it has become the norm for rightwing nut jobs to constantly refer to the CBC in this way. Mr. Kinsella suggests that his cohorts at SunTV only do this as a way of poking fun at the CBC, but this is obviously a falsehood.

Referring to the CBC as a "state broadcaster" is an intentional, ideological attempt to discredit the corporation at every level. It is the rightwinger's way of suggesting that the CBC is the modern equivalent to the TASS news agency or Pravda from the days of Soviet Communism. The problem with this characterization is that it is patently counterfactual. Indeed the CBC receives money from the state but it operates at arms length. If the standard that we are to employ for an institution being an arm of the State were that it received money from the government then we could say that half the large corporations in the country are little more than state institutions. And since oil companies are particularly blatant recipients of grants and credits from the government, then SunTV should start referring to Esso as a "State Energy Company."

All of this further points to the blatant hypocrisy in the rightwing in this country who ironically support 'socialism' and government controls in countless ways but only attack those areas where those state processes don't help large corporations have more control and make billions. The rightwing in this country are de facto fascists because they continue to want the state to operate as a voice and arm or corporations and grease the wheels of big capital to make more money and have greater control of people's lives. Every time rightwingers use the phrase "State Broadcaster" they are demonstrating their hypocrisy to everyone who has even a little analysis of the political economy of the nation. If the CPC really hate socialism let them renounce all state-funded education, state-funded healthcare, all regulations on health and safety, all trade regulations, the existence of the CRTC, etc. They will not because a) then they would never get elected again, b) they know that the so-called market would never work as the unfettered system that they claim to advocate and c) because it is a hallmark of fascism to support a large state apparatus but one that slowly shifts power to corporations and silences the masses.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Reap the Whirlwind. . . .

In there States many Walmart stores tutor their employees on how to apply for various kinds of government  assistance because they don't make enough money at Walmart to get above the poverty line. Meanwhile Walmart's corporate profits are soaring. This is how capitalism works - at a systemic level it seeks to shift money away from average people and amass it into a small portion of the population. Historically, the only thing that has really pushed in the other direction is the union movement which, at a very simple level, seeks to ensure that some of the wealth stays with the workers and that those workers are protected from the worst kinds of exploitation. There is a direct inverse ratio between the reduction of union membership in countries like the US and the relative impoverishment of the majority of working people. Globalization, touted as the great panacea of working-class troubles by those who hope to increase their fortunes, only makes the issue worse for the majority of workers here and abroad. It makes things worse for workers in the north because it depresses wages and robs them of full-time, stable jobs. But in the long run it makes things worse for workers in the so-called 'third-world as well, because while workers in many countries receive some employment that they didn't have before, they do on terrible terms. Globalized capital increases the power of corporations to exploit workers, teaches 'third-world' workers that they have no choice but to obey the corporate order, sets country against country in a race to the bottom, and eventually impoverishes all of us. Thus in Western Capitalist nations, real wages for most people have not increased for a generation, while in 'less-developed' countries the majority of workers become like indentured slaves in a pattern of poverty and work from which they cannot emerge.

So-called conservative politicians everywhere are desperate to impoverish you and enslave you in a world devoid of meaning and beauty wherein the majority are working endlessly to increase the wealth of the few and where many workers are foolishly duped into believing that maybe someday they will be rich and so they labor like slaves toward a future that never arrives.

Reap the whirlwind of poverty and powerlessness folks, or start the revolution toward a better humanity. Your choice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The End of Summer, the End of an Era. . . .

Today felt like the end of summer in more ways than one. The profound sadness that I feel at the passing of Jack Layton are only rivalled by the disgust I feel at the fawning, hypocritical posthumous praise that right-wingers have been heaping on his memory. They talk of respecting Mr. Layton despite the fact that they disagreed with his politics. What, if you will pardon the expression, a load of bollocks! The rightwing in this country did everything they could to silence Jack Layton, just as they hope to silence everyone who opposes their dictatorial corporate agenda. Their favorite way of shutting down Mr. Layton was to refer to him as "Taliban Jack." But this is the way of the rightwing, shut down and silence all opposing views in a rabid effort to undermine democracy and the cause of equality and justice.

But for those of us on the left, even when we didn't agree with all of Layton's position, were reminded by him that, despite the rightwing's best efforts, the fight is worth waging and the war will be won. And to all the rightwingers who hypocritically praise Mr. Layton now that he is dead, my message for you is that "you will lose your war on justice!" The right may win some battles, they may hold back progress, but they will lose the war. For thousands of years we have been winning the war to build democracy, to  increase equality, to recognize the rights of workers and minorities, and to undermine the power of the rich. Despite the efforts of the right to hold the world back, we will move forward.

Our promise to Jack Layton - we will keep fighting and when we are gone our children will keep fighting. Our promise to the right - enjoy your small moments of victory - we have seen the enemy and he is ours.

Remember by working harder. . . . .

                                -Joe Hill.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Need to Reflect. . . . The Establishment Tells us What We Need to Think.

Just one more interesting note of the British insurrection - yesterday Prime Minister Cameron told us that they were going to investigate and reflect on the recent events. But before any reflection or investigation he told us that we have to understand that the riots weren't about race because not every rioter was black, and the riots were not about cutbacks or economic dépravation or democracy.

In other words, the Prime Minster wants to make sure that before the investigate or reflect on the events, we all already know what the conclusions should be.

Tories have never been interested in truth so it shouldn't surprise us. But what continues to be surprising to me (though at this point it really shouldn't) is that people buy this stuff. It is not surprising that riots and insurrections happen - it is surprising that they don't happen all the time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why Are Explanations Suddenly the Same as Support????

I find the recent discourse on the riots in England sad and tragic but I guess it is typical of any state apparatus from Syria to the UK to marginalize insurrectionists, calling them common criminals or terrorists.

What really aggravates me is that if one attempts to explain the root causes of the insurrection, it is viewed as being tantamount to condoning every kind of violence. Again, this is a technique used by leaders in almost every country. They are always desperate to demonize anyone who stands against the status quo. However, if one is even vaguely aware of history they know that if you leave people living in misery and desperation, without eductions and without hope for their futures, they will eventually rebel. It is as simple as that. However, to suggest that this understanding is a uniform advocation of violence of all kinds, is absurd.

Here is an imaginary news transcript to make the point.

Reporter; We are talking with Joe Aeroguy, an expert in airplane safety about the recent rash of airline accidents. Mr. Aeroguy, what do you think has led to these terrible accidents?

Mr. Aeroguy: Well, in the past few years the government has loosened the safety regulations concerning regular maintenance and the Airline companies have found many ways to cut corners on their regular maintenance program. We in the safety industry have been saying for years that these cutbacks would eventually lead to accidents and loss of life.

Reporter: Are you saying that you condone these accidents??

Mr. Aeroguy: WTF??

Exactly! Pointing out that insurrections are a perfectly predictable result of years of oppression, systemic racism, failure to provide services, and a basic lack of hope, is not the same as advocating violence. Rather, it is a call to fix what is wrong instead of demonizing and marginalizing the people who are reacting to something that many of us have never had to endure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Violence, A Way of Life for the Wealthy of Britain. . . . .

Ok, I have to say it. It must be said and no one else seems ready to say it so the responsibility falls upon me.

I have an important message to all those stuffy, self-righteous, hypocritical English MPs and commentators concerning their continual condemnation of the rioters in Britain - You have to shut up now! How weary I grow of representatives of the British Government telling us that "nothing justifies the violence." It would sound great if it was not so monumentally steeped in utter hypocrisy! The British authorities, governments, and aristocrats have been perpetrating excessive violence at home and abroad for centuries. Millions have died in the British pursuit of wealth and power. Most recently the British government was involved in the illegal invasion of Iraq where tens of thousands (some sources say hundreds of thousands) died in the pursuit of British wealth and power.

Let us be honest, it is not violence that the British government objects to, it is violence that is not committed by them in the interest of the corporations and the capitalist class that bothers them. The simple proof is in their long history of unadulterated and mass violence.

The French Aristocracy insisted that those who stormed the Bastille were simple criminals and terrorists. But for centuries the working-class of Britain (and particularly those who are not 'white') have been left in desperation, without decent educations, without real opportunities, without hope, that is violence! And every once in a while the simmering anger and desperation will burst into flames - much to the chagrin of the rich and powerful. The sad thing is that these poor saps are simply looting stores and setting fire to a few buildings and many of them will end up in prison. It is amateur hour really. While these rioters are looting stores, the upper-class of Britain has been looting entire continents!! And while the racialized minority rioters will either end up in jail or going back to a life of unfulfilled desperation, those who have been looting whole countries live long lives of prosperity.

Of course, some people who absolutely don't deserve it, will be victims of these riots. But centuries of violent treatment, inequality, and oppression, never results in anything good. Meanwhile the real perpetrators of massive and universal violence go happily on.

Signs of the Apocalypse. . . .

"We're just showing the rich people that we can do what we want. . ."

                      -Rioter in Croydon

Monday, August 8, 2011

Real Liberty, not Illusion. . . . .

I think anyone who is even vaguely aware of the real history of Western democracy is fairly hesitant to legitimize modern conservatism by actually debating with its adherents  in a serious way. People like Robert Ford or the so-called "tea-partiers" are so vastly ignorant of almost anything in the realm of serious politics that to discuss with them in a serious way seems absurd and slightly perverse. In fact modern conservatives are so vastly ignorant of the roots of democracy that I am certain that history will judge so-called neo-conservatism as one of those sad and embarrassing chapters of history like the McCarthy hearings. It has recently been particularly embarrassing in the US as the 'tea-partiers' continually invoke the so-called founding fathers while knowing nothing about the real issues that surrounded the revolution and the struggles that came after it. The differences between, say John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were incredibly wide and very important. And what is perhaps even more important than the arguments between the early revolutionaries is the fact that, given the changes that gradually took place in the two centuries after the American (and French) revolution, it is absurd to attempt a simplistic application of, say, Jeffersonian or Federalist policies to todays political situation. Hamilton and the Federalists were attempting to create what they thought would be a modern democratic system by aligning with Britain, creating a central bank, and supporting commercialism and increased trade. Though their elitism and commercialism have more in common with modern Republicans than Democrats, their notion of a more centralized and powerful federal state has more to do with modern democrats. Similarly, Jefferson's fear of a powerful central government sounds sort of like modern Republicans while his fear of a commercial elite rings more of the modern Democratic party.

The fact is that you can not draw too straight a line between 18th century revolutionaries from Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson to Jean-Paul Marat to todays political agendas because too much changed in the meantime. Men like Jefferson and Paine feared elitism and centralized power because their only experience of the state was one of the raw power of the aristocracy. At the time it was a fitting fear. But I think they also understood that commercial power could be just as dangerous as traditional state and aristocratic power (something that modern conservatives completely miss). So you get modern conservatives invoking the name of men like Jefferson as a warning of tyranny and loss of liberty, but this is largely meaningless because if Jefferson were alive today he would understand that while the state must always be watched, it can also be an institution that can improve the conditions of everyone.

 Above all, what modern conservatives miss (intentionally or simply out of ignorance) is that liberty in the modern world is not about low taxes or a smaller state or anything like that. Liberty has to do with an equality of opportunity. The way to increase liberty for everyone, is to ensure that as many people as possible have as much opportunity as they can. However, the conservative agenda will decrease opportunity and therefore decrease liberty. Privatizing education and healthcare (both things that conservative want to do), for example, will mean that education will be for the rich and people, like in the US, will live in constant fear of going bankrupt because they or someone in their family gets sick. Furthermore, putting more and more power in the hands of the corporations will continue to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few and reduce the liberty of the many.

Modern social democracy does not have its roots in any one thinker or movement. However, it grew out of those radicals who knew that the ancien regime was an abuse of power, but also began to quickly realize that the power of the corporate elite was just as dangerous as the abusive aristocracy of the past. The men and women of the Trade Union movement and left of center parties in Western nations were the ones who really understood liberty because they knew that only when wealth and power were well distributed in society and only when we significantly increased the equality of opportunity would we begin to achieve real liberty.

Rightwing notions of liberty are simply illusory and lead to nowhere but to the past when the majority had nothing and a few rich people had more or less everything. And the remarkable ignorance of men like Robert Ford, the Federal Conservative Party leaders and the "tea-partiers" (ignorance they often seem to boast about) only illustrates that modern conservatism belongs in the dust-bin of history.