Monday, January 29, 2018

Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

Imagine a country where rich, very very few very very rich people, are adjusting the political structure for their benefit. They are so oppressed, put upon, controlled by the government that they can’t do whatever they want. If they want to build a factory somewhere to exploit labor so they can get richer they can do that. But these damn government regulations will not allow them to just dump the waste products into the nearby river. This is outrageous. It infringes on their basic rights as human rich people to do as they please. If some people downstream get ill or even die from the poison that the factory dumped in the river, well that is too bad. Those people should have just had the personal initiative to do something better for themselves so they could go live somewhere else rather than whining to the government to protect them from progress.

This book is basically about the builders of an economic theory fabricated in service to the rich. It is called Libertarianism. The people into it claim that they believe that it will somehow magically make everyone prosperous simply by taking a hands-off approach when it comes to their beloved “Economic liberty”. Libertarianism is also magnetic to the politically naive who think it’s for freedom, no drug laws etc. And it is, or claims to be, but the main thrust behind it is something different.
The main man in the book is James McGill Buchanan who was financed at various universities by two billionaires Scafe and later Charles Koch (this guy again!!). This theory is based on very little but belief, it’s a sort of economic political religion. And much if it has racist and reactive roots. The book in the beginning explains the events after Brown v. Board of Education ruling that lead to the federal government forcing integration of the racist education systems in the USA. This did not go down well in Virginia. They struggled to find ways around it, via private school vouchers and other means. One county in Virginia simply closed its public schools, for years, from 1959 to 1964, that is 5 years. The federal government finally forced them to reopen the schools. (As an aside, I’m not a big fan of schooling as it is done in the USA. I would be curious if any of those as children without school during those years somehow benefitted. It is possible.)
At any rate, they appear to want no government other than having a structure to protect private property. That would include the military. The government is also useful in acquiring future properties not usefully developed, but with people living there uselessly and stubbornly in the way.

Anyway I guess how it all works is that guys like the Koch Bros need to get rich enough that, well something will happen then and everybody will be rich. I mean everyone important. If a bunch of people die off in the process this is simply the cost of progress and in the long run it’s ok. Their lives didn’t matter for that much anyway. Some humans just fail. And that’s just as well because we need to breed the best not all these other people, if we can call them that.
And don’t let them organize. Collectivization is not encouraged, actually quite the opposite, buying all the land, or taking it by force, tossing people off it so they can’t even grow their own food. Of course they can organize themselves into corporations and get just as big as they want. Business collectives are OK, workers, or people concerned about ecology, etc., no.
The most pure wouldn’t even go for that. Koch Industries is privately owned in the family. It’s not a public corporation. Anyway, I think these people are quite insane and anti human.
James McGill Buchanan went to Chile during the fascist coup and help them design a lovely new constitution that tilted toward business and against the people having much power.. But these libertarians think that was great work and hold up fascist Chile as the example of what the USA needs to do. That’s part of the long plan now to maneuver for a constitutional convention and write a new one for the USA in their favor
It’s really a fascinating read. Scary as it is.
People are crazy. Oh and they think that everyone has their same emotional set-up, that the deep wish of us all is that we had a kingdom of our own and people we could boss around.
Hey! I don’t feel that way. I don’t want subjects or slaves. There is something wrong with these people. If they were in our hunter-gatherer group we would probably find a way to drive them away or bump them off.
But we can’t do that now, can we?
So they just grow in power and spread their poison logic and, if not stopped somehow, are very likely to win.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot

I had a certain amount of trepidation as I started reading this book. I knew I was entering the heart of the ugliness of the USA, for 620 pages. I’m a notoriously slow reader, so I knew I would be there for awhile.

I shouldn’t have been so concerned. This is a well written history of the CIA. It is loaded with information that was new to me as well as stories I have been hearing for decades like the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the murder of JFK..

This is really the big story of the 20th Century when global technological resources developed to the extent that the have nots were in a position to move on the haves.
Dulles helped developed  the CIA into a secret army working to buttress the holdings of the haves. The book is a working bio of Dulles as a spy. He began as a Harvard educated Wall Street corporate lawyer. He ended as a government official who really functioned as a Wall Street corporate lawyer. The interest of big business was always at the center of his actions and the actions he manipulated the USA into.

He goes through the story of the CIA engineering the coup in Iran in 1953 which put the Shah back in power until 1979. During this time the CIA assisted him in setting up Secret police units that eliminated all opposition other than that embedded in religion, which lead to the religious sectors of society to eventually gaining control rather than a more secular setup that could have been possible with Mossadegh. But this is the history of much of the CIA meddling on behave of corporate business, keeping countries business friendly even if large sections of the population suffered as a result. The USA spreads a good deal of suffering over the world.

The end of the book spends a good deal of space to evidence linking the CIA to the JFK and RFK assassinations. He certainly presents a powerful case of motivation and procedural ability. Of course I’m familiar with and tend to go along with this view of events.

I had not heard of the 1961 coup attempt in France, to ouste Charles de Gaulle and install a right wing government. That was rather shocking to read about and of course there was the good old CIA helping to establish and supporting the perpetrators.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to generate much anger about this stuff anymore, I mean anger that the country I live in spends a great deal of its resources making the lives of people in other countries miserable without much person autonomy under some thuggish government that is friendly the international business interests. And it’s not like these international corporations are even Americans, they aren’t particularly loyal to the USA as their business interests are pushed on other  countries by CIA action as in the 1973 CIA supported coup in Chile, the other 9/11.

No, I’m not angry, just frustrated and sad that this has been the trajectory of the USA my entire life span.
I hope you can do something about it in the future, and that the blowback is not as horrible as it might justifiably be.

Anyway, this mysterious institution, that does more or less what it pleases secretly with an enormous amount of tax money, just goes on its merry way. Maybe we hear about what they do later, but probably not since the government at behest of big business is growing more and more fascistic secretive and controlling.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

{rec-og-nize} the voices of bisexual men Edited by Robyn Ochs & H. Sharif Williams

This is a collection of testimonials from bisexual men expressing how they feel about their 
situation in the USA territory in which they live.
The stories vary because there are a lot of different layers of this since no one is really alike with sexual things, I mean, if they are honestly looked into, explored.

Most in the book, are happy to be bi. Some feel oppressed, unseen, by the outer world’s 
reaction to them and somewhat bitter about the whole thing. Many are annoyed by the 
bipolar assumptions of our time and see them as inaccurate, in the least, to intentionally 
dismissive of the variation they are.  
They express feelings of not being comfortable with either of these poles.
I agree. The born this way gay culture is clearly not for me anymore than the exclusively 
heterosexual assumptions. So here is what I might write if I were involved with a book like this.

I consider myself lucky to be somewhere on the bisexual spectrum. I like to think that I am 
closer to basic pre-conditioned and trained, civilized,  humanness by being this way, natural and more wild.
This is not a new concept for me. I have been like this for as long as I can remember. I 
mean from childhood back in Ohio where there were sexual encounters with other boys playing around doing this and that.
But even though that went on and was not unusual and really quite natural there was a sort of prohibition given USA sex attitudes and this was Ohio in the 1950s and early 60s. All this activity was done in secret, certainly away from parents. Yet it went on, not with all boys, but certainly not restricted to one or two boys. I guess I just assumed that it was what we did 
because it was fun and exciting with partly getting away with something.
But that period was tricky for me. There was an older boy who lived behind our little ranch 
style house in Ohio. I’ll call him Woody, because that was his name. I have been wondering how much older he was than me and just now did some internet poking around and found a man who kind of has to be him and who graduated from high school in 1965 which would 
make him at least 4 and probably 5 years older than I because I was born in November and  unusually young when I began school at age 5, too young, but that’s another issue. Well, 
this kid was somehow into me sexually and he was involved with an incident that looms 
large in my mind because it was so terrible at the time.
There was a big apple orchard near where I lived and beyond the end of the orchard, a 
woods and a lake. One summer afternoon I was out with some of the older boys who I loved hanging out with. The frozen moment outside at the end of the orchard has the boys 
standing around me and me kneeling. I remember being persuaded to put someone’s penis in my mouth. I’m not sure how old I was then but I know it was before junior high because 
we had moved out of that neighborhood before I went to junior high. So I’m guessing 10 or 11, but I could have been younger since I lived in that house since age 5. And knowing what I know now it is probably better if I was 10 or younger than say 12 if the other boys were all Woody’s age 4 or 5 years older. Because then they would be getting rather old to be fooling around with this kid. And one would hope, being older, they could have come up with a more secure play area.

That day we were suddenly discovered by some girls and enough was going on and 
exposed that the girls had something to tell. The next thing I knew I was in the kitchen being interrogated by both of my parents regarding if I had put someone’s “pee pee” in my mouth. Honestly sitting here now I don’t know if I did or not. I remember some reluctance at the 
moment but that could have been added on later to support my story to my parents that 
nothing went on. Years later my dad told me that he had caught me with Woody another 
time in Woody’s family’s shed.

Now when I look at Woody’s two Facebook photos and read about how he spent his life, I 
find it interesting that he has chosen male power roles being an auxiliary cop, involvement 
with military and some marshal training thing. And there he is as an old man wearing navy 
whites with 4 small children standing with him, the only other people in his photos. I not saying he went on from back then to career predator, but those guys come from somewhere I 

So is this my #metoo moment?
It could very well be. Woody had no other reason to be involved with me. I was just a little 
kid who lived down the hill. He had what I wanted, which was to be acceptable to these 
older boys.

Did this hurt me?
I mean I’m aware that my relationships with other men are not normal, whatever that means. I don’t have any close men friends.
I would describe part of my reaction to others men as being somewhat homophobic. By that I don’t mean some sort of hatred but rather a suspicion that they might be interested in 
something or that I am and all that is just below the surface and enough to confuse the 
desire to get together. It’s a subtle emotional background thing. After all, little me might think, what else do I have to offer being not otherwise successful or engaged in popular male 
Is this related to why I have been such an outsider with no career or anything like that when I had some sort of raw potential that is only apparent in hindsight.
I have stayed away from men professionally. I was in a band but it was with women, no men would want me in a band with them. I don’t rock!

So what goes on with me with men? I periodically seek anonymous encounters in places set up for that and maybe have a little oral or manual interaction. I don’t know maybe trying to 
recreate the setting at that moment in the orchard since it was loaded with such energy, 
emotion and interest. It doesn’t matter if they are old or younger.
But then I think I’m not that interested in men. I don’t see that many who I feel attracted to. 
Not into beefcake stuff and all that. Not interested in a man being involved with my emotions and have ugly thoughts that they are simply not that sharp, bright, or emotionally 
sophisticated enough to bother with. Or that they have some power agendum, want to sell 
me on something, want to check out what team I’m on maybe even politically. (Ugly 
because since I don’t hang with men I’m probably talking about something within me, within my own self-image.)

So there you have it. I’m rather old now. Have a really lovely open relationship with a 
woman who can understand, so now that sex with other women is basically over due to my age and contentedness with my friend. I can say that I’m not on team straight and have no 
interest in being straight in its homo and hetro variations.
Feeling more free and loved in my relationship I have been having more male sex encounters than in the past when it was dormant for long periods or really toned way down. This feels healthy for me. 
(The book was here when I moved in with my lover. It's her book. It was here so I read it.)
think it might be interesting to have an actual male lover appear although I’m not searching. But people do just show up in my life with no effort from me.

I was in high school in Ohio when The Stonewall Action happened which is said to have set off the Gay Liberation movement. I remember thinking then, while I was just starting to be 
sexually active with girls my age, that the ideal with me was bi, capable of both clearly. I was not about to pick a team and never will.

Anyway, interesting book with writers of various abilities in self expression.
(You can deal with that if you’ve read this far.)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Keepers of the Story By Micah Springer

In 1993 when Micah Springer was 20, she, with a college friend, like so many other young USAers, when for a year long foreign adventure.
But these two very young women from Colorado didn’t go to France or Spain, they went to Africa.

They sure did have an adventure, a life changing one, but they changed those they met as well. They traveled poor, staying low to the earth, where the life, the action, is. Down were life is still connected to the earth, not sanitized and remote like the world they came from and eventually had to return to. What does that proximity to the earth mean to a human other than making one more dusty? I read here of deep and subtle things, the feel, the smell, the feet on the ground moving long distances that USAers would not even consider, especially out in the heat and wind and oh! yeah, lions. I read of transcendence from our western way, we who have lost ourselves in thought, mediating everything with our minds rather than living direct in the now. The book is about human love leading to trencendance form the thought ego. This love is not just for the person, but the world the person has emerged form, a world that is lost to most USAers.

The story is told with direct text meets the poetic, the only kind of language really functional in this kind of story. Micah Springer tells her story of deep earth love that she shares with a family in Kenya.
When I say deep earth love, it is not to evoke an image of hearts floating in air and happily ever after with something substantial to hold on to. I mean the place one goes, that place of vulnerability where all the warmth and light can reach and all the loss and pain penetrate. The place where one has to grow somehow to be able to digest it all, to find some warm peace again after the real polarity of life, love, immersion.
This is part of the sad joyous memoir by Micah Springer.

This is a blog about personal reactions to media, I don’t do “reviews”.
The book had me recalling my own very late youthful trip. It was not nearly as extreme, just Europe, mostly Spain, mostly Barcelona. And I was already older, in my 30s when I spent my almost year abroad.  
What in the book made me recall this is the intense emotional attachments that can transpire when USAers show up somewhere else. I too was with someone, actually riding on her youthful adventure, she was still only just into the 20s.This was in the mid-1980s just a few years before the main trip recounted in the book.

What hurts me now, when I think about it is what happened to the two seperate people who were a big part of our life in Barcelona. Alec and Maribel were our only friends and somehow on returning they were lost. The parent, whose apartment address they had for our USA contact moved or something, I forget the details. What matters is, we were there, we returned, they loved us, and we loved them in return, and they never heard from us again. That makes me feel ashamed and sad.
It makes me feel like some privileged USAer who was in Europe on a lark, met some wonderful open people and then vanished, as if we no longer needed and cared about them after they served their purpose for us.
That is a rotten feeling.

Things go on in the book that reminded me of this although in Springer’s story it’s more extreme, intimate, and fortunately doesn’t just end with back to USA and normal American life.
This is a thought provoking and emotionally satisfying memoir.

I came to the book through hearing Micah Springer on the podcast Tangentially Speaking, by Christopher Ryan. They had a nice chat. It’s archived if you are interested.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The White Rose: a novel by B Traven

After reading this I have only one Traven novel yet to read. Actually two, but his final novel that came some years after the others is not yet translated to English and I don’t read German. I clearly really like his stuff.

The White Rose is a study in contrasting worldviews. The main players, symbols of their classes, are an indigenous man who through family tradition holds the title to a large Mexican hacienda. This is presented as more of a long standing commune rather than a feudal set up. It’s as if the egalitarian, sharing, roots from hunter-gatherer times have somehow survived in this instance into a stable, and atypically fair, agricultural system. Things are shared and it is taken as a given that the title holding family has a duty to the other families as caretakers of the property. They are not seen as winners entitled to profit from this ownership of things that everyone shares. All the people are very close to the land.
They are of the land, the human creatures who emerge from the land, live by it, and return to it in constant cycles of renewal.

The contrasting entity is a USA businessman who has maneuvered himself into a position of enormous power heading an international oil company. He is portrayed in a way that highlights his need for status among his peers. Part of his aura involves his outside women and their needs. The fact that he has outside of marriage women is seen as a positive status symbol among the board members of his corporation. He has to procure symbols of wealth for his main lover. She wants a nice car, but then it needs a garage, but the garage must be attached to a house and not an ordinary house, a mansion. So our oil man has to go through a lot of money for this stuff. I also want to mention that the woman is shown as being more intelligent, and better educated than her lover. She is not a dumb airhead floozy like we see often in movies about this sort of situation, like in Citizen Kane. The big time businessman is not at all involved in the land, other people take care of all that. He is a modern North American. Except he needs land for drilling oil.
And he needs the hacienda, Rosa Blanca, The White Rose.
There is the contrast and the conflict of the novel.

The industrialist is driven by emotions: Fear, Greed, how others see him.
The indian is contained in love for the land and the people and things from it and the wish to see it go on for the sake of the people of the past who took care of it for the people of the present. They must care for it to assure the survival of those to come.

In The White Rose Traven approaches storytelling devices of mystery and suspense, the day just might be saved. It was good to hope that the miserable inevitable might somehow, through law, caring people, not occur.

Although it is clear where Traven’s heart lies in the conflict, his style is not particularly agitprop. He is not rallying comrades behind a particular banner. He is rather coolly showing the situation from various sides. There is no feeling of soft peddling the issues. He describes in detail what is going on rather matter of factly no matter how horrible, cruel, unjust, or plain nasty, that might be.
I like this tone. I feel I am asked to go along and look through his eyes rather than be verbally rhetorically persuaded. I read him with a recurring sarcastic edge that I think he intended.

B Traven was an outsider. The man who only wanted to be known for the work was not a Mexican and although distorting whatever his real biography was with USA root claims, he was not an American. Perhaps witnessing first hand events in German in the early part of the 20th Century and then landing in Mexico in the mid 1920s and absorbing that world, doesn’t put one in a mind that “if just this or that happened all would finally be well”.
He presents people who have lived a certain way for many years being suddenly confronted and challenged by international modernity, the machine that rode the rails that conquered Norte was on the next little  stop in it’s global voyage, and gathering endless momentum.
The book is from 1929. Surely I would look upon it as quaint and a period piece, if he offered me an easy solution to the complicated intricacies of modern global life that dazzles us with wonders and the endless brutalities that come with it.

We are in uncharted extremely complicated territory and anyone who is offering an answer to making things better, like the old days, or some glowing vision, ought to be viewed with suspicion.
Nobody knows what to do.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

By Blood: A novel by Ellen Ullman

This is an unusual concept novel. We have a first person narrator who in the course of the story reveals very little about himself other than being from somewhere other than the San Francisco setting.  He also has some problem in the past.
He rents an office. Next door is a head doctor, a psychiatrist or psychologist. One patient doesn’t like the white noise machine that is used to keep the sessions private. This enables our narrator to overhear and he gets very attached to what he is hearing.
The skill of the storytelling prose allows one to suspend natural disbelief in the situation and it’s duration.
The novel is also about issues of adoption and extreme adoption in this case coming out of the events of the Nazi holocaust, exile, and extermination of the Jewish people. While telling that fictional story Ullman addresses actual historical happenings in the period just after WWII, the liberation of concentration camps, and the impulses and personalities of Zionism leading to the establishment of Israel.
The novel is a personal story in the setting of these past earth shaking events. It is a period piece written in 2012 but set in the 1970s.
It flows nicely. Somewhat of a slow suspense piece which holds interest.

I came to Ullman via seeing her interviewed about her new memoir on Booktv Cpsan 2.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

McTeague: A novel by Frank Norris

McTeague by Frank Norris

I come to this through the classic movie Greed by Erich von Stroheim. This is a silent movie that is notorious as one of the movies cut into a shorter version by it’s production company.  We don’t have the whole vision of the director and much of the footage was discarded. Nevertheless it’s a great movie and I have watched it more than once, but this novel that the movie was adapted from is so much more and beyond the film in greatness.

This supports my notion that film is a step back as an art form compared to novels. Film is rather good with action of any sort, with it’s old standbys, sex and violence. But it is terribly clumsy when it comes to the subte in human life, like our rich lives of thought. Fiction writing can easily present thought while film often must revert to writing to show thought in the form of narration. Of course text is not thought, but another representation. What is thought? I’m not exactly, sure but text seems best at expressing it.
If one wants to read this fine novel and are interested in the movie Greed too, I would suggest first seeing Greed and then reading the book. I think there is less disappointment with that mode of consumption since movies are most always less than, a sort of graphic comic of the original.

Greed was not a bad name for the movie. The novel is all about greed, the love and lust for money. It is a very American story set in San Francisco, about as far as one can get in the westward stomp across the conquested continent. California had a big push of white settlement after the gold strikes there 50 years before the publication of this 1899 novel. It’s characters are the typical immigrants and their heirs still at it, still wanting to add gold, money, status and meaning to empty lives and hurting one another in the process.
I looked into the biography of Frank Norris. He died very young, at 32 of appendicitis. McTeague is the product of a man in his 20s. It is also a landmark in Naturalism in USA literature.
I am drawn to Naturalism. I have read all of Theodore Dreiser’s fiction and love his work. I probably ought to look into Zola.
With McTeague the social realism of the piece is never overtly political, he is not pitching a particular political point of view, such as, say, Upton Sinclair with Socialism. Frank Norris just lays it all out there and let’s the reader come to their own conclusions with hints of conditioning and life setting having driven the characters to be what they are.
It is a brilliantly involving and pleasurable read even with all the misery. The tale he tells is a worthy one and remains relevant into the 21st Century almost 120 years since publication. That is because the issues remain and people are as they were and maybe even worse now.  Anyone who has been in a relationship with unequal economic assets might find something to relate to here. The major plot line involves one partner having money but afraid, or for whatever other reason, will not or cannot share with her husband McTeague who is a big not so smart uneducated man who had a good income before a change that ruins his life. This can be deadly in a relationship which the novel illustrates in no uncertain terms. The novel contains serious and violent marital conflict. McTeague abuses his wife who cannot share her money. She is driven to live in poverty to “save” more.  

This is a product of the 1890s and does contain some of the stereotypes of the era. There is a greedy “Jew” rag merchant, but everyone else is greedy too and he is not rich or controlling anyone. Just another victim of a systematic insanity.

It’s my first reading of Norris and I loved it. I will return to him later for sure.

Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

Imagine a country where rich, very very few very very rich people, are adjusting the political structure for their benefit. They are so opp...