Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How Marxism Leninism Drives People Away from Socialism

One of the major events of this holiday season for the US left was Freedom Road Socialist Organization member, Stan Goff's public rejection of Marxism-Leninism.
For those who aren't familiar with the US revolutionary left, Freedom Road is a Maoist organization bringing together a number of smaller Maoist groups. My own experience of FRSO was that they combined a bizarre loyalty to Stalin and the Cultural Revolution, solidarity with groups such as the "Shining Path" of Peru, and attempts to build coalitions with liberals within the Democratic party. Thus, they emulated the most pragmatic elements of Stalinism in their own practice, while simultaneously maintaining unquestioning support for far-flung groups of Maoist third-world guerillas (and recently in posts here, for the Baathist elements of the Iraqi resistance) in seeming total disregard for their liberal political associates, not to mention notions of universal human rights and democracy. This made for sometimes shocking experiences for those people who had been members of "coalitions" organized or led by FRSO. Some members of the group I was once a member of, Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, proclaimed their own disillusioning experiences with the FRSO front group, The Progressive Student Network, as their primary reason for rejecting the Marxist left and embracing Anarchism.
By the end of the 1990s, FRSO had split into two groups, one adhering more to the social-democratic practical politics called "refoundation", and the other focusing more on traditional M-L principles of revolutionary cadre organization and retaining solidarity with patently undemocratic movements and regimes. Goff was on the side of the refoundationists. Thus, his break from the movement has led to two responses among its members, summed up by a poster to the Maoist website redflags as:
from the refoundationists: "what connection?" [between Goff's rejection of Marxism and refoundation] and (from the cadres): "told you so, you Refoundation suckers. Now let us praise Kim Jong Il who descended from heaven (okay well, he didn't, but let's just pretend)."

Before discussing responses, it makes sense to quote Goff himself.
In his blog post Doctrine, Goff, a long-time anti-war activist & Maoist, announces that he has
concluded that neither Marxist-Leninist nor “Trotskyist” nor Maoist, nor Guevarist, etc etc etc, organizations are suitable to the task [of building a successful revolutionary movement] no matter the quality of the individuals who populate them. The history of these organizations has been, for more than six decades minimum, a string of failures, punctuated by periodic successes only in mass work that was self-organizing outside Marxism to some extent anyway. I have come to believe this is a failure of the structure and of the over-reaching scope of these organizations.

Marx himself began his career preoccupied not with questions of economics, but of human happiness. What he observed was oppression of one by another, and the sense of personal fragmentation — of alienation — that permeated modern society; and he determined that these two things were related.

Since then, the accumulation of historical experience has provided us with both confirmations and rebuttals of the “lessons” of Marx and Engels. A series of thinkers and leaders after them, in the same tradition, elaborated on that connection between social power and personal alienation.

Unfortunately, the struggle to give these intellectual and practical breakthroughs organizational assertion has been one of hostile encircelment — literal and figurative — which gave rise to a bunker mentality.

This bunker mentality led to the transformation of Marx’s analyticial toolbox into a quasi-religious organizing doctrine, and one that was fought out almost like an epoch religious struggle in painful cycles of orthodoxy and reformation, then reformation itself morphing into orthodoxy.

Marxism-Leninism is a term coined by Stalin to establish an imaginary line of predestination (Stalin had his opposition shot as a demonstration of his own ardency on the issue.) from Marx-the-Godhead to himself as a way of mapping his encircled-and-militarized state leadership onto the collective consciousness of Eurasian mass still steeped in the episteme of hierarchical and patriarchal religion, complete with its struggle-to-salvation teleology.

It was this disciplinary regime that inherited and ossified in its own image the notion of a Leninist Party as the last word in political organization, and “democratic centralism” as its organizing principle. It remains to this day the axiomatic faith of Marxism-Leninism and all the other variants.

From the very beginning, however, this principle that worked during the contingencies of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions — both still majority peasant societies (look at Nepal and Haiti today) — was never an organic match to the social conditions nor the prevailing consciousness in the United States. For this reason, I believe, the mismatch between the idea-driven M-L organizations and the lived experience of US society at large has consistently been a history of leadership sects without a solid, organic popular base, especially since the World War II.

** He goes on to say many other things, including these biggies.
Goff argues that the problem is with Marxism itself. He argues three significant big points: 1) Marxism is hopelessly bound up in a man-nature dualism and imagines an "industrial utopia" which current environmentalists tell us won't work. 2) Because of the first problem, Marxism doesn't address patriarchy, which Goff now sees as more fundamental than capitalism as a cause of the problems in the world, and 3) The industrial working-class is not the engine of the revolution because it is dependent on the very industries that are destroying the earth AND this class is privileged to the point that they share more interests with the ruling class than with oppressed racial minorities and third world people. Look at history, he says, and wake up socialists, the working-class is not he engine of socialist revolution.

As I see it, many of the points Goff makes, though couched in anti-ML language, come directly from existing Maoism, and reflect the Maoist-Soviet split of the 1960s about the respective roles of the industrial working-class and the peasantry, about the relative importance of national indepedence struggles against imperialism vs. the industrial working class struggle w/the international bourgeoisie. Other elements of his argument, particularly the emphasis on issues of ecology and anti-authoritarian radical feminism, are more closely connected to the anarchist tradition.
I don't agree with everything Goff says, and I agree with the critics that Goff is on solid ground when criticizing Marxism-Leninism, but not when talking about Marxism in general.
Despite this, when I see people trotting out the usual defenses of Marx with quotations from the original texts, they just seem to verify Goff's criticisms of the hidebound and quasi-religious nature of Marxism. In the article linked above, Louis Proyect argues that Goff isn't a good reader of Marx, because he ignores Marx's writings on technology and the environment. True, and it's fair to say that if Goff is going to criticize Marx and Marxism as the root of the problem, he ought to know what Marx actually wrote.
On the other hand, I don't think that reading Marx is the answer to our current environmental crisis, and I think Goff is right to say that Marxism doesn't have all the answers on this issue. Contemporary environmentalists have much to tell us - even if what they say contradicts Marx. Call me an apostate, but I, perhaps with Goff, think current environmental science is more relevant than what the Old Man wrote in a book more than 100 years ago. I'm sympathetic to Goff's critique of the Marxist parties' rigid adherence to Marx, because like fundamentalists who insist that the world is only a few thousand years old, doctrinaire Marxists refuse to pay attention to actual world circumstances, but cling instead to a holy book! What makes Marx's writings so useful and still applicable in many cases was the fact that he was himself a man of science, not religion. Doctrinaire Marxism, which insists, despite evidence to the contrary, on the truth of its holy books, is, as an anarchist friend of mine once said, "a fine religion, as religions go."
It is for this reason that I agree with the overall points in Goff's essay, which address the failures of the Marxist left to face realities and be flexible. It's for the same reason that I remain attached to anarchism, despite that movement's flaws, while embracing many of the insights and observations of Marx. Anarchism has more potential than Marxism-Leninism to overcome its flaws and to respond to the context of the times without sacrificing real principles because it's not based on doctrinal loyalty to a set of texts. In order for the radical left to succeed, I think it has to embrace the anarchist tendency (without the entire host of works by problematic anarchist philosophers) to creativly draw from and synthesize different movements and to reject dogma as a general rule. In 'Love and Rage" we called this "revolutionary pluralism."
Where Goff goes astray, in my view, relates to the major flaws in anarchism as well as to some of the more pragmatic elements of Stalinist practice. The major flaw of anarchism is its historic resistance to the materialism at the center of Marx's overall philosophy: the idea that the relations of production shape the entire structure of society. I think this point has been confirmed pretty well by historical evidence. If you see the world this way, there is no culture that operates outside of or independently from the class conflicts that shape it. If you neglect the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or dismiss it, as Goff seems to, you wind up talking about "culture" in a "common sense" way, looking at the surface of the society, examining its appearance without knowing its roots.
Goff argues that "patriarchy" is a more fundamental problem in our society than capitalism. It is certainly true that patriarchy is older than capitalism, but I don't know that toppling it would end capitalism, stop war, or save the environment. There has yet to be a feminist analysis that is capable of seriously explaining or collectively responding to imperialism, war, or class inequality. The idea that we are currently at war in Iraq primarily because of "the rule of the father" remains unconvincing to me. Certainly, ideals of masculinity can support a war, and can aid it, but to say that male authority is the root of all war relies too much on naturalized categories of gender that I reject.
Another of Goff's major critiques of Marxism is that it is "alien" to the culture of the United States; this is where I think he borrows a bit from Stalinist pragmatism. On the question of indiginaety, Anarchism seems to have the advantage. Its roots in the varied reform movements of anti-slavery Quakerism, utopian socialism and women's rights struggles, gives it a firm foundation in American "soil." However, these movements, like the current feminist politics than Goff embraces, are also rooted in a society divided by class - and by the institution of slavery. Their advantage is that they address the role of slavery in the American economy in a more central way than Marxists of their time did, but some of the most energetic and radical ante-bellum reformers grew interested in socialism and labor activism in the post-Civil War years. John Swinton, Albert and Lucy Parsons and others chose Marx's theory because of its superior explanatory power on so many fronts.
There's another problem with the notion of Marxism as an "alien" philosophy in the US. The notion of a "native American culture" itself is based on a historical fallacy. The "culture" of America, like that of other countries, is a product of changing historical circumstances. The American working-class was and continues to be imported. The people who brought Marxism to the US were European workers such as Louis Lingg of Chicago via Germany. They chose Marxism because his theories fit their own experiences - in both America and in Germany. Marxism's continuing relevance for people all over the world, who have joined Marxist parties, suggests that Marx's analysis of capitalism, and the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will continue to exist internationally. Marxism has only incresed in relevance since the fall of the Soviet Union, as I see it.
Finally, Goff's intense pessimism about the revolutionary potential of the industrial working-class, where he enters an ideological battle that currently divides a good deal of the left, centers around the role of race and empire.
Goff at this point, quotes Joaquin Bustelo's rhetorical question:

I can’t imagine how it is possible to deny that there is not now nor has there been for a very long time a working class movement worthy of the name in the United States (a “class-for-itself” movement). Does anyone disagree? Does someone want to correct me on the half-century long decline in union membership, the decline in the number of strike-days, etc.? Does someone want to let me know about the thousands of Anglo workers who organized their workplaces to walk out last May Day in solidarity with Latino and immigrant protests?

Bustelo, who's a member of "Solidarity" a "non-sectarian" Trotskyist group, doesn't therefore wash his hands of the working class, but argues, much like new abolitionists, such as Noel Ignatiev and David Roediger, that whiteness must be destroyed before there can be a genuine working-class movement in the United States. FRSO, Goff's organization, has tended to be much more active and serious in dealing with race than the Trotskyists have on the whole, but even they, Goff implies, still fetishize the existing labor movement as if it were an expression of the "working-class."
On this point, I am in total agreement with Bustelo and Goff, and I think that the fetishization of the white/advanced European industrial working-class that you see in most Trotskyist formations is one of the biggest obstacles to working-class unity that exists today.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Who's Listening to the Sounds of the American Street? DC March Coverage Round Up

According to the folks at DC Indymedia, hundreds of thousands of people showed up in Washington yesterday to protest the war and called for the impeachment of President Bush.
After reading many different stories, I'd say that the protest again reflected a wide cross-section of Americans, but there were a few differences between this march and previous ones.

Most big DC demos don't include actions by any Black Bloc, but this one did:
Indymedia activists are the only ones to say much about the action at the capital, a rush of black-clad anarchists chanting "our congress," that sounds as if it was quite dramatic. These photos show what it looked like, and the comments feature the usual discussion of whether mass demonstrations put on by UFPJ or ANSWER do any good. One of the more interesting threads at the DC Indymedia page, (NY indymedia does not feature the anti-war protest in its coverage today) is about the overall decline of indymedia as evidenced by the lack of coverage of the demonstration. I for one, am disappointed in NY Indymedia, and not only because they removed me from their blogwire last year.

While it is often the case that the mainstream media will over-report anything resembling disorder at a demonstration, the capital action - damn unusual for a DC protest, especially because it did not result in arrests - got almost no coverage from the mainstream media. The lack of coverage suggests one of two possibilities: 1) the action was a huge success and reporting on it would have made the anti-war movement look stronger than the current coverage does 2) The reporters at major newspapers are more sympathetic to the anti-war movement than they used to be and chose to focus on the majority of people at the demonstration rather than the small "black bloc" contingent of 300.

Which do you think it is, readers, or is there another explanation?

The first news article I saw mentioning it came from the AP, which referred to it as an attempt to "rush the capital." and said:

The rally on the Mall unfolded peacefully, although about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building. Police on motorcycles tried to stop them, scuffling with some and barricading entrances. Protesters chanted "Our Congress" as their numbers grew and police faced off against them. Demonstrators later joined the masses marching from the Mall, around Capitol Hill and back.

* *
Another major element of this protest that deserves emphasis was the organized contingent of active duty military at the demonstration, described at Commondreams before the fact.
The AP story was also the main one to feature significant presence of active-duty members of the military in the anti-war march:

A small contingent of active-duty service members attended the rally, wearing civilian clothes because military rules forbid them from protesting in uniform.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Tassi McKee, 26, an intelligence specialist at Fort Meade, Md., said she joined the Air Force because of patriotism, travel and money for college. "After we went to Iraq, I began to see through the lies," she said.
In the crowd, signs recalled the November elections that defeated the Republican congressional majority in part because of
President Bush's Iraq policy. "I voted for peace," one said.
"I've just gotten tired of seeing widows, tired of seeing dead Marines," said Vincent DiMezza, 32, wearing a dress Marine uniform from his years as a sergeant. A Marine aircraft mechanic from 1997 to 2002, he did not serve in Iraq or
This growing group of "anti-war" GIs is probably the most significant element of the anti-war movement, begun by Iraq Veterans Against the War.

For more general march news....

Predictably, the New York Times reported - on page 21, though its front page blurb refers readers to p. 22, that "Tens of thousands of protesters" out to oppose the "troop surge" but also gives the UFPJ's estimate of 400,000 protesters toward's the article's end.
The Chicago Sun Times, gave the same number.
The Washington Post gave no numbers, but focused on the Hollywood presence.
The bloggers at The DailyKos had a contingent at the big march, and have a number of discussions going on about it - here and here and here and here, including personal photo diaries and with long comment threads addressing such points as "why Jane Fonda" and the ever-popular crowd counting problem.
Daniel Manattt has a "video blog" of the march at the Huffington Post.
The Middle East Online reported 1/2 a million Americans protested against Bush's escalation of the Iraq war.

In my search for YouTube march videos, I came across this video promotion of the march, which is quite moving. Its focus is American casualties.
I don't know what casualty counts were mentioned most at the protest, but given the number of protesters, if they were as high as UFPJ says (between 400,000 and 600,000) they would come into range of the current, and most reliable, estimates of Iraqi casualties. (you can read a shorter article about the latest Lancet study here)If you doubt this number, I strongly suggest that you listen to the report "What's in a Number?" from the radio show "This American Life" about the Lancet study's methodology, and the credentials of the leader of the research team, whose numbers on other humanitarian crises are accepted as valid. The only reason for the dispute about the Iraq casualty numbers is that they just sound too high. hmmmm.

and that's all for now. If you were at the march, please post comments about your experiences and links to any coverage I missed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Politics and Medicine

This blog entry starts with the story of my recent experience of what I'm guessing was probably what is often called "defensive medicine" in practice, and I leave it open for your comments.
To begin with, you should know something about me. Over the last few years, I've become a bit of a hypochondriac, imagining the worst when I get any little twinge. A headache? It must be a brain tumor! A shoulder pain? Probably my heart gasping for blood!
I know it's silly, but when I started having "skipped heart beats" while exercising a few years ago, I became obsessed with the idea that I was going to die mid-work out from a mystery defect that no one had caught. Although I exercise regularly, this functioned to make me pretty tense. I finally wound up going to a cardiologist to check it out, and it turned out that the skipped beats were premature atrial contractions,"" which are common and harmless. So, I went about my business and stopped worrying about them. The doctor had suggested back then that I follow up, but I never did.
However, this year, when the "PACs" started coming back, and because I was also having a lot of pain in my left arm, I decided to see the cardiologist again. The guy I had seen before wasn't there anymore and there was a new, youunger doctor. He told me he thought the left arm pain probably originated in a back problem, but "just to be sure" signed me up for a large number of tests, including a "plain stress test" - the kind where a person runs on a treadmill and the heart is monitored for changes in rhythm under stress.
My experience of the test was fine, although before the test began, the technician made a comment about athletes "keeling over" after races that freaked me out and probably led me to start hyperventilating before I got on the treadmill. Despite this, I walked and then ran for something over ten minutes, never felt short of breath or had any chest pain or "PACs" and I could talk during the whole thing with no problem. I was surprised when the doctor told me after the test that the result had been "positive" for ischemia. He was, he said "90% sure" that it was a false positive, because I didn't have any symptoms and spent enough time on the treadmill. However, he ordered a nuclear stress-test to follow up and "clarify" the result. Thankfully, I managed to schedule this test pretty soon after the initial plain test so that I didn't spend much time being a nervous wreck. I continued to work out in the interim, and because this doctor had also prescribed a "loop monitor" as part of my many tests, I was able to record my heart and phone in reports periodically, which I did during all my work-outs. So, yesterday, I spent almost the entire day in the hospital cardiac clinic doing my nuclear test, which was, as the doctor expected, normal. Now, I've taken off the loop monitor because the sticky tapes were ripping up my skin.
So, I guess the doctor HAD to do the nuclear test because I had the positive stress test, but my question to you is: why did he order the plain stress test in the first place? It seemed unnnecessary given my general profile, did it just add to my general anxiety level for no good reason? A 30-day loop monitor also seems excessive, even if it's pretty cool technology.

* * *
My experience seems to validate on the superficial level, the right wing's characterization of the entire American medical apparatus suffering from doctors' fear of malpractice suits, recently brought up again in Bush's State of the Union address. The administration's medical plan includes this point:

The glut of frivolous lawsuits are driving good doctors out of practice and driving up costs by forcing many doctors to practice defensive medicine – ordering unnecessary tests and writing unnecessary prescriptions. The total cost of defensive medicine to our society is an estimated $60 billion to $100 billion per year, including $28 billion billed directly to taxpayers through increased costs of Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and other Federal health programs. Junk lawsuits are a national issue requiring a national response. The House has passed a good medical liability reform bill, and it is time for the Senate to act.

The Bushies would argue that the nuclear test my doctor ordered was expensive, as were the others and that he could have easily ruled out heart disease based on my exercise history (I do about 1 hour of aerobic exercise 3-4 times per week), without sending me for all those tests, which just led my insurance company to spend money and caused needless worry on my part.
Or...maybe he just being exceptionally careful and thorough
There are a surprising number of failed diagnoses, and silent heart-disease is a major killer. According to Kate Steadman at "", 100,000 patients die every year due to medical errors. According to "" heart-attacks are the number one misdiagnosed or undiagnosed major medical problem. A friend pointed out to me while all this was going on, that there was an article in The New Yorker that showed the danger of failing to do tests such as the plain stress test because of the patient's appearance and history.
These realities favor my doctor's choice to do the first, low-cost and non-invasive stress test. If you weigh the outcomes of the risks, the answer seems simple. The worst-case scenario risk of not doing the stress test for a patient with a regular heavy exercise regimen and left arm pain is not catching a potentially fatal condition. The worst-case scenario risk of doing the stress test on a healthy patient is getting a false positive result whose main consequence is patient anxiety until further testing can be done, and additional costs from the other unneccessary tests. What role do the costs of such tests play in raising the cost of American medicine? Even the free-marketeers at Forbes Magazine suggests that people should get "stress tests" which are not expensive. Most studies of this process have concluded that the cost of "unnecessary testing" accounts for less of the increasing health-care costs than do the marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry. Some even suggest that improved management of tests would avoid much more costly medical errors.
My other question about these tests was whether this is unique in American medicine, and makes an argument for our system of health care. The common right-wing talking point is that people in countries with "socialized medicine" receive substandard health care. This article from the Washington Post suggests similar problems by comparing US health care with that in other countries. On the testing issue, the article reports that more Americans don't get recommended tests because of not being able to afford them. The complicated bureaucracy in the US leads to doctors ordering duplicating tests and/or not having test results available. There were substantially more medical errors in the US than in other countries, which would suggest that the problem is not unneccesary tests, but some kind of profound inefficiency in the system as a whole.
I don't know the answer to the actual availability of every test in other countries, but I'm currently listening to an interview on "This is Hell" with Marilyn Clement of Health Care Now, who mentioned that some patients in Canada might have to wait two-three weeks for an MRI. That doesn't seem like that much time. I've had enough trouble getting in to see doctors and make appointments in the US that two-three weeks of waiting for a non-urgent test doesn't seem like that long to me.
* * * and that's all for now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush Speech Live Blogging

His health insurance plan?
Will people who aren't insured benefit from this plan?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lyrics of the Day: Une Annee Sans Lumiere

Hey! The streetlights all burnt out.
Une annee sans lumieres. (a year without lights)
Je monte un cheval, (I mount a horse)
qui porte des oeilleres. (who wears blinders)

Hey, my eyes are shooting sparks,
la nuit, mes yeux t’eclairent. (at night, you light my eyes)
Ne dis pas a ton pere (don't tell your father)
qu’il porte des oeillieres. (who wears blinders)

Hey, your old man should know,
if you see a shadow,
there’s something there.

So hey! my eyes are shooting sparks,
la nuit mes yeux t’eclairent, (at night you light my eyes)
ne dis pas a ton pere (don't tell your father)
qu’il porte des oeillieres. (who wears blinders)

Hey, your old man should know,
if you see a shadow,
there’s something there

The story behind Arcade Fire's brilliant 2004 album "Funeral" which was my favorite album this year is that the band's members all lost family members either before, during or after the recording. I like to think of this song as an expression of the otherworldly feelings associated with grief. I had the idea that with loss, all the lights in the world turn out...and then the light of your lost one's memory is brighter than everything else, "lighting your eyes" for you. In this song, I made all kinds of associations to my friend, Josie, about whom I wrote before here. Her eyes were like "shooting sparks," the song was partly in French, and she spoke French, and another friend of hers sang a song in French at her memorial service. But I think the ambiguity of the lyrics would allow people to associate all kinds of things to it, which is probably why so many different people found profundity in this record.
That said, what initially drew me to "Funeral" was not the lyrics, which I barely listened to at first, but the sound of the music, and the singer who reminded me of David Bowie, so if you're not struck by the lyrics, go listen to the song because the sound is pretty unusual.

Friday, January 12, 2007

And Now, for Serious Business

Perhaps the last post I wrote (I've spent a ton of time thinking about music over the holidays) is a modern day version of "fiddling while Rome burns" but I am not the fucking leader of this country, so I'm going to excuse myself from that particular responsibility of stopping the dance and changing the tune.
Besides, it's a much bigger challenge to come up with the answer to the "what was your favorite music of 2006?" question than it is to come up with the answer to the "What should we do about the war" question. There were a lot of good albums to choose from. There is only one main idea about what to do about the war, and it's simple, and I've said it before.

Bring the troops home NOW.

As my friends of pre-adolescence used to say "Big DUH."

I will be in DC for the January march. I'll be teaching the usual William Appleman Williams version of American history in the Spring, so I'm doing my little bit.

Besides that, I think all the points that could possibly be made have been made already.
Here are the strategies that I've heard people suggest:

1. Get Out in the streets
2. Pressure the Democrats
3. Elect Democrats
4. Run third party candidates
5. Support a GI resistance movement
6. Move with the international community
7. Do something about the media
8. Target the economic infrastructure
9. Impeach the president

Here are the various theories of the causes of it all, which would inform the strategies for the above basic focal points:

1. It's all about oil
2. It's all about global markets, petrodollars, and China
3. It's all about the Israel Lobby
4. It's all about PNAC (perhaps see above)
5. It's all about the Military Industrial Complex
6. It's all about distracting people from domestic crises.
7. It's all about privatization.

Am I missing anything?

Am I being too flip? At this point, I can barely blog about the war because I don't feel there's anything new to say. I will say I am surprised by the Bush "troop surge" idea. Where are these troops going to come from?

My Favorite Albums of 2006

It took me awhile to get to the 2006 records this year. I spent a lot of time listening to a lot of earlier music, including what might have been an excessive amount of Bob Marley. I also was late to pick up a lot of 2005's records: Beck's Guero spent months in my CD player for several months and didn't wear out. I also became obsessed w/Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens, and I just started listening to Harlan T Bobo's "Too Much Love" recently. I bopped around on an exercise machine to the New Pornographers' "Twin Cinema" enough that I paid to see them in Central Park this summer.

Despite that, I did pick up some albums released in 2006. I don't claim that these are "the best" albums of 2006, but of those I listened to, my favorites were, in no particular order:

1. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
This album wasn't as good as "Separation Sunday" but I still love this band, and there are some great songs on the album: "You Can Make Him Like You," expresses profound truths about youthful indie-rock dating life, if that's not a contradiction in terms. "Stuck Between Stations" and "Southtown Girls" are awesome rock anthems with the usual brilliant lyrics "she was a real good kisser/but she wasn't that strict of a Christian/ She was a damn good dancer/but she wasn't all that great of a girlfriend" Craig Finn's lyrics have branched out from vaguely Biblical songs about failed attempts at rehab to probe the depths of inebriated teen-aged romance. Musically, they are channeling the early Bruce Springsteen, in a good way.

2. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther
I read about this band for the first time in Mojo magazine's best of 2006 issue and quickly got their album around New Year's. It lives up to the hype. They have a sort of groovy seventies rock-pop feel. Sweet melodies, great musicianship, that indefinable something that tugs at your heart. I wish I were wearing earth-toned bell bottoms and swooning w/a main squeeze under the soft lights when I listen to them.

3. Califone, Roots & Crowns
I just downloaded this w/my January "emusic" subscription and it was well worth the downloads. Though I admit I didn't listen to it in 2006, it still merits a mention as one of my favorite 2006 records. I'm a sucker for twangy guitars and loopy unstructured songs. This album has that, along with random sounds, dark undertones, and even some rocking riffs.

4. Alejandro Escovedo, The Boxing Mirror.
Confessional, orchestral, groovy, melancholic. This isn't my favorite of his records, and initially, I found some tracks odd "Deer Head on the Wall" is strange, right? but I even like that one now. When I saw him live this summer, he said he'd stopped playing "Castanets" because he read that it was in George W. Bush's ipod.

5. Tom Waits, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
Tom Waits can't fail. "What Keeps Mankind Alive" reminds me of the best Kurt Weill songs and "Bottom of the World" is a great ballad. Three whole discs full of Tom Waits magic.

6. The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon
The Coup remains one of the few hip-hop groups that can blend funky sound, a raunchy spirit and political commentary. This is their best album since "Genocide and Juice."

7. The Raconteurs, Broken Boy Soldiers.
Everyone complained about Jack White being dragged down by Meg's lame drumming in The White Stripes when their last record came out. Perhaps he paid attention. This record, a project with fellow-Detroit rocker, Brendon Benson has a much fuller sound, rocking drums, wacky harmonies, wild solos. It all works. Yay to "Storebought Bones" especially. * bonus, not on the album, but DJ A-Trak, whose track can be found on "the Rub's website" did a great mash-up of "Steady as She goes" with Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous Girl."

8. Kinky, Reina
I listen to more electronic music than I used to but mostly as "background." A lot of it sounds dead to me. These folks, however, stand out with their joyous spirit and samples of growling lions.

9. Calexico, Garden Ruin
I listened to a huge amount of Calexico this summer while I was writing my book. Mostly, I listened to "The Black Light," a much more typical "Calexico" album: mariachi horns, long winding western sounding guitars. It all makes you think of a car rattling down a highway strewn with tumbleweed. However, "Garden Ruin" shows they can infuse pop songs w/their signature Southwestern horn section.

10. The Roots, Game Theory
I always have high expectations when it comes to this group, and sometimes they are gratified. Definetely yes with this one.

OK, commenters, what were your favorite records of 2006?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, I'm a Liberal!

As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has explained, The New Republic has been cited as an example of the credibility and justice of right wing ideas, even among "Leftists." As Anna Kossoff and Steve Rendell put it,
For decades, journalists and pundits have invoked the New Republic magazine to prove that a conservative idea has support across the spectrum. Drawing on the magazine's historical association with the American left, the phrase "even the New Republic "—as in "even the New Republic supports the Contras"—has become journalistic shorthand for "even liberal opinion leaders.

So, Matthew Yglesias's comment on my previous post about "the Dersh" should not come as a surprise to anyone. It is to be expected that the American home of the "Euston Manifesto" would be at TNR. This document claims to promote liberal values around the world in the name of a group of "left progressives" who have united to deplore the "anti-Americanism" and "anti-Zionism" of the Western left, to declare "Islamic fascism" the greatest threat to liberal values currently alive in the world, and to declare their support for "humanitarian intervention" by powers such as the US and Britain. While they are agreed on the above values, they claim to be of differing views on the Iraq war of 2003.

Some people would argue that these are conservatives flying the "liberal" flag, and to some extent that's true. To paraphrase the right, EVEN Christopher Hitchens found the Euston Manifesto to be conservative, and wrote in a column last April:

I have been flattered by an invitation to sign it, and I probably will, but if I agree it will be the most conservative document that I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has now become revolutionary. So call me a neo-conservative if you must: anything is preferable to the rotten unprincipled alliance between the former fans of the one-party state and the hysterical zealots of the one-god one.

However, if you check the signatory page for it, Mr. Hitchens didn't sign after all.

It's also true that the Wilsonian, patriotic, interventionist view articulated in the document is part of the liberal tradition. The TNR authors who signed the manifesto refer to themselves as liberals in the tradition of FDR and Harry Truman, who, they claim, began the west's ultimately victorious, and peaceful victory against Communism. He was so peaceful, that Truman, when he dropped two atomic bombs on Japan just to intimidate the USSR. FDR was oh-so peaceful and democratic when he divided Korea with the USSR. Truman was so peaceful in agreeing to help France take back their "colony" in Indochina, and democratic and peaceful again when he supported the mission of Edward Lansdale in the Philippines.
A few words should suffice to point out the inaccuracy of the statement that the US was "peaceful" during the cold war: Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, the Congo, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic....and the list goes on.
This must be why a lot of left/progressives refuse to call themselves "liberals" even if they can't quite imagine themselves to be socialists or Marxists.

What this manifesto represents is a new form of what used to be called "Cold War Liberalism," proclaiming the new "cold" war against radical Islam instead of communism, and drawing a sharp line between which views are acceptable and reasonable to hold "on the left" and which are not. Such a document is pernicious because it attempts to police the left from "within" while really collaborating with the powers of the far-from-liberal state. It declares certain kinds of political statements to be beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, no longer legitimate points of view, but guilty by association with Stalinism and radical Islam. Of course, the usual "anti-semitism" charge appears front and center, and the manifesto declares that anti-Zionism is synonymous with anti-semitism.

Most problematic in this brand of liberalism is the silence on the issue of empire, and the reductive transformation of all anti-imperialist views into irrational "anti-Americanism." Again, there is no contraadiction between imperialism and liberalism, as several recent and not-so-recent academic studies show. Although some great American liberals: Mark Twain most notably, saw a fundamental contradiction between enjoying liberty at home and imposing our will on other nations, the fundamentally undemocratic nature of imperialism has never bothered those who view the countries being invaded as in need of being "forced to be free." Ah, it's the height of irony! For who was it that said people would have to be "forced to be free"? Not Marx, Not Lenin. Rather, it was that Enlightenment era political theorist, Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Yes, Phil Ochs said it best.

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

More on the Propaganda Machines....

I could probably devote a post-per-day to the outrageous conduct of Alan Dershowitz, and then I realized that there's already someone on the case. I'm glad Norman Finkelstein has the patience for that job, because I certainly do not. I saw Finkelstein on the subway a few weeks ago, and decided not to go up and say hello - not out of some kind of respect for the celebrity privacy (most academic celebrities LOVE it when people recognize them on the street), - but because I thought if people on the train in Brooklyn knew who he was they might lynch him based on all the slander printed about him, including Dershowitz's recent suggestion that Finkelstein was in Teheran at the Holocaust Denial conference...when in fact Professor Finkelstein was testifying at a trial in Chicago that day.
So, I'm sure you've heard the latest. Dershowitz is part of the media blitz attacking Jimmy Carter. In his critiques of Carter he marhsals the usual set of fabrications, falsehoods, and misquotations. Dershowitz's articles are peculiarly characterized by comments suggesting that Carter's evangelical Christianity is behind his critiques of Israeli policy (which in Dershowitz's eyes are not critiques of policy but, an "unrelenting attack against Israel."). Perhaps he's mad that Carter refused to debate him at Brandeis on the basis that Dershowitz knows nothing about what's going on in Israel/Palestine.
If you google "Carter" and "Dershowitz" you will quickly discover, if you hadn't figured it out yet, that the Blogosphere's axis tilts to the right, and most of the headlines scream about Carter's refusal to debate Dershowitz as if the latter were the great savior of the Western world. (To explain their inconsistancy, if you follow the links, the Freepers describe Dershowitz as a "Hitchens liberal" who's "wised up" in the aftermath of 9/11.)
I used to find Finkelstein's single-minded pursuit of errors in Dershowitz's work to be a bit maniacal, but I understand it much better now. Dershowitz functions in the same way as Bill O'Reilly does at Fox News. He lies and distorts, but his impact is greater than O'Reilly's because he claims to be a liberal and he teaches at Harvard. If only people would recognize that Dershowitz is a fraud and a plagiarist, Finkelstein argues, based on the evidence he has provided, his propaganda for the state of Israel would be much less effective. And yet, as Finkelstein also points out, despite his own thorough expose of Dershowitz's scholarly dishonesty, it is Dershowitz who gets the podium, who is described as an expert, while good people everywhere might imagine that Finkelstein is some kind of wing-nut "Holocaust denier."
As my colleague at work demonstrated in his arguments against every critique of Israel that I presented, the propaganda machine has an effective method for warding off reality. Zionist propagandists meet every critic of Israeli policy, from Human Rights Watch to Jimmy Carter with the accusation of participation in a world-wide anti-semitic conspiracy. Therefore, regardless of what the critic says, the very fact of his or her criticism becomes evidence for the Zionist cause. For social psychologists, it may suggest that propaganda techniques are based in paranoid defenses.
Even thinking about this debate is tiring. I'm already exhausted and it's not even 9am yet.