Category Archives: American history

Bobby Fischer Against the World

This film could also be titled The Tragedy of Bobby Fischer. Though I hate to say it, I feel much of the blame should fall on Bobby’s mother who abandoned him for her social causes and taught him, by her example, to make oneself the center of the world. Chess was Fischer’s escape, but chess is neither a loving parent nor a philosophy to sustain one through the dark hours. Still, and though he may have had a psychological disease, Fischer must bear at least most of the blame for his own choices and his spiritual darkness. And yet, and ironically, what a truly marvelous chess player and an example of dedication to excellence. As they say in the film, what he left us were his games.

And if you are curious: Fischer vs Spassky 1972 Game 6

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Filed under American history, chess, Psychology

>The ultimate family vacation super-8 movie

>Disneyland Dream (1956)
http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

In July 1956, the five-member Barstow family of Wethersfield, Connecticut, won a free trip to newly-opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in a nationwide contest. This 30-minute amateur documentary film tells the fabulous story of their fun-filled, dream-come-true, family travel adventure, filmed on the scene at Walt Disney’s “Magic Kingdom” by Robbins Barstow.

In December 2008, “Disneyland Dream” was named to the National Film Registry by the Librarian of Congress.

Note: The first uncredited screen appearance by Steve Martin occurs in the film at around the 20:20 mark – very brief, in the lower right corner. He is the 11 year old in pink shirt, black vest and top hat, hawking guidebooks.

Found at the Internet Archive.

Robbins Barstow, the creator of (and the dad in) the film died in November of this year. His obit is here.

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Filed under American history, family, filmmaking, memory, movies, travel

>40 years ago today

>Quoted from Democracy Now:

[F]orty years ago today, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the transmitter of Pacifica station KPFT in Houston, Texas. The bombing came just months after KPFT went on the air. The bombing forced the station off the air for several weeks. The station’s transmitter was bombed again on October 6, 1970. At the time, George H.W. Bush was a congressman representing Houston. He condemned the October bombing, saying, “It’s outrageous. It’s against everything this country stands for.” In 1981, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan admitted that his greatest feat “was engineering the bombing of a left-wing radio station.” The KKK understood how dangerous Pacifica was, as it allowed people to speak for themselves.

Pacifica was playing Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant at the time of the bombing. If you ever needed some visuals to get you through the 20 minute song…

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Filed under American history, memory

>Bluegrass time capsule

>This is a clip from a film on American bluegrass culture – its music, its dance, and the people who created it. I love being able to find gems like this.

Here is the blurb about this piece:

Way back in 1964, New York filmmaker, David Hoffman was headed down with his new 16mm hand help camera (weight 49 lbs!) to spend three weeks driving the backcountry around Madison County, North Carolina, in the center of Appalachia, with the 82 year old founder of the pioneer Asheville Mountain Music and Dance Festival, Bascom Lamar Lunsford. The resulting film, “Bluegrass Roots” lets you hear and experience the hard scrabbling, dirt road real people sounds that dominated the back country of the southern mountains 40 years ago. It presents a string of the most extraordinary singers, players and dancers the BlueGrass Mountains had to offer. Many later became famous. Some were never heard from again. Most of the songs are classics, including Lunsford’s own tune, “Mountain Dew.” This scene was filmed at Bascom’s home with a local dance group came to dance in Bascom’s living room.

When this film aired on Public Television in 1965, TV Guide gave it a full-page positive review, because Americans had never seen a documentary on the roots of Bluegrass and Country music. Today, the dirt roads and the moonshine counties are largely modernized, and Bluegrass Roots, stands as a record of a uniquely talented group of people at a time just before the coming of television, changed them.

More can be found at the film’s official web site.

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Filed under American history, Art, culture, memory, music

>Chomsky on the roots of libertarian socialism in the U.S.

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Although I have yet to research the history that Chomsky talks about, it seems to make sense, and it highlights how much things change over time and how much we tend to lose touch with our past. I find this fascinating.

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Filed under American history, anarchism, Politics, Socialism

>brother can you spare a taser?

>We glorify the protests of the past. We have seen (or remember) the civil rights marches, the sit-ins and other actions. We remember the anti-war movement. We remember May 1968 and other important dates. But where are we today? Remember the huge global anti-war protests just prior to the invasion of Iraq. Or the mass protests at the Republican convention. Remember the police crackdown on the protesters? It was like clockwork, surgical, carefully crafted like extraordinary rendition. But it also got violent at times – the anti-riot police were the ones who typically led with the violence. And recently we saw the same thing at the G20 protests in Pittsburgh. But, like the protests of the romantic past, we once again wonder at the role of the police and the individual choices of each officer.

Check out this video and ask yourself what is really going on.

Now read this excerpt from a news report on National Public Radio regarding the G20 summit and, specifically, the protests outside the summit.

ROBERT SIEGEL (host): And have the protests been going on throughout the entire city?

SCOTT DETROW (on scene reporter): They have. After the tear gas, the march broke into many small groups. It stayed out of downtown, from what we can tell. Police are responding by breaking up these clumps of protesters. I saw one after the tear gas was fired. They were peacefully marching down the street and police officers swarmed the block from all directions. They got out of the car and they just pushed the protesters into side streets, and that’s what they’ve been doing. There have been arrests here and there, we’re hearing from other news outlets. But that seems to only be happening when marchers are directly confronting police officers. For the most part, police are just trying to show a presence and trying to get these marchers to break up on their own.

I find both the video clip and the NPR report fascinating, not because they are anything special, but because they say a lot about the structures of power that we have come to view as normal. But should they be normal? Consider the situation: A group of representatives from the richest and most powerful nations on earth come together to discuss the future for all of us. But the the G20 has been around for some time already and the world is in trouble with widening gaps between rich and poor, increasing corporate control over such basic things as water rights, food distribution, farmer’s crops, and of course the economy. In fact, it could be said the recent bailouts of large companies around the world represent a kind of coup d’état. It may just be that the current economic crisis (and the steps to remedy it with tax dollars) is evidence of the increasing loss of real power on the part of the government (a government of the people) over the economic/big business sector.

Consider this exchange from Michael Moore’s Capitalism a Love Story:

MICHAEL MOORE: We’re here to get the money back for the American People. Do you think it’s too harsh to call what has happened here a coup d’état? A financial coup d’état?

MARCY KAPTUR (Representative from Ohio): That’s, no. Because I think that’s what’s happened. Um, a financial coup d’état?

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah.

MARCY KAPTUR: I could agree with that. I could agree with that. Because the people here really aren’t in charge. Wall Street is in charge.

Given our democratic ideals the situation looks grim. One could easily see the recent election as a kind of sham (as are most elections but especially this one), a game those in power managed in order to help all of us feel like we participated in their power play. Maybe democracy as it’s been sold to us is a way to tie us up with mythological fairly tales so that the powerful few remain in power. So why would not people peacefully (or even angrily) march down the streets where the G20 is being held to protest? And why wouldn’t those marchers see the police as something like turncoats?

And this brings me to more questions: Why do police (working class men and women apparently there to uphold basic freedoms of speech, especially when it is most needed) seem to automatically view protesters and demonstrators as enemies and radical provocateurs? Are they trained to think that way? Or is it something closer to social influence and group think? Why, when anti-riot forces come out in overwhelming force, they end up being the group most prone to violence? Could it be something like the old adage, ‘to the man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail?’

Why does our society accept as normal such activities as the use of tear gas, batons, knocking people to the ground, tasers and rubber bullets, and now anti-riot siren devices, by police against weaponless, non-violent protesters? What is the psychology?

I won’t pretend to have the answers to these questions. However, when I see the way the police in this country deal with protesters I cannot help but be reminded of some very famous sociological studies, horrific events, and historic observations. My point here is not to equate actions so much as highlighting the way the human mind works in various situations.

  • Milgram experiment: Showing that people will do terrible things as long as someone (preferably someone “official”) tells them to.
  • Stanford prison experiment: Demonstrated the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with an apparently legitimizing ideology along with social and institutional support.
  • My Lai Massacre: Showing that individuals are capable of anything when part of a group, following orders blindly (as soldiers and police are trained to do), and operating in a tense situation outside of normal experience.
  • Banality of evil: Hannah Arendt’s observation that evil acts are most typically carried out by ordinary people viewing their actions as normal.
  • Social influence: How we are all greatly influenced by others around us, the situation we are in, and tendencies we have toward self preservation, being liked, and not being stigmatized.

I have come to believe the actions of police toward protesters reflects aspects of all these sociological and psychological characteristics found in the list above – though to a substantially lesser degree in some cases. But there is one other factor that possibly plays to largest role, that of hegemony.

Now hegemony is a good college level word for why people acquiesce, and even embrace, the power structures that control, and even sometimes enslave, them. If you did not study the word in college you may remember when Hugo Chavez touted the book Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky when he spoke at the U.N.

Chavez aside, the concept of hegemony, first proposed by Antonio Gramsci as a way of trying to understand why the working classes did not rise up against their oppressors as the Marxists predicted, is a way to understand how the powerful persuade the less powerful to adopt the values of the ruling class. We live in a country that denies the existence of class structures in terms of power. We speak of middle class or working class merely as sympathetic terms used by politicians to manipulate votes. We do not accept the concept of a ruling class, but maybe we should.

In the videos on this page look at the faces of the police (the ones not wearing Darth Vader masks). There is a lot of anger in their eyes. I wonder if the anger comes from an internal struggle. I can only hope. I imagine the police feel a tension between the hierarchies of power they have come to believe must be protected (of which they are sworn to uphold) and their deeply internal sense of humanity and their belief in democracy (an understanding of which was probably formed in grade school like it was for most of us). They are caught in the clash of values, but they are a group operating with broad impunity and supported by the social dynamic of being able to hide within the apparent pawnship of their job. So they continue to manhandle, arrest, and attack the protesters. But their anger gives them away. They are alienated from the power they protect, and suppressing the very voices that are pointing out that alienation. That would make just about anyone angry.

Consider this video of another protest. If not for the police intervention it would almost be humorous.

I cannot imagine a less threatening protest. In fact I find it almost comical. Why then the overwhelming police force? Are they afraid of another Battle in Seattle? Clearly this is an example of those in power acting out of fear, but what do they fear? In fact, the whole thing has a kind of choreographed arc that not only speaks of a profound lack of imagination on both sides, but indicates the protest may be as much a product of hegemony as the police presence.

What do we do with all this? First, we should not romanticize the past. The efforts of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the past were often heroic, but they were also brutal and scary at times. People were seriously hurt and some died. Many went to prison. And we should know that external actions come from what is inside, but also know that one’s external actions affects one’s soul. The police who give in to the psychosis of power, abuse other humans, act out of anger, and stand in the way of freedoms that are not given by governments but only taken away, those police are damaging their own souls. And they are human just like me – frail, prone to delusion, living in a powerful culture, needed to be loved, and wanting to do what is right. We should not feel sorry for them, but we should empathize.

The fact is many of the above sociological/psychological concerns raised about police action can apply to the protesters. At times it appears some of the protesters are seeking to recreate a May ’68 kind of experience for their own pleasure. I wonder how many made the effort to reach out to the police in the days or weeks prior to their marches. I wonder how many pre-judged the police as irredeemable, in part because it is both the easier route and less romantic than manning the barricades. This is one reason that, while I support the protesters in general, I think the predictable protests outside every G20, G7, World Bank, etc., meeting may be as much a symbol of failure as righteous anger. We need more than theater, we need transformation.

Finally, we are all in this thing called life together, whether we want to admit that or not. It’s easy to march, easy to crack skulls, and very easy to write blog posts, and it’s difficult to love, forbear, and forgive.

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Filed under American history, anarchism, ethics, government, memory, non-violence, Politics, Psychology

>The world according to W. E. Deming

>So much has been said about the so-called financial crisis and the bailouts of banks and auto makers. Little focus has been placed on the real roots of the problem, which go back decades and not merely to a few “bad apples” abusing the system in recent years. Some of those roots are the way power seeks power – and all of the human foibles that go along with that. Other roots go back to the reasons Japanese manufacturing taught the U.S. a lesson in quality. The Japanese learned their lesson in quality largely from one man, W. Edward Deming, who was dismissed by U.S. industry, so he went to Japan where they were eager to learn. The rest is history.

I first came across Deming by reading his book, Out of the Crisis, after having read a number of other popular business books. Deming’s ideas rock my thinking and I have been a fan ever since.

Never heard of Mr. Deming? The short documentary below, made in the early 90s, is a great introduction. It is also remarkable in light of what we are going through today. People smashing Japanese cars and products with sledge hammers says a lot about how incapable people are at swallowing their pride and be willing to own up to their own roles in crises.

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Filed under American history, business

Goodnight September Eleventh

“In a Parish” by Czesław Miłosz, trans. from the Polish by Miłosz and Robert Hass. Read by Haas on Fresh Air on NPR remembering 9/11.

 

Were I not frail and half broken inside I wouldn’t be thinking of them who are like me half broken inside. I would not climb the cemetery hill by the church to get rid of my self pity. Crazy Sophies, Michaels who lost every battle, self-destructive Agathas lie under crosses with their dates of birth and death. And who is going to express them. Their mumblings, weepings, hopes, tears of humiliation in hospital muck and the smell of urine with their weak and contorted limbs and eternity close by, improper indecent like a dollhouse crushed by wheels, like an elephant trampling a beetle, an ocean drowning an island. Our stupidity and childishness do nothing to fit us for this variety of last things. They had no time to grasp anything of their individual lives. Any principiam individuaisonous(ph) nor do I grasp, yet what can I do enclosed all my life in a nutshell trying in vain to become something completely different from what I was. Thus we go down into the earth, my fellow parishioners, with the hope that the trumpet of judgment will call us by our names instead of eternity, greenness and the movement of clouds they rise then thousands of Sophies, Michaels, Matthews, Marias, Agathas, Bartholomews so at last they know why and for what reason.

 

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Filed under American history, Christianity, memory, poetry, religion

>Happy Labor Day

>
Pullman workers leaving factory, c. 1890s

Think about working at a job where management treats it employees poorly. Think about very unsafe working conditions or being required to work overtime without pay or you lose you job. Imagine yourself in such a job and then getting together with other employees and protesting to management. You protest because deep down you believe that, as a human being, you are really no different than those humans running the company and that all humans should be treated with at least a minimum level of honor and respect, plus you like having a job and want to keep working.

Then imagine management does not listen so you go on strike. And then imagine soldiers and police officers come in and shoot you and others dead. Your family, your children hear the news. The soldiers and police are lightly reprimanded (but also receive praise from the non-working classes) and politicians makes a few speeches about how things should change. But you are dead, or you spouse is dead, or your friends are dead and the company makes promises to change, and the captains of industry confer in the back rooms of their exclusive clubs, and 30 years later things have not really changed.

I am not a Luddite, or an anti-capitalist, or a unionist per se. But I am a student of human nature and I know that power seeks more power, and that any system that is powered by human greed and self preservation is destined for trouble. Sometimes I want to smash the machines, and distribute the wealth, and call all workers to unite. But, in truth, I know there is no structural solution, there is only the radical solution of the human heart changing from death to life. However, one can still fight for what is good. And that might mean structural change.


1937 Woolworth Strike for 40 Hour work week

Labor Day was a little bone tossed by big government to the working classes as part of an appeasement for the Pullman Strike debacle of 1894. It’s really not much on the one hand, but we can make it what we will. I am choosing to remember that we live in a world of imbalances, where those in power all to often wield it unfairly over those without power, and that tragedies of labor are now being offshored and therefore unseen by so-called more advanced societies like ours. Let us remember that many of the “rights” we enjoy – 40 hour work week, fair wages, paid overtime, health and safety standards, equal opportunity, etc. – were pushed into existence by the working class and resisted all along the way by the capitalist class. This is not a judgment, just the documented facts of history, and something we should remember. And we should remember that there is a lot of work to be done.


At Starbucks protesting for Union, 2009

Happy Labor Day!

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Filed under American history, memory, Politics

>healthcare and ideologies

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One of the most common statements made about healthcare in the U.S. is it is the best in the world. Yet both anecdotal evidence and the hard facts say otherwise. It is excellent in many ways but also deeply flawed, often to the points of lunacy and tragedy, in others. Many perspectives (of which there really are just a few recycled over and over) on healthcare, like politics, may be more a reflection of certain external perspectives with questionable provenance expressed as deeply held beliefs, than carefully examined arguments. In other words, for many their personal convictions may, in fact, be merely the unquestioned ideologies absorbed from their culture believed as fact. This is a fault of all of us at some level. The reality that many still cling to their belief that healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world reminds me of this great and prescient quote:

Conventional opinions fit so comfortably into the dominant paradigm as to be seen not as opinions but as statements of fact, as ‘the nature of things.’ The very efficacy of opinion manipulation rests on the fact that we do not know we are being manipulated. The most insidious forms of oppression are those that so insinuate themselves into our communication universe and the recesses of our minds that we do not even realize they are acting upon us. The most powerful ideologies are not those that prevail against all challengers but those that are never challenged because in their ubiquity they appear as nothing more than the unadorned truth.
~ Michael Parenti

We are living at a time when some unchallenged ideologies on healthcare are finally getting a chance to be challenged. Whether they will be challenged properly and fully will depend a lot of how people, especially politicians, are willing and able to break free from the dominant paradigm. But, then, that is always the issue, isn’t it?

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Filed under American history, Philosophy, Politics