Saturday, June 27, 2009

Never Had A Chance

This is the finest thing I've read about Michael Jackson's character and cultural significance, not just in the recent days since his death, but ever:

What Jackson made of himself must form part of any honest eulogy. Defendants wish to be found innocent of the charges. Jackson was no usual suspect. He wanted to be found innocent, through and through. Innocent of guile, of all bodily dross and urge. Innocent of adult experience. Instead he found himself, as he sequestered with the bones of the Elephant Man, merged physiognomy with Diana Ross, and bedded down with little boys, at some weird four corners of his own making, where the innocent and the sinister, the icon and the freak, all come together.

The falsetto speaking voice, the licorice eyes, hair steam ironed and Zambonied until it was straight. The skin—what? We still don’t know. Bleached? Blanched? Poached? The barely suppressed facial hair. Effacement, defacement, refacement, unfacement. What word could do justice to the creation, out of a perfectly normal human countenance, of the dilapidated faerie mask that MJ’s eventually became? It was as if the slightest concession to the normal human horizon would let in a besieging pain. To substitute for the childhood he never had, he picked, with uncanny accuracy, exactly those things that don’t substitute for an actual childhood. Amusement parks and toys—the placatory devices of the bad parent.

A genius; an angry dancer; a grotesque among grotesques. What to make of Jacksonian America, now that the King himself is dead? An immense and spectacular frenzy; an urgent celebration; the affect of triumph; at its center a derangement; beneath that, in all likelihood, nothing.

The adult MJ would have never been himself, good and bad, had his childhood not been stolen. His childhood was stolen by three things: his one-in-a-billion talent; his abusive, womanizing, and alcoholic father; his mother's church. That last thief, as it were, especially should not be underestimated.

It is hard for those not brought up as JWs to understand just how so totalitarian a religion fucks-up a child. Even those who convert as adults to JWism, then become recidivists back into "worldliness," can scarcely appreciate the degree to which the religion wreaks havoc on child's psyche:

When we were kids, we studied the Paradise book, which has such disgustingly frightening pictures of things like Jezebel being thrown to the dogs, or a Canaanite getting ready to toss a baby onto this fire in the lap of their idol. The worst was part of a big, panoramic picture of Armageddon: this little girl, her doll, her dog and her bicycle all falling down into this big chasm in the Earth. Gave me nightmares. It’s probably why I was afraid to learn how to ride a bike.

That's the one I was subjected to -- it was well out of date by my time, but my grandmother was old school JW -- and would have been the one the Jackson kids were tortured with as well.

Fear will fuck-up a childhood, which in turn will fuck-up -- everything else. Imagine being raised believing that the world will end any minute, and while you might or might not survive, definitely everyone you know or love who's not a member of your church will die horribly. Because Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Then remember the real, non-religious probability of Armageddon during MJ's childhood -- he would have been at about the age where memories begin to stick when JFK and Krushchev nearly blew up the world. Then, imagine, on top of that, being so scared of your father's beating that you feel like puking in his presence. Then, as icing on the cake, your Dad's not only violent but sadistic, doing things like sneaking into your room through an open window late at night, wearing a mask, terrorizing you into "learning a lesson" about the dangers of burglars. Imagine all that, then empathize: your pathology may not have been MJ's, the variety and degree of which wealth and celebrity afforded him (and sheltered him from the consequences of -- until the trials and then death). But you'd definitely be fucked-up somehow.

I pause my search for more percocet to note that Michael Jackson almost certainly died from drug abuse.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pure Yokelese

I'm watching, for the first time, the Sling Blade bonus features. In an older interview which apparently was made soon after Sling Blade and broadcast on the Bravo channel, Billy Bob Thornton is talking about his pre-fame hard times when he couldn't get work. He complains that he couldn't even get cast as a redneck. Then:

The next thing I know, some guy from New York is playing a guy from Georgia. And they always use that accent that doesn't exist. I mean how many actors have you heard who aren't from the South who've done movies that [imitates fake accent] "Now boyah, ovah heah"... I haven't heard that in my life.

Wow. I'm surprised that someone so obviously gifted at truthfully writing his own native Arkansan accent (and cadence, and -- especially -- vocabulary) could be so deaf. The accent he thinks fake is actually of the Deep South; just because it was caricatured by that genius Mel Blanc doesn't mean that it's fictional. I dunno where the boundary might be, but I do know my Alabama-raised great-grandmother spoke exactly that way, as did my African-American fifth grade teacher in Memphis, Mrs. Jones, a grand and awesome lady whose family's geographical origins I never knew or have forgotten. ("Vacuum," for instance, is a word they spoke exactly alike: it was spit out, whatever the context, in a tone between a snarl and a shout, as if in frustration, as "VAAAHHHHL-cyum.") Moreover, all rural and most urban folk I've met in Mississippi, a state I've spent quite a bit of time in, have this accent.

On the other hand, I entirely sympathize with his gripe with New York jackasses trying to "do" Southern. In my experience, admittedly slight, most (not all) white creative types -- as opposed to "normal" people from the lower-middle and working classes -- from the Northeast have a horror of and contempt for the Southern cracker[1] (and blacks from the same area mirror this in their attitude to their rural Southern counterparts). No sympathy = no empathy = bad acting.

I'm sure the scientist-specialists have a proper name for an Arkansas accent, but I think I'm pretty accurate in saying it's half Texan, half Appalachian or "Highland." The hillbilly aspect makes "Arkansan" sound somewhat nasal no matter the timbre of the speaker's voice; Deep Southern, in contrast, is breathy, throaty, and emphatic if often very slurred (incidentally, the degree of slur is the giveaway to the speaker's class not race). "High class" Deep Southern is the grand accent, the one with the most dignity to the ear, but also the one most loaded with historical baggage. "High class" Arkansan, meanwhile, is not so noticeably different from its "low class" counterpart; the former is, if anything, tinged with more Western and Mid-Western attributes and less Appalachian[2] -- or, if you like, more German and less Scots-Irish. But there's still a twang and the vowels are still drawled (to riot in understatement).

Anyway, Sling Blade. The plot, the characters and their mannerisms, expressions, posture, choices, morality -- all perfect-as-in-truthful, and that's that. But what affected me -- and still affects me -- is the movie's absolute authenticity with regard to special, demotic, and dying Arkansan vocabulary. The movie came out in '96; I think I first saw it in '97. Some of the expressions and words the characters -- especially Karl -- use I hadn't heard, at least with any regularity, since my grandfather was living (he left this vale of tears in '92): "sommers" for "somewhere," "directly" (pronounced "dreckly") for "soon," "studyin'" for "considering" or "thinking," "reckon" for "believe,"[3] "nervous hospital" for "mental institution" or "nuthouse," "twyst" for "twice," "I'll be dog" for "I'll be dog-gone," "kindly" for "kind of"... I am sure there are more I'm forgetting right now. Also, more common words, indeed stereotypical (therefore frequently if, ultimately, wrongly striking a false note for the listener) for Southern or Western characters, are still accurate here: "ain't," "yonder," "feller."

Even the inflections are spot-on. Lucas Black ("Frank", the boy), is Alabaman but, I believe, had traveled/lived throughout the South before taking the role. He and Thornton both totally accurately say "ain'tchee?", a somewhat rare corruption of "ain't ya?". Dwight Yoakam, who if I remember right has Kentucky roots, has his "Doyle" character appropriately over-emphasize and drawl the initial syllable of "retards;" he is also dead-on in calling a funeral vehicle a "hurst."

[1] Obviously, I reciprocate.
[2] Also a small difference in vocabulary: Gratitude is expressed by "thank you" or "thank ya" or "thanks" except for in the truly back country, where one will still sometimes hear "thankee." Similarly almost everyone uses the quintessential Southern and Western word, "y'all," but occasionally one is jarred by its alternative, "you'ins," a deeply embarrassing word even to other Southerners (good old narcissism of minor differences, again), a word so "Hatfield vs. McCoy" in its vibe that I'm almost certain it must be a remnant from Appalachia, even though I've never seen the word's origins discussed -- indeed, I've never seen it referenced, not that this is a subject I've spent any time researching -- and have only heard the word used by deep-country, flatland-swampland (by which I do not mean "Delta," which is a whole different can of worms) people and not by Ozark-hillbilly types who would make more sense to the "Appalachian origin" thesis.
[3] I was stunned to learn my Chinese-Australian then-girlfriend used the word in the Arkansan sense, both in meaning and in frequency; apparently it's a normal part of Oz-speak.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Such People are Sociopaths -- and the Worst of Them, Libertarians

This is exactly right:

There's an arrogance that comes over people who think the system is just. The more just you think the system is, the crueler you're likely to be, because if you generally believe that those at the top deserve their success, you have to believe that those at the bottom deserve their failure. That's when you start talking about people as "losers," and saying things like, "Winners make their own luck." So there's a very nasty side to this otherwise very nice-sounding idea that we should make society fairer. Success is never totally deserved just as failure is never totally deserved. And I think there are too many overly happy billionaires who say things like, "No one ever helped me, so why should I help anyone else? Why should I pay taxes?" And one wants to say, "Yes, of course. But…"


Che Guevara's granddaughter is not trying to overthrow Senor Uribe, or even protesting the ongoing neoliberal rape of South America. No, that would be banal, I suppose. Instead, she's doing propaganda for the idiots of PETA. True, it's sensual and clever and artful propaganda (I especially like the carrot bandoliers), but Jesus Christ:

NEW YORK — The granddaughter of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara is at the forefront of another revolution _ for vegetarianism.

Lydia Guevara poses semi-nude in a PETA campaign that tells viewers to "join the vegetarian revolution," said PETA spokesman Michael McGraw.

The print campaign is expected to debut in October in magazines and posters, McGraw said. It will be launched first in Argentina, where Che Guevara was born, and then internationally. PETA approached the 24-year-old in recent months after finding out she was a vegetarian, McGraw said.

In the ad, Lydia Guevara wears camouflage pants, a red beret, and bandoliers of baby carrots while standing with one fist on her hip and the other outstretched.

"It very much evokes the tag line of the ad, which is 'Join the vegetarian revolution,'" McGraw said. "It's an homage of sorts to her late grandfather."

Oh, please.

This is why the Left is a total clusterfuck of FAIL: all passion and vitality by its best and brightest is spent in the service of narrow identity issues or outright vanity projects (such as this one).

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Toy Fascist

More from the October 1980 Playboy interview:

LIDDY: ........In the long run, you know, a nation's psychology is far more crucial than its military hardware. My Oriental instructor in the martial arts taught me that the outcome of a battle is decided in the minds of the opponents well before the first blow is struck. We certainly saw that in the France of 1940. The French had more troops, more tanks, more guns than the Germans, more of almost everything except the fanatic and disciplined esprit de corps of the German fighting man. Hitler's secret weapon wasn't the brilliant and imaginative coupling of Panzer and Stuka in concerted ground-air attack; it was the courage of the individual Wehrmacht soldier, each of whom carried blitzkrieg in his breast. Can you imagine what Rommel's Afrika Korps would do with today's volunteer army, the army that "wants to join you," as the recruiting posters said? Jesus, they'd chew us up and spit us out in no time flat. We couldn't fight our way out of a wet paper bag today.

PLAYBOY: The admiration for the German fighting spirit you've just expressed, and your general fascination with all things German, is an underlying leitmotiv of Will, and has assumed sinister overtones in the eyes of some critics, who accuse you of being a closet Nazi sympathizer. Could they be right?

LIDDY: They couldn't be more wrong. It's true that I do admire the mentality of the northern Teutonic races, not only their fighting spirit but also, and equally important, their work ethic and sense of discipline. I find all those values admirable, and have always identified with them. But I have absolutely no sympathy for Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Remember, German history spans thousands of years, and the twelve years of the Third Reich was no more than a historical aberration. One of the many tragic aspects of the holocaust is that the very German virtues I have enumerated -- discipline, efficiency, the ability to subordinate emotion to duty -- were perverted into the organized annihilation of millions of innocent civilians, not only Jews but gypsies and Slavs as well. To me, that is the antithesis of all the things I admire about the German martial spirit, and it is a stain on German honor from which the country will take many years to recover. But in fairness, I can also admire the sheer courage and military genius of German soldiers like Rommel who took no part in such atrocities, and maintained their and their country's honor intact. But for Adolf Hitler and the psychopathic scum in the concentration camps who butchered babies on an assembly line because they were born into the wrong race, I have nothing but contempt.

PLAYBOY: Many of your critics have speculated, nonetheless, that if you'd been born in Germany, you would have made one hell of a Nazi.

LIDDY: What can you really say to something like that? I mean, shit, I'm just as interested in the extraordinarily deep and rich culture of Japan, and equally fascinated by the traditional Bushido code of the samurai warrior. What're they going to say about that? "Oh, Liddy would have flown a Zero at Pearl Harbor"? Come on.

PLAYBOY: If you had been born in Germany and been of fighting age in World War Two, would you have served in Hitler's armies?

LIDDY: Well, that's all extremely hypothetical, of course. Here you are slapping me down in another culture and time and asking how I'd behave. Would I have been conditioned by my society into accepting Hitler as a savior, as our German maid did in the Thirties? I certainly hope not, and, in fact, I suspect just the opposite. I can accept and serve authority I respect, but against authority that I despise. I quickly turn to rebellion, as I did in the slammer when I fought the prison administration tooth and nail. In the case of Germany, you must remember that I'm a political conservative, and I respect tradition and the values of Western culture, and so I think it more likely I would have joined those conservatives and Catholics who tried to overthrow Hitler. Like Carl Goerdeler, or Count von Stauffenberg, the heroic officer who had lost an arm, hand and eye on the Eastern front but returned to almost blow Hitler to smithereens at Rastenburg during the July twentieth plot in 1944. And who, needless to say, was executed by the Gestapo shortly afterward. But yes, like Stauffenberg as well, I'm sure I would have fought for my country, probably in the Luftwaffe or a Panzer division. But it's all sheer speculation, of course. Next you'll be asking where I keep my Iron Cross!

PLAYBOY: If Hitler had abjured anti-Semitism and genocide, could you have supported him?

LIDDY: No. It would have made his regime less loathsome, of course, but he'd still have been a dictator, and Nazi Germany would still have been a totalitarian state. Again, as a conservative, I support the concept of a society that, whenever possible, is voluntary and noncoercive. As I explained when discussing the upheavals of the Sixties, there are times when the state, to preserve that very humane society, must intrude into the privacy and the freedom of the individual, but it should be done as sparingly as possible, and only in response to a clear and present danger to the very stability and security of the society. A totalitarian state, by its very nature, permanently imposes itself as the master of the individual, and thus is inherently abhorrent to me. Some, like Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, are bloodier than others, but all are ultimately destructive of the human spirit.

PLAYBOY: Your abhorrence of Hitler's genocide certainly sounds sincere, but it only makes your own fascination with the Nazi era more perplexing. For example, if you really loathed everything Hitler stood for, why did you go out of your way to arrange a special screening of Leni Riefenstahl's classic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, for a group of White House aides?

LIDDY: Well, you've got to understand the background to that. John Ehrlichman and others who had run Nixon's 1968 campaign were always regaling people about what great advance men they'd been, and what giant rallies they'd organized, with balloons going up in the air by the hundreds, and on and on ad nauseum. I got bored hearing about those "mammoth rallies" of theirs that I finally said, "Hey, you guys, you want to see a real rally?" They took the bait and I set up a private screening of Triumph of the Will at the National Archives for the entire White House staff. It really is an impressive film you know, there's no doubt that Riefenstahl's a cinematic genius. Well, about fifteen people attended, and they sat there watching hundreds of thousands of storm troopers marching in mass formations under Albert Speer's spectacular stage management, a vast field of people standing to sing the Horst Wessel Lied at night as giant antiaircraft spotlights beam pillars of light through the clouds overhead, creating a luminous, cathedral-of-stars effect. In short, a really overwhelming display. And finally, when the lights came on, there was a moment of awed silence, and then from the back of a voice breathed reverently, "Jesus! What an advance job!" My point, it seems, was taken.

PLAYBOY: Forgetting for a moment the obvious negative connotations of the word fascism, and keeping in mind your professed detestation of Hitler's genocide, don't you, in fact, embody most of the traditional values of Italian and Spanish fascism, if not of Nazism -- i.e., duty, honor, love of fatherland, military elan and semimystical exaltation of personal and national will and destiny, strong anticommunism, genetic determinism, contempt for the herd, etc.? And, thus, couldn't you be fairly and objectively termed a fascist in that sense?

LIDDY: No, because if you're going to be at all precise and objective in your evaluation of comparative political systems, then fascism refers to a specific political movement that evolved in Italy in the Twenties and was subsequently emulated in various countries in Europe and Latin America. It embodies the concept of blind obedience, the corporate state, dictatorial, centralized one-man rule, and a host of other totalitarian mechanisms and concepts that are all anathema to me. And I certainly don't think that some of the qualities you enumerate, such as duty, honor, love of country and military strength, are exclusive attributes of fascism. Indeed, when I was growing up, they were much praised and universally aspired-to virtues in this country. I hope they will be again. But that certainly does not make me a fascist of any stripe.

PLAYBOY: Why did you sing the Horst Wessel song at the top of your lungs to a black audience in prison?

LIDDY: Because I had become the subject of racial prejudice myself while in the Washington jail, shortly after my initial conviction. I ran a daily gauntlet of racial slurs from the predominantly black prisoners, and even though I had told myself it shouldn't get under my skin, it finally did. I was in deadlock, so I couldn't even challenge to a fight the prisoners who hurled their taunts through the bars. I had my opportunity to strike back one morning when a guard escorted me to the showers. As I walked down the catwalk, a chorus of jeers greeted me: "OK, baby, if you want racist, here's racist!" I knew the words to the Horst Wessel song by heart from childhood, when I'd first heard it from Germany on our family shortwave radio, and I have a fairly strong voice. So when I reached the showers, I burst into full and rousing song, my voice booming through the cell block: Die Fahne hoch!" I sang. "Raise the flag!" As I went on, screaming out my frustration through the echoing tiers of the prison, the jeers and catcalls began to fall off. "Die Reihan dicht geschlossen....." The din gradually silenced, and by the time I reached the second verse of the Horst Wessel song, my voice was the only one that could be heard in the cell block. It was almost eerie, because I'm sure there was not one other man in that prison who understood one word of what I was singing. But they all got the message.

PLAYBOY: That initial hostility you encountered from blacks changed pretty rapidly as you began doing free legal work for black and white prisoners alike, and challenging prison administrators in the courts on questions of prisoners' rights. In fact, you ended up becoming something of a hero to inmates of both races. Did you experience in prison change any of your own racial attitudes?

LIDDY: Not really, because I had always abhorred racial prejudice and bigotry, even though I'm perfectly willing to answer back in kind when I'm on the recieving end, as the incident I just related indicates. But I think racism is one of the most stupid and ultimately wasteful of all human vices, because it denies a man's potential and worth for something as superficial and frivolous as the color of his skin. Throughout my life, I've had good and productive relationships with blacks. I also tend to particularly admire the virtues of the northern races, perhaps out of frustration with my own genetic composition. I have more Irish and Italian genes than German, and my hot Southern blood has always caused me serious problems with my temper, which it took me a long, hard struggle to govern. And I also happen to prefer the Nordic type of woman, as an aesthetic preference. I hardly think that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes can be condemned as a racist pronunciamento! But I also think blacks should take pride in their African ancestry. My God, if I could demonstrate I had some Zulu blood, I sure as hell would be proud of it, because the Zulu warriors were some of the finest fighting men on the face of the earth.

PLAYBOY: Leaving black-white issues aside, throughout your book you express a fascination with genetics and eugenics, even to the point of cold-bloodedly selecting your prospective bride according to the contribution she would make to your "family gene pool." How did she feel about that?

LIDDY: Well, it was not exactly an element I played up in our courtship. But even though it wasn't the most romantic of all considerations, I think it's a valid one, nonetheless. There's a good deal of truth to eugenics as long as you don't carry it to extremes, as we've done in the past with involuntary-sterilization plans and that kind of dangerous scheme, with all its potential for abuse. It had taken me a long time to build myself up from a puny, sickly child, so I wanted my own children to have a running start. That's why I determined that my smartest course was to marry a tall girl of Celtic-Teutonic ancestry who also had a terrific mind. And, as a result, I have five strong, athletic, and bright children. Of course, all those considerations have to be coupled with a mutual emotional compatibility, but they were definite factors in selecting my mate.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Top Reasons Why Decent People Should Detest Barry Goldwater

I like Rick Perlstein; upon reflection (I was at first equivocal), I grow to dislike his celebrated biography of Barry Goldwater, which seems to me to a) trust conservatives -- by which I mean, at their word, at their memory, at their good faith -- far too much, and b)while reasonably condemning of such nutjobs as the YAF and the Birchers, totally leave out morality where Goldwater, who was their avatar, was personally concerned.

Rick, sadly, is not alone among liberals who admire Goldwater. The perverse tolerance of -- or even affection for -- Goldwater is traditional and somewhat inevitable: for a certain kind of liberal, the only one in the room who is to be shunned is the lone extremist, while the relative extremists in the room, who are often numerous, are in contrast accepted, implicitly or explicitly. Too exclude too much or too many is intolerance, you see: the ultimate sin for wishy-washy peeps. Goldwater was less reactionary than Robert Welch, General Walker, Curtis LeMay, and on racial matters, George Wallace. Therefore, for certain liberals, Barry's okay. Besides, Goldwater seemed to have principles where Nixon, say, was opportunist to his core. (Actually, both were venal in their own way; Nixon was simply better at the art of the powergrab than was Goldwater; and more to the point, what few principles Nixon did have were more humane than Goldwater's.) One need not wonder how the Overton Window moved so far right.

In later years the admiration grew. Goldwater was a UFOlogist -- one of his few charming traits -- and so won the admiration of the crackpots. More seriously, Goldwater said a few sensible things about the Religious Right in general and Jerry Falwell in particular. This completely suckered the social liberals who by far constitute the bulk of the chattering class. Never mind that Goldwater represented Wall Street and social darwinism in economic policy (social libs are comfortably upper middle class) and a diehard hawk in foreign policy (social libs are perpetually interventionalist); for such people, cheap rhetoric coincidentally agreeing with the gay rights and pro-choice movements completely redeemed a lifetime of reactionary politics.

In reality, Goldwater personally was just as awful as Goldwaterism -- the ideology which ultimately triumphed with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Consider:

1)Barry Goldwater would have irradiated the planet. In order to eliminate his enemies, a fanatic by definition will kill a great many innocents. This was the inevitable conclusion of brinksmanship, and Goldwater was the ultimate brinksman.

2)Goldwater, despite his convenient and belated denunciations (in one of his books -- but not the one ghostwritten by Brent fucking Bozell) of Richard Nixon's corruption and ruthlessness, was corrupt and ruthless himself, and the beneficiary, besides himself, was one Richard Nixon. Goldwater sabotaged Congressional investigations into the Greek angle of Watergate, obviously fearing that his connection to the slimy Tom Pappas would be revealed.

3)Goldwater was racist. Not in some banal, personal-private way in the OMG-he-said-those-people gotcha that is usually irrelevant, but in the truest, most important sense.

(See also.)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Old St. Cole

wikipedia quotes G.D.H. Cole:

I became a Socialist because, as soon as the case for a society of equals, set free from the twin evils of riches and poverty, mastership and subjection, was put to me, I knew that to be the only kind of society that could be consistent with human decency and fellowship and that in no other society could I have the right to be content.”

Cole practiced what he preached. I'm not so consistent, but then few are even among the few who still believe in socialism. Still, those who are raised to be good rather than "successful" recognize in Cole's words, echoed in Debs's famous declaration "while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free," the moral necessity of socialism.

Good socialism is idealist and personal and organic, like the better forms of Christianity. (Concomitantly, the worst forms of socialism -- Trotsky's, for instance -- are like the worst forms of Christianity: universalist, coercive, synthetic.) Good socialism is also aesthetic: it rejects any making of peace with the Establishment with all the tacky materialism and social climbing that that usually entails; or, as Christopher Hitchens said of Norman Podhoretz's awful Making It, people were appalled by the sheer "crumminess" of the Pod's ambitions. But mostly, socialism is about trying to be Good and, trite as it sounds, making the world better.

Good socialism is a religion without metaphysics or theology -- in other words, it is a body of ethical reasoning; what Jefferson's Bible was to Christ's teachings, socialism is to Marx's -- or at least it was for people like Cole. Yet there can be an oft-putting high-mindedness in it. People are frequently base and often wicked; everyone is a person. In other words, we're all sinners. But some, through much dedication, sin markedly less than others, perhaps because they have a bit of a egotist-masochist will to martyrdom, or perhaps because they simply care more about being Good than the rest of us. Cole was that sort of man, a socialist saint. Alan Taylor[1] shows Cole in greater detail:

Cole's rejection of capitalism was total. Though comfortably off, he refused to invest his surplus money or even to take interest from his bank. When I remarked to him that he was making a present of interest to the bank, he replied: 'Better that my banker should commit mortal sin than that I should.' Christopher Hill, as an undergraduate, was delighted to hear Cole say at a meeting: 'Of course, I should prefer the whole system smashed.' ...In one of his last speeches he urged fellow-socialists not to think that 'socialists can afford to give up being levellers.'

There was a paradox, even a contradiction, in Cole's political life. Though a revolutionary in outlook, he was practical and reformist when it came to action. Maurice Reckitt described Cole best as having 'a Bolshevik soul in a Fabian muzzle'. During the First World War he acted as expert advisor to the trade unions... He believed in the working-class movement... There was also a personal contradiction in his public behaviour. In private Cole was cool, rational and at worst slightly disdainful. Once on a committee he became ruthless and impatient. Beatrice Webb describes how, when defeated at a Fabian meeting, Cole said: 'I withdraw the word Foold. I substitute Bloody Fools,' and flounced out of the room. He often resigned in anger and then returned some months later without a word of apology. Despite his democratic principles, Cole never shook off the belief that there was in the world one Just Man.... His last words, when his strength finally ebbed, were in character: 'I'm sorry to be a nuisance.' Douglas Cole came as near to complete integrity as any man of his time. I venerated him.

But then Taylor knew Cole; for we who did not, there's this:

He was, I think, the only Left figure never tinged with communism and yet equally free from anti-communism.

Youthful flings with communism were common in Cole's generation and in Taylor's. Taylor succumbed; Cole did not, no doubt because his family background was conformist, which is to say conservative (Taylor, in contrast, was raised by radicals). At any rate, Taylor is right to laud Cole's sensibility. He is also exactly right to imply a moral equivalence in his formula: in England, it was equally easy or difficult to be commie or anti-commie and each path presented an equal moral hazard; while in America it was far more easy to be anti-communist, and far more corrupting.*

Elsewhere, in an essay on Ernest Bevin in which he recounts many of that leader's inconsistencies**, Alan Taylor contrasts Cole's style and substance with that of Bevin:

[Bevin] once wrote to Cole: 'Really, old man, look how you have boxed the compass.' In fact, Cole erred, if at all, from rigidity of principle; it was Bevin who boxed the compass at a moment's notice, and, when he changed, everyone had to follow him.

Contrast this with A. L. Rowse's[2] take on the same episode:

[T]he biggest crackpots of the Left [were] alienating the most powerful, the biggest-minded, man [Bevin] in the Trade Union Movement, and Cole -- reluctantly -- capitulated.

The effect on Bevin was permanent: it confirmed his distrust for intellectuals for good and all. His attempt to work with them in a common effort [against the National Government of the 1930s] went by the board. To Cole he wrote, 'How could anyone have followed you in the last ten years?' -- referring to Cole's book on the Next Ten Years. 'Really, old man, look how you have boxed the compass.' 'When we have tried to associate with intellectuals, our experience has been that they do not stay the course very long. ...You see, the difference between the intellectuals and the trade unions is this: You have no responsibility, you can fly off at a tangent as the wind takes you. We, however, must be consistent and we have a great amount of responsibility.'

Rowse's quote puts things in the proper historical context, but Taylor's version illustrates the contrast in personalities.

At any rate, there's a shitload of irony here. Cole was indeed an intellectual born into economic comfort; Bevin was thoroughly working-class, instinctive, autodidactic; he was also everything Cole was not personality wise -- loud, charming, bullying (despite what Taylor says of Cole's behavior in committee). If Cole was too doctrinaire, Bevin was not doctrinaire enough. Another layer of irony here is that Rowse himself was a miserable snob albeit of working class origins, one of those cartoonish Oxford Don figures given to voluptuous displays of elitist self-love. Rowse liked Cole, but also sneered that he had no grounds to pontificate on issues like miners' working conditions because he had no experience of them. Fair enough, but Cole was more consistent on these issues than Bevin, and far more right on these issues than Rowse who, in typical bright boy fashion, had through hard work, shrewd politicking and a bit of luck, made himself upper-middle-class, and expected that everyone else worthy should do the same -- and if unworthy, should perish as nature requires.

*Cf. Gore Vidal: "I really am... a dedicated anti-anticommunist, a category far more vile to the true believer than a mere communist."

** Cf., again, Gore Vidal: "'Pragmatism' is often just a code word for 'opportunist.'"

[1] Politicians, Socialism and Historians
[2] Glimpses of the Great

The Swarm

From wikipedia:

According to a 1995 World Bank report, after independence, "Zimbabwe gave priority to human resource investments and support for smallholder agriculture," and as a result, "smallholder agriculture expanded rapidly during the first half of the 1980s and social indicators improved quickly." From 1980 to 1990 infant mortality decreased from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced from 128 to 58 per 1000 live births, and immunisation increased from 25% to 80% of the population. Also, "child malnutrition fell from 22% to 12% and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrollment rate than average for developing countries".[43]

In 1991, the government of Zimbabwe, short on hard currency and under international pressure, embarked on an austerity program. The World Bank's 1995 report explained that such reforms were required because Zimbabwe was unable to absorb into its labour market the many graduates from its impressive education system and that it needed to attract additional foreign investments. The reforms, however, undermined the livelihoods of Zimbabwe's poor majority; the report noted "large segments of the population, including most smallholder farmers and small scale enterprises, find themselves in a vulnerable position with limited capacity to respond to evolving market opportunities. This is due to their limited access to natural, technical and financial resources, to the contraction of many public services for smallholder agriculture, and to their still nascent links with larger scale enterprises."

Moreover, these people were forced to live on marginal lands as Zimbabwe's best lands were reserved for mainly white landlords growing cash crops for export, a sector of the economy favoured by the IMF's plan. For the poor on the communal lands, "existing levels of production in these areas are now threatened by the environmental fragility of the natural resource base and the unsustainability of existing farming practices".[43] The International Monetary Fund later suspended aid, saying reforms were "not on track."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), life expectancy at birth for Zimbabwean men has since become 37 years and is 34 years for women, the lowest such figures for any nation.[44] The World Bank's 1995 report predicted this decline in life expectancy from its 1990 height of 64 years when, commenting on health care system cuts mandated by the IMF structural adjustment programme, it stated that "The decline in resources is creating strains and threatening the sustainability of health sector achievements".[43]

Robert Mugabe started ok, but has since become one of the worst dictators EVAR. Still, the actions of the IMF, typically supported by wingnuts and Sensible Liberals alike, are just as much responsible for Zimbabwe's economic misery as anything Mugabe has done -- a fact Mugabe continually exploits for propagandistic purposes.

In the future, Robert Mugabe's grave will be rightly spit on for all the misery he caused; more's the pity that no one will spit on the graves of so many globalist neoliberals.

In the context of the Cold War, the corporate-capitalist minded regarded emerging socialistic economies with an equal distaste. Nixon vowed to make the economy of Allende's Chile "scream" -- and so he did, to Anaconda Copper's, Pepsi-Cola's, and Milton Friedman's eventual and utter delight. Then in the 1980s, things started to change: supernational entities like the IMF put a veneer on the old economic imperialism. Gone was the direct meddling from the White House or Downing Street (and, indeed, soon too was gone the other kind of meddling, from the Kremlin); now the meddling was done by proxy. Instead of helping emerging economies find markets, the means of production were tampered with. Yeoman farms as in the former Rhodesia or collective-family farms as in Julius Nyerere's Tanzania were sensible and successful starts to a post-colonial economy. Socialist education systems turned out waves young technocrats. General literacy improved. All this could not be tolerated by neoliberals who insist in their benevolent malevolence that rapid industrialization (with, naturally, foreign ownership, to whom all profits accrue*) was the only way to go. Show neoliberals a "third world" nation and all they can see is a labor pool to exploit until the countryside is depopulated, extranationals own most of the choice property, local and connected elites are suitably corrupted, and the masses, kicked off their traditional and communal when not ancestral land in privatization schemes, live clustered around the cities in awful shantytowns. A people's resistance often exacerbates the problem -- which goes to show that the initial contact must be avoided if the patient, as it were, is to be spared the disease. Then, like locusts, the neoliberals move on to the next country.

*Jonas Savimbi: "I am against nationalization; it is a disease which saps the strength of a national economy. The real question is the renegotiation of allowable profits. Foreign companies need their profits, they would not invest without them. But the people of Angola need their share. When Angola is independent the investors must know that the people will have a greater share." Alas, even Savimbi's "third way" is too much of a compromise for neoliberals who, after all, are nothing but "libertarians with a human face." I can't possibly overemphasize how much I hate them.