Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm's 1969 essay "Reflections on Anarchism" (collected in 1973's Revolutionaries, currently in print in a 2001 edition by New Press) is mostly a by-the-numbers Marxist, largely dismissive take on classical leftist anarchism (and needless to say more than a little befuddled at anarchism's revival at the time); he treats the movement as romantic and quixotic (quite literally, saying it's no coincidence that classical anarchism's last hurrah was in the land of Cervantes), and intellectually lightweight: saying that Kropotkin is the only "anarchist theorist who could be read with real interest by non-anarchists", due to his scientific work, as opposed to mere artists like Pissarro and Signac (and presumably the likes of Herbert Read, Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Wilde), and whose substantial ideas are redundant with those on other strands of the left. But at one point, the essay suddenly goes in an unexpected direction:
It is possible to construct a theoretical model of libertarian anarchism which will be compatible with modern scientific technology, but unfortunately it will not be socialist. It will be much closer to the views of Mr Goldwater and his economic adviser Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago than to the views of Kropotkin. For (as Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago in his pamphlet on the Impossibilities of Anarchism), the extreme versions of individualist liberalism are logically as anarchist as Bakunin.
Not to mention Karl Hess or David Friedman. What's really funny about Hobsbawm seeing anarcho-libertarianism as suitable for the modern world is that he's known (some would say notorious) for usually taking a Whig-history approach to left movements, seeing them as more advanced the closer they are to Marxism and then Communism; in fact, it is for just that reason that he dismisses the classical anarchist movement, and Civil War-era Spanish anarchism in particular (see here and here for anarchist responses to Hobsbawm on Spanish anarchism), as quixotic and doomed to failure.

See also Jesse Walker on Hobsbawm ("Obviously there's nothing to admire in the distinguished historian's pro-Soviet politics, but I like a lot of his work nonetheless, flaws and all.")

Thursday, October 23, 2008

AOL Hometown shutting down, and taking a bit of bronze with it

Well, with the announcement that AOL's Hometown service is shutting down by October 31, one of the truly old school web hosting sites from the early days of the Web, up there with GeoCities and Tripod, and all of the websites hosted at URLs "hometown.aol.com", "members.aol.com" and "users.aol.com", will be going the way of Xoom into the land of dead bits.

The shutdown is pretty abrupt; the formal announcement was only posted on September 30, and according to it, if webmasters don't back up their website files by the 31st, they'll simply be gone. All Hometown pages have one of two prominently placed banners atop the pages announcing the shutdown, one of which says "AOL Hometown is Closing its Doors. Find out how to BACK UP AND SAVE YOUR FILES before we say goodbye for good." and the other stating that "A Blogger is Always Prepared. DON'T GET LEFT BEHIND. Learn how to BACK UP & SAVE YOUR INFORMATION now." (despite the service predating the takeoff of the blog format by several years). And of course, many websites originally at Hometown have long since moved to other hosts and URLs. But when one considers that many vintage websites haven't been maintained in years, the banners' warning will often go unnoticed.

In particular, Hometown was a popular hosting service in the late 1990s for the early wave of fansites devoted to pulp hero Doc Savage. The two most prominent of these were Chris Kalb's The 86th Floor (for the uninitiated, that's a reference to Doc's headquarters being situated on that floor of the Empire State Building) and the long-gone (outside of the Wayback Machine) Jeff Sines's Doc Savage Unchained; other Doc Savage sites that are still up on Hometown include Jim Gould's Doc Savage Collection, the Doc Savage Convention Center, the Doc Savage Game Center, the Doc Savage 75th Anniversary page, the fanfic "The Steel Hammer", and the Wold Newton Chronicles. It makes me feel old (at least in Internet years) that I first saw these sites all the way back in high school, around 1999-2000 (I first got into Doc Savage when a high school classmate lent me some of his old Bantam Doc paperbacks).

Highlights of The 86th Floor include circa-1999 rumors of an upcoming Doc Savage movie starring a pre-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title character, a clever way of choosing either a 1930s or 1960s "look" for the webpages using a background image that reflected the appropriate decade's depiction of Doc, and a quote that captures the excitement of the first wave of Web technologies: "In the 1930s, Doc Savage was a state-of-the-art adventurer. Today's net-savvy fans would have to agree; They can download wav sound files, rare images ... and now Acrobat files!" Chris Kalb also used Hometown to host a personal page and a network of pages devoted to the "hero" pulp genre: a general introduction to the genre, and sites devoted to particular series, including G-8 and His Battle Aces, Operator #5, and The Spider (supplanted by a newer version that escaped from Hometown).

The Doc Savage Unchained site, meanwhile, was notable for being the first Doc fansite with a complete cover gallery (of both the pulp magazines and paperback versions), and for being the home of the Doc Savage webring (a common way of linking similar-minded sites in those days). Also, the links page includes several more early Hometown sites.

I've concentrated on the Doc Savage pages as the ones I'm most familiar with, but I'm sure there are a lot of great AOL Hometown pages that I don't know about; if you know of any, leave a comment or an email!

Monday, October 13, 2008

modern school reunion 2008

Today is the 99th anniversary of the death of anarchist, freethinker, and education pioneer Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, which sparked the international movement which was founded to carry on his ideas. Since I covered the basic background in my original Modern School post two years ago, I will link to that rather than repeating myself.

Instead, I will concentrate on the 36th annual reunion of the Friends of the Modern School, held on September 20 at its usual location at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. As usual, it functioned as a social reunion for alumni (mostly of the Stelton school and colony which was near New Brunswick), but this time, the proceedings were enlivened by an unusually large group of interested outsiders.

Author Perdita Buchan spoke about her book Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden (which has appeared previously on this blog) which allots a chapter to eight utopian colonies in the Garden State, including one for Stelton. The Emma Goldman Papers project's and the Kate Sharply Library's Barry Pateman followed up his talk from two years back on Emma Goldman with a similarly scrupulous and informative look at another, far lesser-known anarchist personality connected to the Ferrer movement, Hippolyte Havel. Havel never completed a full-length book (although he did pen the pamphlet "What's Anarchism"), and so is best known for his short biographical essays on Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre that are preserved in their collected essays, but he was interesting in his own right, with an eccentric personality masking a thouhgtful mind, and Pateman has read many of Havel's uncollected periodical works and vouches for their value. And a third event was a panel on "Free Schools of Today", with people from a variety of schools with similar approaches, including Mary Lois Adshead, from Marietta Johnson's School of Organic Education and longtime resident of the single-tax colony of Fairhope, Alabama, who has recently moved to the Garden State herself (and changing her blog from Finding Fairhope to Finding Myself in Hoboken, including her take on the event); Alan Berger of the Brooklyn Free School in NYC; Isaac Graves from the Albany Free School and the Harriet Tubman Free School in Albany, NY; and several people from the newly opened Manhattan Free School. The Alternative Education Resource Organization's Jerry Mintz was there as usual, but also brought a van full of alternative-education people with him, and there were also people from the Beehive Collective. Plus, the mix of insiders and outsiders made the conversations particularly lively. As Dale Burns put it in the Education Revolution e-newsletter, "There was a common idea, an inspiration, a current which electrified the air: the idea of education in its truest form, that learning should be about the learner and the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next. The Modern School was a community in which a school was interwoven, a place where living and learning went hand in hand. A place someone could learn as much or as little as they were comfortable with, where generations could interact freely and neighbors could be depended upon. This is the essence of the Modern School."

Also, the other projects of the Friends of the Modern School continue to move along: last year, they published Recollections from the Modern School Ferrer Colony, a collection of personal accounts by Victor Sacharoff and other Stelton residents (available from AERO here); they continue to maintain the marker at 79 School St., Piscataway, NJ, put up in 2005; and they hope to complete an anthology of writings about the modern school which was left unfinished by the late Paul Avrich. Jerry Mintz has also transfered his recordings of some of the reunions to DVD (such as the 2007 one).