Saturday, September 23, 2006

Barclay ETFF transcript now available

My transcript of Barry Seidman's Equal Time for Freethought interview with Harold Barclay, author of People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy, is now online.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blogroll: ReFrederator

Back in the days of VHS, one of the common items were cheap compilations of cartoons that had fallen into the public domain, and which could therefore be distributed by third party companies. (I still have a Daffy Duck videotape from 1989). Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it's possible to see the same cartoons online for free. is the dean of public domain video sites, but ReFrederator is a new site that, incredibly enough, posts a new cartoon each weekday!

The cartoons include everything from old-fashioned Popeye action and Warner Bros. mischief (with looney standbys like A Corny Concerto, Pigs in a Polka, and Wackiki Wabbit) to the exploits of far more obscure characters like Flip the Frog, Molly Moo-Cow, and Willie Whopper (Ub Iwerks's studio is the most consistently entertaining of the lesser-known studios sampled).

Stylistic experimentation abounds in cartoons like The Dover Boys, Chuck Jones's pioneering 1942 foray into stylized animation that anticipates the style by a full decade, while also managing to be funny in spoofing the Victorian-era fiction of half a century earlier. (On the other hand, RF hasn't had much animation made with alternative, non-cel techniques; Ray Harryhausen's early puppet stop-motion version of Hansel and Gretel is the only stop-motion cartoon yet posted.) Propaganda ranges from the prototypical WWII piece Scrap Happy Daffy to the soft-sell milk promotion of The Sunshine Makers to the Red Scare barbs at the Soviet Union and the IWW of Alice's Egg Plant.

There are also a number of science fiction and horror entries, from the straightforward skeleton-filled haunted-house horror of Spooks and The Mad Doctor, to the techno-futurism of the Fleischer World's Fair tribute All's Fair at the Fair (complete with dancing robots!) to wild combinations of both genres, like the Willie Whopper tale Stratos Fear (in which he floats into space and encounters everything from self-decapitating birds to a Harpo Marx caricature).

Today, in the middle of an all-Popeye week, they posted a brisk 1931 jazz song about Popeye that I had pointed out to them.

Monday, September 18, 2006

ETFF makes love, not war

If you talk about the scientists who have said, "Well, we're very aggressive and we can't escape it because that's our nature", they have almost always been only looking at the male side of the human equation. — Judith Hand

In late July and throughout the month of August, Equal Time for Freethought ran an extensive and detailed four-part analysis of the origins of violence and the prospects for peace, as informed by the issues of gender, human nature, and hierarchy.

On July 30, August 6 and August 13, an epic three-part, 90-minute show aired with host Barry Seidman interviewing Judith Hand and Douglas Fry, respective authors of the intriguing books Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace and The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence.

Both of these authors brought to light much interesting information about the interconnection between patriarchy and violence, and pointed to, well "the human potential for peace" (hard to improve on a book with the phrase "human potential" in the title) as shown in bonobos and many startlingly low-violence, sexually-tolerant, and gender-egalitarian societies, from hunter-gatherers to a favorite example of Riane Eisler and Marija Gimbutas, the ancient Minoans — societies whose nonviolence is ignored, downplayed or denied, despite being based on firm documentation.

Oddly enough, the guests denied any particular connection between religion and violence, with Hand saying that wars are fought over resources, not beliefs — failing to make a connection even when Barry brought up the work of Hector Avalos, who in Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence has documented how religious faith can lead to a perception of increased scarcity (especially over intangible resources like "sacred space") and thus dovetails with resource-oriented explanations for warfare. As an extreme example of the degree that fundamentalist beliefs can affect a person's priorities, consider this statement by bin Laden associate Abu Jandal in a recent interview with 60 Minutes:
I have great hopes for him and pray to God that he will finish what his father was not able to finish. I pray that he will become a martyr. Frankly, I hope that my son gets killed and becomes a martyr for the sake of God Almighty. You’re sitting here, but you’re not ready to see your daughter killed for America. I, on the other hand, am ready to see my son get killed for the sake of Islam.

Also less-than-satisfying was the discussion of the role of social hierarchy and the State. For instance, they enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a Kennedyesque strong national leader leading an effort to attain peace, but it's no accident that a superficially value-free statist approach has been used for quasi-scientific, quasi-military projects like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program. Similarly, their interest in a United Nations-type world quasi-government; such a large-scale State would be even more vulnerable to the internal, but ignored as institutionalized, violence characteristic of existing States (and documented by people like R. J. Rummel); Gene Sharp has pointed out some of the obvious problems with world government:
World government is either unrealizable, or if achieved would itself be likely to produce a world civil war, become tyrannical, and be used to impose or perpetuate injustice.
Part of this stems from a confusion between the functions of courts and government, as in this quote from Fry:
If you take this broad perspective, you realize that we have basically spent 99% of our existence as a species living in these small bands and having to get along with each other, but there's been no overarching social control. As we look at social evolution, this is come much later, when you get the development of chiefdoms and then States. That pattern you see is that when you have a State developing, the State governments usually through courts of some sort, manages to deal with conflicts within that society in a non-violent way. And we're all very familiar with this, but we don't think about it in this broader perspective; that's one of my points. One of the key gems of anthropology is it broadens our perspective. So, one of the points I'm making for how to bring about a successful adventure here into the future for humanity, is that we just simply have to take some of the conflict mechanisms that we already know about, such as courts, which work very effectively at solving disputes without violence, and apply them at a higher social level.

So this is one of the lessons that I think comes through very clearly. In other words, hunter-gatherers, if you have a dispute and it gets violent, basically two guys have to fight it out, fighting over that woman, and maybe somebody gets killed. And that's the justice of the hunter-gatherer band. If you go to a State system, you have people who make decisions and have the ability to enforce those decisions. And this is something that's good for the whole society. So at this point, by analogy, we have a global system which is not really a system at all; it's just a series of hunter-gatherer bands, if you will, by rough analogy. And we're able to keep our order within the bands fairly well, but when we come into contact with each other, there's no overarching authorities to help work out the differences.
In fact, a court or judicial system can and should exist independent of the State, and does not require a State-like power to enforce effective sanctions. Consider the concept of "polycentric law" — multiple competing court systems not backed up by a state — or this article about a Gandhiesque Indian People's Court for an example in practice.

On August 20, Barry Seidman followed up by looking at the same issues from an anarchist perspective, interviewing Harold Barclay, author of People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy. Barclay was cautiously hopeful about the matter, stating that anthropology "sustains the view, at least, that anarchy is not an impossibility". In the process, he gave a harsh critique of the views of E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker, as attempting to dismiss the role of culture in determining the possibilities of human behavior. And unlike the previous guests, Barclay was quite willing to bring up the role of organized religion:
After all, you have in ancient Mesopotamia, one of the earliest hierarchs were the priests of the religion. And they were able, therefore, by the use of their office and position, to manipulate populations, to incite them to warfare, and so forth. And this is what goes on over the last several thousand years: the appearance of a group of people who are the top of the pile, and are able, then, to control by various kinds of uses. Not just by force, but by "conning" them, if you will, into believing.
As it so happened, he was pretty dismissive of libertarianism as being simply apologism for capitalism; Barry then immediately mentioned Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman as examples of stereotypical capitalist libertarians, both of whom never claimed to be anarchist in the first place.

Unfortunately, the anarchy didn't last long: the very next week, Esther Kaplan's interview featured a rant about how the Religious Right's seeking-out of massive new federal subsidies, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars at a time, is actually part of a dastardly "plan to defund the Federal government":
It's part of a long-time conservative plan to defund the Federal government. Not, of course, the military wing of the federal government and not the ability of the federal government to give away corporate largesse, but certainly the social service function of the government. And the more that you defund the publik skools, the more that you defund Medicaid, or de-fund veterans' hospitals, or defund social programs, or defund road or subway repair, the more that public service begins to seem shoddy and inadequate, because now, the schools are overcrowded; now, the subways are not functioning and they're late, and now the social services are inadequate and crowded. And so you create a self-fulfilling prophecy where government no longer deserves to be funded because it can't run its social services correctly.

So then, you punt off that role to the private sector. Things like the faith-based initiative are transition moments where you're giving that federal money to the faith-based groups, but then you can simply at some point defund that as well, and you've kind of gone back to another era, where poor people, unemployed people, people injured on the job, et cetera, et cetera, people slammed by disasters like Katrina can no longer turn to the federal government, where the federal government has reneged on that role, and therefore they can only turn to charity. It was a brutal world when that was the case, and that's certainly where the conservatives who are running our government right now would like to see things return to.

But the fuzzy "social" programs that liberals love have always been tied up with militarism and corporatism, as well as the destruction of the organizations of mutual aid and self-help among the poor. And contrary to the idea that the only thing wrong with publik services is that they're underfunded and overcrowded (perhaps the only problem that could be cured by infusions of money), I think that Will Rogers got it right when he quipped, "It's a good thing we don't get all the government we pay for."

What's more, after a visit to Kaplan's website, I found that back in January 2002, Kaplan had written a Village Voice article "Keepers of the Flame" (which I had remembered, but not that she was the author), which portrayed the anarchist antiwar protesters in a very fair manner, especially in the hysterical post-9/11 atmosphere. But it's actually no surprise; "anarchists" who aren't all that separate from the "progressive" mainstream left are indeed horrified at the thought that people "can no longer turn to the federal government" and "can only turn to charity". As Ken Knudson said:
Now most anarchists when they attack capitalism strike it where it is strongest: in its advocacy of freedom. And how paradoxical that is. Here we have the anarchists, champions of freedom par excellence, complaining about freedom! How ridiculous, it seems to me, to find anarchists attacking Mr. Heath for withdrawing government subsidies from museums and children's milk programmes. When anarchists start screaming for free museums, free milk, free subways, free medical care, free education, etc., etc., they only show their ignorance of what freedom really is. All these "free" goodies which governments so graciously shower upon their subjects ultimately come from the recipients themselves — in the form of taxes.

So after you've read all my long-winded commentary, the shows themselves:
  • Douglas Fry & Judith Hand, part 1: MP3 WMA
  • Douglas Fry & Judith Hand, part 2: MP3 WMA
  • Douglas Fry & Judith Hand, part 3: MP3 WMA
  • Harold Barclay: MP3 WMA

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New Fu frames

Since its debut in the early days of the Web in 1997, Lawrence Knapp's Page of Fu Manchu has been the definitive Internet resource about Sax Rohmer's classic villain, charting Fu's influence, incarnations, and imitators. The site has just posted some screen captures I made of Fu Manchu's "cameo" in the Warner Bros. cartoon Have You Got Any Castles (1938) (thanks to ReFrederator for posting a nice print of the public domain cartoon online), as well as expanding its description of the appearance. Way back in 2001, I also contributed to the site's list of "clones" of Fu Manchu, the Fu-in-all-but-name in question being Iskandar from Jack Williamson's science fiction fantasy The Wizard of Life (1934).

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oscar Wilde on pain, pleasure and Christianity

A passage which deserves to be better known, from Oscar Wilde's famous essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism:
Shallow speakers and shallow thinkers in pulpits and on platforms often talk about the world's worship of pleasure, and whine against it. But it is rarely in the world's history that its ideal has been one of joy and beauty. The worship of pain has far more often dominated the world. Mediaevalism, with its saints and martyrs, its love of self-torture, its wild passion for wounding itself, its gashing with knives, and its whipping with rods – Mediaevalism is real Christianity, and the mediaeval Christ is the real Christ. When the Renaissance dawned upon the world, and brought with it the new ideals of the beauty of life and the joy of living, men could not understand Christ. Even Art shows us that. The painters of the Renaissance drew Christ as a little boy playing with another boy in a palace or a garden, or lying back in His mother's arms, smiling at her, or at a flower, or at a bright bird; or as a noble, stately figure moving nobly through the world; or as a wonderful figure rising in a sort of ecstasy from death to life. Even when they drew Him crucified, they drew Him as a beautiful God on whom evil men had inflicted suffering. But He did not preoccupy them much. What delighted them was to paint the men and women whom they admired, and to show the loveliness of this lovely earth. They painted many religious pictures; in fact, they painted far too many, and the monotony of type and motive is wearisome and was bad for art. It was the result of the authority of the public in art matters, and it is to be deplored. But their soul was not in the subject. Raphael was a great artist when he painted his portrait of the Pope. When he painted his Madonnas and infant Christs, he is not a great artist at all. Christ had no message for the Renaissance, which was wonderful because it brought an ideal at variance with His, and to find the presentation of the real Christ we must go to mediaeval art. There He is one maimed and marred; one who is not comely to look on, because Beauty is a joy; one who is not in fair raiment, because that may be a joy also: He is a beggar who has a marvellous soul; He is a leper whose soul is divine; He needs neither property nor health; He is a God realising His perfection through pain....

Pain is not the ultimate mode of perfection. It is merely provisional and a protest. It has reference to wrong, unhealthy, unjust surroundings. When the wrong, and the disease, and the injustice are removed, it will have no further place. It will have done its work. It was a great work, but it is almost over. Its sphere lessens every day....

Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.