Monday, November 29, 2010

dorkbot-nyc 10th anniversary meeting & party this Wednesday

This Wednesday, December 1, dorkbot-nyc is having its 10th anniversary meeting with a special extra party:
The 37.8.4-th dorkbot-nyc meeting and 10th ANNIVERSARY PARTY will take place from 7-10pm on Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 at Location One in SoHo.


Wear a homemade suit! Wear a crazy dress! Wear your jeans and a t-shirt! DOESN'T MATTER! Come hear three old-timey dorkbot pals rant and rave! Eat some pizza and drink some beer. Bring a cake?!? Bring some blinky lights! Just bring yourself?!? WHATEVER YOU WANT!

It'll be a semi-normal dorkbot meeting that morphs into a casual party/celebration of 10 years of world-wide dorkbot nerd-on-geek action. Meeting starts at 7pm, party continues until 10pm.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Realist Archive Project is complete

Ethan Persoff has just announced the completion of The Realist Archive Project, in which the complete run of Paul Krassner's legendary and rare satire/freethought/conspiracy underground magazine has been scanned and posted online. Jesse Walker describes "the lost bridge between Mad and Wikipedia" (with a bonus find of a letter to the editor from a then-conservative Karl Hess):
In 1958 Paul Krassner set out to create a Mad magazine for adults. He was well-qualified for the task, being both a former Mad contributor and, in fact if not always in spirit, an adult. The result was The Realist, a journal whose great innovation was to refuse to label which articles were journalism and which were satire, and sometimes to add just enough truth to a piece of fiction that readers would be left completely befuddled as to what, if anything, they should believe. Some call it a prelude to the underground press. I call it a prelude to the Internet.
Over a three year period, a quartet of issues was posted monthly; the most (in)famous stuff — "The Parts Left Out of the Kennedy Book", the Disneyland Memorial Orgy, the Fuck Communism! poster — was posted early on, but there are plenty of goodies in the later updates; the highlight of the penultimate update was an interview with Albert Ellis by Krassner and Robert Anton Wilson, and the final update is topped off with Krassner's "My Acid Trip with Groucho Marx" (which was already online, but this is a different edition with original page scans and without an eyeball-searing background color).

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

modern school reunion announcement 2010

The announcement for the 38th annual reunion of Friends of the Modern School, coming up this Saturday at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has been posted. The Friends is an alumni association for people associated with an anarchist school and colony which was at Stelton, New Jersey (near current-day Piscataway), and the reunions are open to interested members of the general public.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I'm back

Well, it's been a while, but after a hiatus, I'm back to blogging! I'm currently doing some long overdue housecleaning, and expect to get back on a semi-regular posting schedule.

dorkbot-nyc kicks off its 10th season

This Wednesday, dorkbot-nyc is starting the first meeting of its 10th season; as I described it in my post about its 5th anniversary, "its motto, 'People doing strange things with electricity', gives the impression of what to (un)expect. Its dorky arena includes almost anything within the wide bounds of electronics, including both hardware and software, with a square emphasis on low-budget, do-it-yourself, personal projects. The results are geeky, goofy, technical, off-beat, and as wacky as the presenters' personal interests". This promises to be an exciting season; the previous one saw the introduction of a Vimeo account that has videos of some of the presentations.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chomsky on his inner anarchist

There's a new video interview with Noam Chomsky (a transcript is also available), based on an open submission thread on reddit, that includes a question about anarchist strategy posed by Roderick T. Long (using the handle BerserkRL, which I find amusing to hear Chomsky read out loud in the video interview; it's the third and final question, starting at 15:40 in the video, and is slightly condensed for time but otherwise similar to the version originally posted on reddit, although the reference to Kevin Carson didn't make the cut; hat tip to commenter "Joel", not me, on Roderick's blog).

Chomsky has been one of the most well-known and intellectually respected anarchists in the world since coming to fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s with articles like "Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship" and "Notes on Anarchism", but while he's always advocated for a stateless society as the ultimate goal, his shorter-term political strategies are closer to those of liberals and progressives, involving strengthening states at the federal level for the forseeable future in order to deal with corporate power. He's been criticized on this issue before by anarchists such as James Herod and Joe Peacott, but Long's question attempted to get a new angle on the issue by explicitly grounding itself in specific research showing that the conflict between business and state power taken for granted by liberal historiography is largely illusory (which makes it unfortunate that the reference to Carson wasn't included; I'm trying to think of someone with similar ideas who'd have name recognition: maybe Ralph Borsodi? Paul Goodman? Kirkpatrick Sale?), including Chomsky's own (the video shows he's evidently flattered by that). As it so happens, another interview conducted with Chomsky by Equal Time for Freethought in 2007 (which I've been meaning to discuss for a while now, as the date indicates) asked a similar question, partly spurred by yours truly (although I was not responsible for the specific wording of the question), about pro-market but anti-capitalist anarchism, starting at 16:21 (also of interest is the immediately following question, in which Chomsky discusses business support for and corporate state aspects of the New Deal).

In his response, Chomsky covers some of the same ground as in previous discussions; he sees the general idea of decreasing state power as too abstract to be a meaningful strategy, which is not unlike how he's previously referred to people being "seduced by the words 'minimize the state' and sort of trapped in them", albeit still puzzling, since he's recommended Diego Abad de Santillán's book After the Revolution as a very detailed and specific guide to how a stateless society could work; and refers to the weakness of organizations outside of the state such as "cooperatives, community organizations, worker-controlled industry", although this weakness is itself largely due to the state pre-empting such services, and Long has written a classic article on the decline of the lodge system for health care due to just such a cause; he concludes that "there's a very large number of people who are committed sincerely and rightly to the kind of long-term objectives that anarchists have always tried to uphold."

Chomsky has always had an unusual and seemingly disparate mix of intellectual influences, ranging from anarchism to progressivism to socialism to classical liberalism, and even has had kind things to say about capitalism and conservatism (Matt MacKenzie has remarked that in his opinion, "much of Chomsky's supposed anarchism comes not from his socialist side, but from the fact that part of him is still influenced by classical liberalism"), and different parts of his views get emphasized at different times, depending on the context and even on what mood he's in; compare his sympathetic take on Republican former senators Robert Taft and Mark Hatfield to his dismissive one on Ron Paul, while the blistering Bakunin quote that was the source for the title of Chomsky's book For Reasons of State certainly doesn't suggest any enthusiasm for temporarily increasing state power. Also, I thought since back when Long first posted the question last month that it would be more likely to get a sympathetic response if it was asked by someone he knew well, such as Sheldon Richman, who's known Chomsky going back decades via the Cato Institute and who has maintained a strictly libertarian, yet increasingly left-friendly point of view that's well to the left of the stereotypical Cato position (and Chomsky readily admits he has many Cato-style libertarian friends), rather than by a semi-anonymous website post; in a thread on the LeftLibertarian2 mailing list, Richman described Chomsky as being "a very kind and patient man" while knowing him, to which Kevin Carson responded that when debating Chomsky via email, "his patience seemed to be wearing thin rather quickly".

As for the idea that anarchist goals are too abstract, I've been wondering recently about whether a "Fabian" style approach of offering a steady set of incremental, partial reforms that aim at repealing statism and building up civil society gradually would be a good way to make anarchism seem more relevant and less intimidating, along the lines of the decentralist yet egalitarian liberal social security proposal by the Preservation Institute's Charles Siegel. In a comment on an article by Gary Chartier posted on Infoshop News that advocated a number of immediate steps for dealing with health care (ironically, the very issue dwelt on by Chomsky as being hard to deal with due to its "privatized, unregulated" nature), Chuck Munson noted the effectiveness of the article:
Despite my animosity towards anarcho-capitalism, I have to admit that some of the best anarchist/libertarian analysis being written now about relevant topics such as health care is being written by market anarchists and mutualists, who are usually lumped in with the anarcho-capitalists. The most interesting writing on the economy is being done by these folks.

Which begs the question: where the hell are the anarchists, anti-capitalists and left libertarians? With the world economy in meltdown, why aren't anti-capitalists writing any interesting analysis on the situation?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quote of the day: James Bovard on free trade vs. free trade agreements

One would presume that an honest trade agreement would simply require little more than a handshake between the political leaders of the nations involved. If trade is free, then what is there to quibble about? But that would defeat the entire purpose of using free trade agreements to give preferences to favored nations and favored industries.

Free trade is not complex; it does not require an army of hair-splitting bureaucrats to achieve. Free trade agreements, on the other hand, usually outweigh the Bible and have more trick clauses than a Hollywood movie deal. (The U.S.-Australia FTA is nine hundred pages of wheedling, hemming, and hawing.)

Free trade minimizes the power of rulers to decimate the purchasing power of citizens. Free trade agreements allow politicians and bureaucrats to pick winners and losers with arcane formulas that guarantee that trade lawyers will never go hungry.

Free trade allows consumers and businesses to benefit from the best goods the world can produce at the lowest prices. Free trade agreements with a single nation divert trade. They give favored treatment to the producers whose governments sign deals with Washington and put the producers of all other nations at a disadvantage.

FTAs allow political clout to trump economic comparative advantage. FTAs seek to shift trade in whatever direction is most profitable to the politicians making the deals, rather than let trade flow from the decisions of producers and consumers.

Free trade agreements make borders more imposing and onerous for every nation except the one that politicians favor. Free trade aims to make national borders invisible for commerce.

The notion of "free trade"—but only with nationalities that American politicians bless—is a charade. This is like proclaiming freedom of the press, and then adding that people can buy books only from publishers specifically approved by the U.S. Congress.
— James Bovard, The Bush Betrayal, pp. 57-8

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sagan book club follow up

Well, due to a problem with the email software, an old email from the Sagan Appreciation Society that contained a plug for last December's SHSNY Book Club for Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan's Acquiring Genomes was sent out just a few days ago; since the next book club meeting in the series, devoted to Michael Specter's Denialism, is coming up this Thursday (after that it's John Brockman’s This Will Change Everything on March 18 and Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction on April 27), it reminded me that I've been meaning to post a brief follow up to my original post. As it turned out, nobody showed up specifically for the Carl Sagan connection, and as it happened, the discussion didn't wind up being about how the book ties into Carl's work in any detail, mostly centering on the differences between Lynn Margulis's theories of evolution and the more orthodox neo-Darwinist approach. However, Sagan fans are welcome at book club meetings (SHSNY can be contacted for specific questions), and I'd be happy to meet up at other events as well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paul Goodman essay contest

There's an essay contest, partially sponsored by the magazine Dissent, currently running (until May 1, 2010) dedicated to the much-neglected social critic Paul Goodman.

Contact featured on DVD Verdict

a screen grab of the DVD Verdict website showing their link to the Cosmos review

As the screen grab above shows, DVD Verdict is currently featuring a link to their review of Contact (the original DVD, not the Blu-Ray edition which they've also reviewed, but oddly, they haven't reviewed Cosmos) on the front page as part of their "Today in Verdict History" feature. And hey, Nick Sagan gets mentioned in their review of the seventh season of Star Trek: The Next Generation! "We discover that Nick Sagan, who wrote the Picard/Crusher episode 'Attached,' is the son of Carl Sagan. Not only that, but young Nick's recorded voice was sent into space aboard one of NASA's Voyager probes in the 1970s, bearing a greeting from the children of Earth."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mission to Moscow on TCM tonight

Following up on a screening and an informative panel discussion last week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a rarely seen WWII-era propaganda film (not to be confused with the similarly-subtitled Police Academy installment) is airing on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 10PM EST (it's also available as an unrestored print-on-demand DVD via the Warner Archive, no doubt due to the involvement of Casablanca's Michael Curtiz and Howard Koch). During the era of the US-Soviet Union wartime alliance, the film, based on ambassador Joseph E. Davies's visit to the Stalinist USSR, goes all-out in seeing the nation through, well, rose-colored glasses, as an economically productive nation driven to war despite its lack of any aggressive intentions (even the invasion of Finland is portrayed as an act of self-defense), partly due to a treacherous Nazi conspiracy led by Leon Trostky; Stalin is shown as not only a great leader, but a friendly, avuncular fellow who's willing to stop by for a personal chat with Davies towards the end of his stay. (It should be noted that the film is somewhat coy about portraying Communism per se, in a way that's similar to how Richard Fleischer's Che!'s intentionally distances itself from its controversial subject's politics, and makes some stabs at showing free enterprise elements in the Soviet economy, such as bonuses for productive workers and a small perfume store in Moscow; also, despite the BAM blurb saying that the film portrays the Soviet system as "progressive" and Davies meeting directly with FDR, it doesn't compare the Soviet economy to the New Deal).

I've been curious about the movie ever since Jesse Walker mentioned it back in 2004, saying that in addition to the overly favorable view of the USSR, "It would be a terrible movie even if its politics weren't so repulsive: It's stiffly acted, poorly plotted, padded with stock footage, and just generally clumsy. But it's a must for fans of propaganda kitsch." And BAM's screening did not disappoint; while not a "good" film in the normal sense, this is definitely worth watching for its historical value and/or its unintentional humor (it says a lot about the film that the audience at BAM's screening was trying to be respectful, but still laughed at many of the more outlandish scenes), despite being somewhat overlong at a full two hours (including an extra half-hour or so about the war effort even after Davies leaves Russia).

And while most of the unintentional humor comes from the political stuff, and the crew at Warner Bros. does their professional best to make the material work (including an effective, if somewhat heavy-handed score by Max Steiner), there is indeed a lot of clunkiness to go around; from the real-life Davies's uncomfortable appearance at the beginning of the film, to the huge amount of stock footage (despite being well edited by Don Siegel, who hadn't yet started directing; there's enough montage material that Siegel claimed to have worked with more footage than Curtiz), to a very talky script, and some just plain odd decisions (in the scenes where Davies meets and talks with FDR, the latter is played by an actor, but is shown so obliquely that he's barely seen, whereas all the other actors playing real-life figures are shown normally). The acting is generally adequate, and much less hammy than one would expect, although nobody except Walter Huston's Davies has much screen time, and the lack of credits for most of the actors makes it hard to tell who's who in the many small parts (including a pre-stardom Cyd Charisse as a ballerina).