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An interesting editorial from my hometown paper, circa 1927, just after a major socialist/communist riot/march in protest against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti:

“There seems to be some surprise expressed over the fact that Miss Aurora D’Angelo, who led a mob of demonstrators in a riot over the Sacco-Vanzetti case, in Chicago, passed the mentality tests of psychiatrists with flying colours.

There is no reason for supposing that the intellect of those who lead movements opposed to the theories that govern society of today is defective.  If they are regarded as being warped in their judgements, that is chiefly due to the fact that their ideas differ profoundly from those of the majority.  It does not imply that they have less mental ability than the average.

It is possible that these people have allowed their emotions to assume control of their minds rather than their reason, and that they are therefore prevented, in certain cases, in which their emotional nature is mainly involved, to pronounce as well-balanced a decision as they might otherwise do, but it must be remembered that mankind is largely made up of emotional creatures, and these are not to be classed as subnormal.

In the famous case of Eddie Sidis, who was trained from babyhood by his father, the well-known psychologist, and possessed and twelve or more actual learning than the average man has at thirty, all this brilliant achievement in the way of early education did not prevent him from being arrested while making a revolutionary speech to a mob of red agitators.  Had young Sidis possessed a subnormal intelligence, his father’s experimental education must have failed.

Eddie Sidis and Aurora D’Angelo were both 18 years old when arrested as disorderly rioters.  Youth is the time when emotion has the ruling place in most human mentalities.  It is not often that the wild enthusiasm of youth are carried, unimpaired, into the maturity of middle and old age.  But the world would be a dull place  if the young people did not have their occasional outbursts.

It would be very satisfying to those who feel that the only path to safety is that of extreme conservatism, if they could pronounce all agitators to be defective in mind and have them placed under lock and key.  But a glance over even recent history goes to show that the revolutionary thinker of today is likely to be the conservative of tomorrow or the next day, and that the progress of humanity is largely due to those who have differed from their fellows and who have been persecuted for their ideas.

The youthful anarchist will probably become the middle-aged constitutionlist and, at any rate, no case can be made out against such persons on the ground of defective mental powers.”

In less words, “at 20, you think with your heart, at fourty with your head”.  An interesting defense of radicalism that defends against calling radicalism an ‘infantile disorder’ and then calls it that.  For some context to the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and execution, some more news from the same time:

Guns and Bombs Scatter Red Mob

Chicago Rioters Are Injured in Scramble with Police when they Charged

August 10, 1927

Demonstration against exucution led by pretty sixteen year old, Aurora D’Angelo…mob of four thousand singing Internationale, shouting ‘Mob the Police’, marched toward district jail today, dispersed only after clashing with police…used tear bombs and pistols…sixty-seven men, four women, arrested…several rioters trampled in scramble to escape.  “Ain’t this a free country?  I’m only a girl, a kid.  I know what this means, I’m going to jail.”
And:

Armoured Cars Readed To Stop Disturbances

August 8, 1927

New York police take great precautions against violence as excitement grows as execution day draws near for Sacco and Vanzetti, denied a stay from death…greatest police guard in history of the city, including during the war, patrolled New York from Hudson to the railway yard in Queens…comissioner Warren disclosed elaborate plans against further disorder…two Italians loitering arrested on charge of disorderly conduct.  Police break up several attempts to stage meetings under permit of Socialist party…Communists predict 500,000 will down tools protestings the executon of the two anarchists.”

All those “young people [with] their occasional outbursts” causing all that trouble!  The horrors!

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EXCERPT FROM “A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE INSECTS OF SUMATRA” by
Simeon Van Berger Op Zoom, translated by Jules Fischer, published in Britain by Random
House, 1958.

In general it is the size of Sumatran insects that is most remarkable, rather then any
general deadliness to the species of man; the density, humidity and fecundity of the Sumatran
jungle, especially in the Achinese highlands, guarantees that most insects found there will be large.
Most are harmless, as hopefully this work has done at some lengths to assuage the reader in lands
remote and altogether more civilised then the isle of Sumatra.  There is, however, a curious but
also potentially lethal exception to be found on this tropical island, to which this chapter will now
turn.  The Sumatran Red Tiger Beetle, or Vorocarnisae sumatranus, sole amongst predatory
insects, has a dangerous habit during its larval stage of eating out the insides of a human skull,
brain and all.  Despite this terrifying behaviour, the Sumatran Red Tiger Beetle is practically
unknown outside of Sumatra.  We hope to rectify this situation somewhat.
The Sumatran Red Tiger Beetle is a member of the Cicindelidae family, better known to
the public as the tiger beetles.   Tiger beetles as a whole are identifiable by their large bulging
eyes, long, slender legs and large curved mandibles, in addition to an inability to fly well and a
quickness of foot on the ground; those species common to North America are ground-dwelling
predators, often startled out from under rocks during the day or seen prowling at night.
Vorocarnisae sumatranus shares some of these characteristics, particularly as it is equipped with a
heavy pair of mandibles and long slender legs.  In other ways it is morphologically distinct.
The eyes, for instance, are very diminutive, especially in the adults, and it is unlikely that
vision is heavily used in hunting.   Although its antennae are filiform, the Sumatran lacks the
fivefold segmentation of tarsi found in other Cicindelidae. Indeed, so distinct is the Red Tiger
Beetle from all other species of Cicindelidae that it has a genus all to itself; the closest living
relatives are the large South African beetles of the genus Mantichora.  Even then, the Sumatran
Red Tiger Beetle stands apart, notably in its bizarre and lethal form of reproduction.  To this day,
it is the only species of tiger beetle known to be deadly to man.
The mature adult of the species is not as active a hunter as other members of the family
Cicindelidae.  Its body is considerably more rotund, its double pair of mandibles arranged in a
vertical rather then lateral fashion.  Along its elytral are several brightly coloured ovals, the
vestiges of special glands, phosphorescent in nature, present on the larvae.  Like all tiger beetles,
the Sumatran is brightly coloured, especially on its legs and underside of the thorax, with the
elytra being much duller, variegated only by alternating stripes of light and dark browns.  The
elytral, as in most tiger beetles, is fused and incapable of opening, forming an excellent protective
shield.  The pronotum teeth are especially smooth and well-linked together.
Nearly 2.5 inches in length, Vorocarnisae sumatranus is primarily an ambush predator,
waiting carefully for prey as large as frogs.  The presence of numerous fine hairs on their limbs
allows them to sense vibrations made by prey, whereas the fused tarsi are heavily clawed and
well-adapted for climbing and digging burrows.  The adults are nonetheless usually found on the
forest floor, often hidden by fallen logs or leaves.  They are most commonly seen by humans
around or on corpses, which earned the beetle its popular name in Indonesian, badanmak, or
‘body-eater’.
Like all beetles, Vorocarnisae sumatranus, goes through holometabola, or complete
metamorphosis, changing from a worm-like larva to a quiescent pupa to a beetle during its life.
The Sumatran Tiger Beetle depends upon the decaying remains of higher animals for
reproduction.  The adult female, after a short mating season, lays a cluster of eggs in a cavity on
the corpse of a large animal like a water buffalo or orangutan.  The eggs hatch very quickly, and
the new oligopod grubs, brightly coloured with alternating stripes and possessing a jaw structure
much better suited to chewing and rasping then the adults, burrow into the decaying body through
an orifice.  For unknown reasons the larva have active phosphorescent organs, although this may
be related to driving away other scavengers or startling predators.  The larva, after upwards of ten
days, emerges and crawls away to pupate.  Although this in itself can be ghastly to humans, it is
no worse then what maggots or other scavengers do.  Vorocarnisae sumatranus,, however, has
adapted a considerably more terrifying way of feeding.
Somehow, long ago, the Sumatran Red Tiger Beetle adapted itself to lay eggs in a living
host.  The eggs are usually deposited in the ears, and after hatching, the larva, very small, quickly
crawl down the main cavity and find their way into the brain, where vast amounts of protein can
be rapidly accumulated for growth.  This is extremely painful for the victim, who is often aware of
a kind of burning sensation in the immediate hours afterwards.   The larva usually devour non-
essential sections of the brain first, leaving the basic pulmonary, cardiac and sensory systems
operating until the end.  The pain grows worse and worse with every passing day. In the final
phase of this predation, the victims eyes roll back into the head due to the larva’s actions upon the
main optic nerves.  Still functioning, the victim’s eyes can see the greenish glow of the larva at
work.  Death is almost always inevitable, and there is no known method of prevention or removal
of the larva, short of cutting open the head or pouring pesticide down the ear.  Neither treatment
is likely to save the victim.  Luckily, because the Sumatran Red is a relatively sluggish animal, and
because they are easily spotted, deaths are rare, even if highly visible.  The victim is often
rendered near insane by the larva, perhaps leading to Achinese legends of demonic possession.
The first widespread knowledge of the Sumatran Red only came, however, after the Dutch
invasion of Aceh in the 1870’s; the Dutch soldiers, unused to jungle warfare, often fell prey to the
Vorocarnisae sumatranus, and thus the symptoms came to be known as ‘Dutch madness’.

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A Simple Reminder

By Micheal Yates from The Monthly Review (via Lenin’s Tomb):

“Workers and owners are fundamentally connected and antagonistic along a number of dimensions:

  • It is through the labor of the working class that the goods and services necessary for our survival are produced.
  • It is through the ownership of society’s productive wealth (land, machines, factories, etc.) that the owning class is able to compel that this labor be done. Workers must sell their capacity to work in order to gain access to this productive wealth, since no one can live without such access.
  • In terms of society’s “reproduction” the relationship between labor and capital is essential. So much of what we do presupposes the successful sale of labor power. Without the money from such a sale, nothing appears to exist.
  • The essence of production in capitalism is the ceaseless accumulation of capital, the making of profits and the use of such profits to increase the capital at the owners’ disposal. Competition among capitals both drives accumulation and is driven by it, in a relentless dance.
  • But to accumulate capital, employers must make sure that workers cannot claim possession of all they produce. This means that employers must strive for maximum control of the entire apparatus of production and any and all social forces and institutions that might interfere with this control (for example, the state, schools, and media). At all costs, workers must be prevented from getting the idea that they have rights to the output they produce.”

And:

“Workers comprise the subordinate class. They are normally in the position of having to react to decisions made by others. They are dependent upon employers, and they are at the same time apprehensive of them, since employers hold the power to deny to workers the life-sustaining connection to the means of production. Exploitation, dependence, and insecurity—in a system where workers are bombarded with the message that they and they alone make the decisions that determine their circumstances—make for a toxic brew, which when drunk often enough, creates a personality lacking in self-confidence, afraid to take chances, easily manipulated and shamed (of course, on the bright side, these injuries have given rise to a massive “self-help” industry).

The very subordination of workers, combined with the market mechanism that ratifies and reinforces it, means that capitalist societies will display ineradicable inequalities in variables of great importance: wealth, income, schooling, health care, housing, child care, and so forth. What is more, the market will, absent powerful countervailing forces, not only reproduce inequalities but deepen them, as we have seen so clearly in the United States over the past thirty years. This inequality itself generates its own class injuries. In my book, Naming the System, I cite research comparing the impact of inequality across the United States. It was discovered that, all else being equal, the greater the inequality of income within a state (as measured by the share of income going to the poorest 50 percent of households in each state), the higher the mortality rate. It appears that the psychological damage done to poor people as they contemplate the gap between themselves and those at the top of the income distribution has an independent effect on a wide variety of individual and social health outcomes. Everything we know about the correlation between health and other social indicators and income (a decent though not perfect proxy for class) tells us that working people will suffer in every way.”

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How I won the War

howiwonthewar_lennon_crawford.jpg

This is what you get when you type Pataphor into Google: John Lennon

 

I think Zamyatin, without realising it, was prefiguring a kind of pataphorical style. Or
more accurately, retroactively, his style fits the mold set out by Pablo Lopez, in his
definition of the pataphor. On his website, he defines a pataphor as “An extended
metaphor that creates its own context.” The pataphor is an application of Alfred
Jarry’s science of imaginary solutions, ‘pataphysics, “as far from metaphysics as
metaphysics extends from regular reality.” The pataphor is therefore two steps
beyond reality, and one step beyond the metaphor that seeks to connect reality to
poetry.

A more concrete example from Pablo Lopez:

“String theory may be said to be a kind of mathematical pataphor, insofar as it is
‘supposition based on supposition’. In other words, as string theory is speculation
based on ideas that are themselves speculative (in this instance, theories of general
relativity and quantum mechanics), string theory is not in fact physics, but
‘pataphysics.”

This pataphorical bent is limited, as far as I can tell, to We; I’ve read the collection of
short stories in The Dragon, and his collected essays in A Soviet Heretic, though I
have not read The Islanders, for instance. In general, they lack the stylistic
innovations I find so compelling about We; they are still good, interesting, informative, but they are not We. Ginsburg’s introduction to that essay collection A Soviet
Heretic
argues that Zamyatin’s flair for metaphors was solidity; they are not just
comparisons, they have reality; when he says that a cathedral looks like a beehive, it is
because, to him, in the text, it is a beehive, if only for a moment. His metaphors have
a physical reality that lasts within the text, that is not just a conscious poetic
comparison, made for the reader or in the mind of a narrator or voice. Zamyatin, for
instance, describes the haughty, brave, sexy revolutionary woman I-330 as such:

“Her dark eyebrows pulled up high toward her temples, they made a sardonic sharp
triangle, and the two deep lines running from her nose to the corners of her mouth
made another, this time with the point up. And these two triangles somehow
cancelled each other out, make an unpleasant, irritating X on her face, like a cross.”

That, at first, seems like a simple visual description, of geometric shapes; yet the
metaphor gains a tenacity of its own, so that the X becomes I-330 in the novel, and
becomes the short hand for her, just like the “dark triangle” of her cleavage,
geographic shapes that stand in for the whole. This sounds much more like
metonymy then anything, but it lives on as a comparison that ceases to be made; I-
330’s face is an x. The doctor: “he was nothing but profile, sharp and chiselled. His
nose, a flashing blade; his lips – scissors.” Potent enough imagery, and it reflects his
vocation and character, as surgeon and medical officer. But throughout the rest of
the book, those scissors start to snip, the blade flashes, the doctor becomes clipping
scissors and flashing blade, and even the reminder of him is as the sound of scissors.
An engineer: “his face like a porcelain dinner plate. And serving something
irresistibly tasty on his plate.” The metaphor moves beyond a comparison, and
becomes an actual plate serving food. These continue throughout the book; they are
clever, and impulsive; they have a vitality that always amazes me, or I wouldn’t be
able to read the novel so often and feel so impressed by this technical skill, so
intensely important to the thematic skill. We is a hot-house of a science fiction; I
think it is satire, as the language is so outlandish compared to other of his works, that
along with the glass towers, rockets, radio valkyries and ozone sputters, massive
lightning towers, it is mocking, and yet paying tribute, to that thrust of constructivist
science fantasy.

What was that about pataphors? I’d nearly forgotten. Pretty limited actually. What
an excercise. Remember, a pataphor is: That which occurs when a lizard’s tail has
grown so long it breaks off and grows a new lizard
.

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“Great and Terrible flesh-eating beasts have always shared landscape with humans. They were part of the psychological context in which our sense of identity as a species arose. They were part of the spiritual systems that we invented for coping. The teeth of big predators, their claws, their ferocity and their hunger, were grim realties that could be eluded but not forgotten. Once in a while, a monstrous carnivore emerged like doom from a forest or a river to kill someone and feed on their body. It was a familiar sort of disaster – like auto-fatalities today – that must have seemed freshly, shockingly gruesome each time, despite the familiarity. And it conveyed a certain message. Amongst the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat.”

 Just to prove I’m not all doom, gloom, socialist bloom and high artistic nonsense, I brought in my first impressions about a book on large predators, Monster of God by David Quammen. The sub-title says it all: the man-eating predator in the jungles of history and the mind. Quammen’s self-stated goal is to plum the depths of the relationship between those
large predators capable of eating man, and who frequently done so, and us as a species and civilization. This book is not full of hard science about ecology, zoology or biology, as it is obviously aimed at a general, interested reader (I’m a little more then general, but still, we all need to start someplace). It was an easy, engrossing and intelligent read. Quammen
is a science journalist rather than a scientist, and it shows in his writing: accessible, fast-paced, good at summarising details and information, condensing it down without losing the importance of what he has described, or as tends to happen with some science writing in newspapers, trivialises, sensationalises or dismisses the information. He has a real
strength for fleshing out the humans in his story despite the emphasis on predators, few of which, save for the crocodiles, he ever actually sees. He also has a penchant for poor metaphors, but then so do I, so that is hardly a complaint. The book is sometimes lighthearted, when your subject is about the potentional extinction of large predators who prey on humans occasionally, and it is always informative.

Quammen devotes his pages to four large predators. He specifies that the animals he discusses must be generally solitary animals, large in size, have an ambivalent relationship, of prey and predator, towards mankind, and in this case, preferably not the standard African lions, Indian tigers, great white sharks and grizzly bears we are used to. Instead, we get four well-studied but less well known large predators: the Indian, or Gir lion, scientific name Panthera leo persica, a solitary and remnant species of lion isolated in the Gir forest in the Kathiawar peninsula of western India; the salt-water crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, especially the large concentration of the crocodilians along the coasts and salt-water estuaries of Queensland and the Northern Territory, of the Brahmani-Baitarani delta in Orissa State, India, and the Nile Crocodiles in East Africa; the European Brown Bear, specifically the Carpathian subspecies, Ursus arctos formicarius, and its large concentration in Romania; and the Siberian Tiger, more properly the Amur Tiger, Panthera tigris altaica, concentrated along the Amur river, its tributaries and the mountains of Russia’s Maritime Province, or Far East Province. In each case, Quammen travelled extensively, visiting each of the locations of these animals, interacting with both the local peoples who have come to worship, mistrust and exploit, in short, to coexist, with these predators, and the naturalists, trackers, game keepers and scientists who have often spent their lives learning and protecting, and trying to
commercially exploit these animals. As this is a journalistic book, Quammen tracks tigers in Russia by snowmobile and ski, in five layers of clothes; traps, shoots and skins crocodiles in Australia; tracks lions in the Gir Forest, and hikes up Carpathian meadows to converse with sheperds and gamekeepers in Romania. The book is a wealth of anecdotal information and carefully assembled thoughts and interviews with those who know better then most “what it is to be meat”

(more…)

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Somnambulant vacuum

The precariousness of short-term contracts and high staff turnover is now taken for granted everywhere, in supposedly worthwhile careers as well as in the temp bargain bin. There is a constant pressure, from the moment of getting a new job, both to keep hold of it and to start looking for another one, as well as actually doing whatever you are paid for; and this means constantly looking over one’s shoulder for the ‘team leader’ wielding the stick of performance targets and appraisals, while also looking ahead at the carrot of career fulfilment kept dangling forever just out of reach. Of course these extra duties leave very little room for other interests, as so much time outside work is spent searching and applying for more jobs (in writing this piece, for instance, I am aware that I am frittering away the ‘free’ time which I should be using ‘responsibly’ by searching for the next vacancy), and work -time recreation is reduced to furtive text messaging or sneaking onto the internet between spreadsheets. Such low-level rebellion has been programmed into the operating systems of working environments, inoculating the institutional network against any real threat: without their umbilical apparatus of mobile phones, iPods and websites, the workforce would surely be unable to function at all. It’s no wonder that, with people drifting off into their disparate myspaces, any atmosphere of camaraderie or collectivity in these transient zones has been replaced by a somnambulant vacuum. Meanwhile, the constant reconfiguring of internal policies, jargon and technology deters contemplation of any larger picture, including the context of the job and how worthwhile or damaging it really is. The scenery never stays still long enough to be able to orientate yourself. “

– an excellent piece from http://shykitten.livejournal.com/24691.html

I feel on the edge of such a situation, never entirely forced into the ‘somnambulant vacuum’ of exhausted dejection and resignation. I have yet to work in a job where I am micromanaged, held to a level of efficiency that is almost inhuman (and certainly will never allow creative or intelligent, independent thought) and fired for showing the least bit of spirit. The waste of bleak, grey water, a sea of computer screens and sloughing eyelids, awaits; I’ve never been in debt, but I may end up there, and destitution and the uselessness of my HBA may bring me under. Unpleasant dystopia, in the most literal sense, because it exists, after all. The capitalist culture at the heart of this is not some passing fade, either; it is institutionalized, firstly, and made a part of ‘management culture.’ A recent article in Profit magazine, amongst several other cold-blooded pieces, argued that an employer should ‘hire slow, fire fast’, solidifying the situation what the post excerpted above made clear: we are to grovel and expend tremendous energy to find a job, but if we should deviate in any way, make a mistake, have an emergency or an injury, we are gone, out on a limb, a used husk to be cast away. Even the ludicrous seminars and help groups the unemployed must visit are ludicrous: how is imposing a ludicrous, jargon-laden way of approaching resumes and interviews anything more than a further way to demonstrate our servility?

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Happy Valentine’s Day

“All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.”

– Karl Marx

“Kenya is gripped by post-election violence and death, and now its prized export is under attack.

Armed escorts are being used to ensure Kenyan roses arrive in time for Valentine’s Day. Kenyan flowers, mostly roses, account for a quarter of Europe’s cut flower imports, and Kenyan growers have been pushing to keep exports up for the holiday.

Ethnic violence has paralyzed Kenya.

Growers have chartered planes, enlisted police to protect flower-truck convoys and made pleading calls to frightened workers urging them to return.

It seems to be working – European buyers say they haven’t seen a shortage of Kenyan roses.

However, flower exports require predictability and, if unrest continues, Kenya’s flower industry could quickly follow tourism as the next shattered pillar of the economy.”

– from the CBC (http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/080212/w021266A.html)

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