Archive for the ‘Literature and Philosophy’ Category

Identity and Progressive Agenda 2016 Notes

Monday, December 26th, 2016

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Testing the limits of tolerance in the post Coup Turkey.
Hundreds of Turks made a rare protest for LGBT rights in Istanbul Sunday after the murder of Turkish transgender icon Hande Kader, whose body was found burned in a forest earlier this month. Photo by Hande Kader/Facebook
From UPI article August 22, 2016 http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/08/22/Turks-join-rare-demonstration-for-LGBT-rights-after-transgender-womans-murder/3441471845290/

I have been fortunate this year. I managed to have surrounded myself with a family that is relatively loyal if somewhat dysfunctional, and my constant search for novelty in an ongoing campaign to give meaning to an otherwise seemingly meaningless existence, has got me in and out of a couple of problematic situations this year. One was my attempt at a truly transsexual alliance which turned out to be something of a pipe dream. Ultimately in my view relationships cannot be based on transitory sexual appetites. Commercial careers, perhaps, but not strongly based family ties. Poly fidelity, has its moments but I am probably more of a poor mans patriarch in the polygamous biblical sense of the word, than a trail blazer on the frontiers of human relationships, although I certainly do try to do my part in the romantic belief in the eventual progress of humanity into a truly trans-sexual-racial heterogeneity. The fact that in the US the discourse over the nature of human sexuality has been diverted to a conversation on toiletry is a bit discouraging though. Struggle in the world continues as post modernist struggles over liberation in identity politics continue in the face of repression such as is evident in Turkey. Whether identity issues have distracted from bread and butter issues of class struggle, is something that is being hashed out in the light of the on going right wing reaction around the world. Trumpism can be seen in the light of Nazi attempts to overcome decadence identified with sexual transgression of rigid sexual norms as was brilliantly portrayed in the 1972 film Cabaret.

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From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisex_public_toilet, distraction or battle for control of personal space?

The continued demise of my own personal sexual prowess has been paralleled by the increased ability to encounter and intercept the lives of younger souls aspiring to some kind of continuity in an unstable and chaotic post modern world in which institutions have become both increasingly omnipresent and yet unable to fulfill the somewhat futile goal of social stability. Capitalism doesn’t allow for social and interpersonal stability. It’s pressure to excel and exploit resources, of any and all kinds pinned to a monetary value, has eroded social solidarity to the extent that humans of the modern period have become a hodgepodge of flotsam in a sea of potential resources to be adapted and rejected as required by the mindlessly grinding efforts of the mega machine.

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From: http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2016/7/27/political-cartoons-july-27 Political Cartoon from Summer 2016 when US presidential elections were still in progress. The Russian factor was already in play as was the betrayal of the independent left push represented by the Sanders campaign.

The need for resistance and the creation of an alternative agenda to corporate capitalism as crystallized in the Bernie Sanders campaign showed that like in the McGovern campaign of an earlier generation, that there is in the USA an ongoing desire on the part of the young and the progressive thinking people for change at a fundamental level. It also shows how much better the system has gotten at eliminating such a challenge with old fashioned dirty politics and fear mongering. The left, liberal, minority alliance was unable to beat the right largely due to the decampment of labor and the white working class generally as those hurt by the modern economy abandon their intellectual allies who have shown them little gain. for the demagoguery on the right.

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Life’s little Ironies. From: https://warosu.org/lit/image/93GRPOG-N9CFTQSvI7XpVg

There needs to be a clear headed assessment of what we desire and how we wish to get where we want to go. Post Modernism although it has liberated many from the fetters of normative identity has muddied the waters in the struggle to unite humanity in a broad based movement to progressive evolution of the human condition. This has been enhanced by the severe disruption caused by modernism and its industrial megamachine over the last couple of centuries. People’s desire for community in the face of the disruptive and depersonalizing power of technological progress gives evidence of the lag between social evolution and our ability to manipulate the physical world around us. We are now just realizing that humanity has to come to terms with the balance between technology and the social mechanisms that allow this tail to wag the collective dog of humanity. Faced with the potential disruption of all life on the planet, humans need to create truly world wide networks of community that put technology firmly at heel and leash capitalism to the service of humanity or train the dog with some new socially progressive tricks.

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From: http://iacenter.org/racism/blm-pride100715/ BLM queer and trans people of color contingent, Sept. 26. Durham, NC, 2015.
The issue of identity will continue to be important but it must be in the context of ongoing progress or the right wing backlash will cause delays in progress for humanity and the planet as a whole.

Last Days of the Western Enlightenment

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

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Taken from a conspiracy site on reddit, the post was wrong, predicting 8 years of Clinton, the sentiment in the cartoon, greatly influenced by Crumb’s visual style, is a widely held fear on the part of civil libertarians

From: https://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/4w2mde/prediction_of_whats_coming_in_the_next_8_years/

I have been reading The Age of Wonder By Richard Holmes, a scholar of the Romantic Movement in late 18th and early 19th Century England. I am struck by the optimism and hopefulness for the future of humanity expressed in the views of the scientific tinkerers and poets of the age. It was a time when a gentleman, or talented craftsman, and some women, could participate the exploration of the physical, intellectual, and poetic realms in a relatively democratic and free spirited manner. The old authority of the King, Church, and Gentry was being pulled down in so many realms, with the American and French Revolutions presenting political dramatic change. Even though in England the old regime was not destroyed, this was largely due, in my view, to the fact that England had undergone its own revolution and liberalization in the previous century. But there was a strong movement in England to expand the franchise and there were those who avidly supported the actions of the French and the Americans. A strong abolitionist movement to took hold in Great Britain which led to the forward thinking abolition of the slave trade, the development of industrial capitalism and the liberation of the middle classes from dependency on the gentry and patronage of royalty as independent centers of wealth emerged.

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Political cartoon by James Gillray (1757-1815)
From: http://web.utk.edu/~gerard/romanticpolitics/revolution.html Romantic Politics.

These ideals of liberty, and the Rights of Man come out of the period known as the Enlightenment. This period in which a more optimistic view of humanity arose, in which man became the measure of meaning and the ability of the intellect became predominant in finding a more just and affluent life for humanity came to the fore. Life, Liberty and Fraternity or the Pursuit of Happiness, became watchwords and represented the very real expectations of the mass of European humanity, as they spread and colonized across the planet. Not always seen as the bringers of light, often the bringers of oppression to the indigenous peoples to whom the Europeans purported to spread their enlightenment, but propelled by the newly released powers of the mechanical ingeniousness of the likes of James Watt, and the mechanisms of trade and capital concentration developed by adventurous capitalists, the imperial European age was impressed upon the world.

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Painting by Benjamin West
William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians when he founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1771
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
From: http://statemuseumpa.org/penn-treaty/creating/ and http://pluralism.org/encounter/historical-perspectives/first-encounters-native-americans-and-christians/

The industrial revolution and the enlightenment philosophy putting the desires of the individual in the forefront, combined with the Romantic ideals of the solitary genius extracting the secrets of life from a sometimes recalcitrant nature, provided a powerful force propelling the western Europeans into a predominance world wide that had been only preambled by the earlier European conquest of the Americas. Old civilizations in Asia, China, the Ottomans, and the Moguls in India, fabulously wealthy nations, run as empires in an older autocratic tradition were assailed and swept away under the force of the newly empowered Europeans of the relatively small nations of the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal.

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The East offering its riches to Britannia, painted by Roma Spiridone for the boardroom of the British East Asia Company 1778.

What we are seeing now is in the post modern period, a designation that will probably be replaced by some other historical reference as we get further away from the Twentieth Century by something more appropriate, after all what will Modernism mean to someone a century from now? But I digress, in a era in which the benefits of the Western Expansion has become assimilated and digested by the traditional centers of wealth and power, China, India and the Middle East, we are now beginning to see the emergence of the Oriental repossession of their traditional dominance. The Obama pivot to Asia and Trump’s fear mongering denigration of American infrastructure when compared to the marvels being constructed in Asia, are reflections of an awareness of this reality. Thus we come to the end of the era of the western Enlightenment, and are entering into uncharted waters. Are we entering a period in which the individualism of the last two to three centuries will be subordinated under a technocratic autocracy with a new imperial examination system to sift out the deserving elite aids to the autocrats? Certainly trends in economic imbalance seem to be headed that way. What with the massive focus on education as if that were the solution, indicates an end to the quality and fraternity inherent in the Enlightenment approach. Now we have the dictatorship of meritocracy as the gateway to enter the garden of earthly delights. Woe unto you who don’t achieve the holy grail of high grade point averages or are not inheritors of great wealth. For you there will be the universal basic income, and meaningless lives at the bottom of the new pyramid of wealth and power. But again I diverge, the oriental nations are not by nature autocratic, but because of the necessity to create hierarchies of meaning that can sift through the mass of humanity, and the algorithms created by the power of computer technology, there will be a rather extreme and undemocratic process of winnowing unless there is a wise emperor like Vespasian who rejected the labor saving machines of the clever Greek engineers, saying, to paraphrase What will my people do to earn their bread if I take away their ability to earn a living?

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Textile Laborers in Lowell, Mass. early Nineteenth Century.
From: http://www.saltofamerica.com/contents/displayArticle.aspx?13_525 Opinions: American Technology and Human Welfare Part 2, Technology is Democracy 1800-1850
by Hugo Meier

Whether there is an alternative that is egalitarian, in which some pastoral or urban ideal can be implemented, whether in a form of cooperative industrial democracy as postulated by the IWW, the COOP movement or idealists in the sense of Owens, is to be seen. Certainly the pro-fascist protectionism and corporate nationalism proposed by the Trump group is predicated on a trade and probable war with China which is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Think of it this way, China is the international sleepy giant that the USA was before World War II. If they directed their industrial might to war industries, it might be impossible for the US to create an adequate embargo to prevent the oil and iron from reaching China unless the US can convince Russia to refuse access to its vast natural resources. I don’t think Putin is that stupid.

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Missiles are displayed in a parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing in this October 1, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

From: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-defence-idUSBRE88F0GM20120916

Gangsterism Reflects Failed Modern State

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Victims found dumped in Tijuana, Mexico
From: http://www.sneakymag.com/features/guide-mexican-drug-war/

Narco-Economy: Review of Gangster Warlords Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, by Ioan Grillo. New York: Bloomsbury Press. 2016. Hardback $28.00. 378pp.

The author, Ioan Grillo is a British journalist living in Mexico City who has been on the Latin American beat since 2001. He is the author of a previous book about the cartels El Narco Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Grillo 2016). The book is thankfully footnoted and has an index and even though it reads a bit like a detective story, it has incisive analysis and references academic work to back up the author’s own on the ground analysis interviewing drug lords, street dealers, community residents, police, and government officials in Brazil, Jamaica, the UK, USA, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. With some 15 years of experience the author gives an on the ground perspective on the rise of the Narco shadow state in the Americas. Fueled by demand in the USA, the UK, Europe and increasingly, in the countries in which the gangs and Cartels operate, Grillo describes the conditions in which the gangs and Cartels thrive. Not focusing on the consumer end, or the production of the drugs so much as the sociology of the gang and cartel networks, how they manage to survive and thrive in nations with less well developed infrastructures than in the developed world providing real life alternatives for the chronically under and unemployed youth of the barrios and favelas as well as the small towns in where they are located.

Without a doubt this is an issue of import and as I read the book I became engrossed with the tales of these alternative state-lets emerging in the collapsed world of the global economy. Not only has neoliberalism failed to deliver the goods, but it has been complicit in destroying the infrastructure that would provide an alternative to collapse. This is the Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein wrote about in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine where she describes how the shock doctrine to curb inflation in Bolivia prescribed by Jeffrey Sachs in the 1980’s led directly to massive unemployment, and pushed thousands of Bolivians into the Cocaine trade with an estimated one in ten in the coca business by 1989 (Klein 2007, 188). The victory of neo-liberal economics forced upon the Bolivian people, in a coup-less victory unlike the previous model Pinochet’s Chile, where the democratically elected communist Allende was overthrown in a CIA backed coup (78-80). But the neoliberal connection to the rise of the drug trade is unfortunately not very evident in Ioan Grillo’s book which is long on narrative and folksy descriptions of the Narco commanders and foot soldiers but is short on background analysis. His book certainly raises alarms as to the extent of the problem, and he does spend some time describing the vigilante movement in Mexico that emerged to contest the Knights Templar of Nazario Moreno in lieu of an effective government which had essentially ceded control of vast regions of Michoacán and Guerrero provinces to the cartels (Grillo 298-300). But while mentioning the Zapatistas as inspiring indigenous people to rise up by their example of a successful resistance to the Mexican state in forming an autonomous region, he does not really seem to understand the import of the rising which he almost dismisses as not serious. “Their armed challenge lasted only twelve days before a bishop brokered a cease fire” (299). What Grillo does not mention was the timing of the rebellion to coincide with the initiation of the NAFTA trade agreement which has proven to be so devastating to small farmers in Mexico were every farmer who could follow the debates over NAFTA knew that in the early 1990’s Mexican corn sold for $224 a ton and US Iowa corn sold for $110 a ton on the border (Womack 1999, 22). Free trade would be the death of the Mexican small holder farmers and inevitably would lead to the flooding of the markets with cheap American corn. John Womack’s description of the EZLN upon the towns of Chiapas has a different ring. “On January 1, 1994, some 3000 booted, uniformed, masked, and well trained men and women, all armed, many with Stern Mark II’s, AK-47’s, M-6’s, and Uzis, moved out from numerous clandestine bases, concentrated in several units, and captured San Cristóbal, two towns not far north, six more eastward toward the cañadas, two of them in pitched battles, and many villages elsewhere in the region” (12). Developing the background in some detail of the policies of the Mexican government, and attempts on the part of the mostly indigenous peasant farmers to call attention to their plight including a major anti NAFTA protest on the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the white oppressor in 1992 in which protest was largely peaceful (22), Womack unlike Grillo, explains the social, economic, and political context, including many supporting texts, including statements from the Zapatistas, with specific reference to symbolism of the January 1 rebellion as it related to the first day NAFTA went into effect (42).

Grillo mentions the traditions of the leftist guerrilla insurgencies of the 1970’s in Guerrero and to a lesser extent in Michoacán, noting the 1968 Tlatelolco Square massacre in passing, he treats the left in Mexico, as he did the revolutionary left in Brazil, and in Jamaica in an almost scornful manner, as merely the breeding ground for a more effective brand of gangster, writing of the Red Commando in Brazil, Grillo describes the leader he William da Silva Lima who “sees his crimes as political in a broader sense, and himself as a robber because he was born poor. This echoes the self-justification made by gangsters across the Americas (Grillo 2016, 64, 242). Simplistically noting that gang leaders tend to be readers and studious, as if that were the link that made gangs as powerful as they were (53). Grillo describes the M8 revolutionaries in Brazil dismissively describing Fernando Gabeira as the Green Party politician “photographed on Ipanema Beach wearing a purple women’s G-string…. [and] kidnapping the U.S. ambassador in MR8’s most notorious operation in 1969” (55). His description of the series of dictators who overthrew democratically elected governments, aided and abetted by the CIA as the result of a “moth bitten document with SECRET stamped on it” (51), as if the period was merely the result of US government paranoia. This dismissal of the period of the generals, the disappeared, the torture, and murder of leftists, unionists and others who merely attempted to express their civil rights, seems to play into the rather shallow content of the analysis overall. The author is constantly making pop cultural comparisons as he describes Williams as being like the Paul Newman character in the movie Cool Hand Luke, trivializes the oppression of the poor and turns the leader of the Red Commandos into a pop cartoonish figure, easily dismissed (44).

The recent murder of the indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres brings home the brazen level of violence in the nation of Honduras which has the highest per capita murder rate in the world (186). Co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH) which had participated in the opposition to the coup government in 2009 as part of the Refoundational Space resistance group (Webber and Gordon 2013, 46), Cáceres had more recently been active in opposing the building of a massive dam project by a Honduran company, Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., or DESA and had convinced several of its backers to withdraw funding from the dam project drawing the ire of DESA. The environmental activist had won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014 among other awards (Pestano 2016). The environment of impunity in Honduras has fueled the violence against environmental activists in a nation where some 111 had been murdered between 2002 and 2014 (Global Witness 2015, 16). The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights at the UN has called for an independent investigation due to the lack of credibility of the President Juan Orlando Hernández government efforts to investigate the murder of Cáceres and her fellow activist Nelson Garcia (OHCHR 2016). As Blitzer in his article of April 11, 2016, in The New Yorker, pointed out that the Honduran regime claims to have the support of the FBI in its investigation of the murder was not true and the investigations were being conducted by a private investigator from New York. The fallout has even affected the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton where protesters have accused her of being responsible for the death of Cáceres due to Clinton’s involvement as Secretary of State in the U.S. government position not to call the overthrow of the Liberal Zelaya government in 2009 a coup (Pestano 2016).

Webber and Gordon state, the 2009 coup represented a consolidation of the neo-liberal agenda fused with militarism across the region from Columbia to Mexico (Webber and Gordon 2013, 18). Their research indicates that as neo-liberalism kicked into high gear in the 1990s, after all threats from the leftist groups in neighboring states had been defeated or otherwise neutralized, the Conservatives and Liberals implemented reforms that resulted in the dispossession of peasants of much of the gains from previous land reforms. People headed for the urban slums and the United States as rural poverty reached some 70% in the late 1990s (26). Maquiladoras expanded and in the slums gangs gained a foothold so that the conservative government under President Maduro was able to expand the military in a “war on gangs” (23-25, 32-33). “Violent crime has increased dramatically in Latin America in the wake of neoliberal restructuring. Central America is at the leading edge of this phenomenon” (32). Corruption in the government of Honduras with extends to the highest levels of the police force as well as prominent politicians as they have been implicated in the murder of the former Honduran Drug Czar in 2009 (Arce 2016).

Skipping this entire history, Grillo in his synopsis on the recent history of the Central American states glosses over the 1980’s leftist insurgency in El Salvador, the Sandinista overthrow of the U.S. backed dictatorship in Nicaragua, the brutal dictatorships in Guatemala, and the strongman rule in Honduras where he mentions the U.S. campaign against the Sandinista government under the Reagan administration which used the air base at Palmerola in Honduras to arm and support the Contras (Grillo 2016, 188-189). While mentioning the CIA backed coup in Guatemala in 1954, his three paragraph history lesson is boiled down to another pop cultural representation the Oliver Stone movie Salvador (189). While giving factual information, that he must assume readers are familiar with due to the briefness of his background briefing, the constant pandering to the reader with pop references, indicates a journalistic bias that assumes the reader will be lost or bored, without entertaining cultural titbits. Where Grillo has an interesting use of pop culture is in his identification of certain gang names and symbols with pop culture such as the relationship between the El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha with a movie starring Charlton Heston The Naked Jungle, translated in Spanish as ‘Cuando Ruge la Marabunta” which translates as “When the Ants Roar” thus the Maras are a group of friends who gather together like ants in a mutual protection society Grillo gets his information from an anthropologist Juan Martinez (189-200). While this and other rather trivial information, such as how the Maras were originally associated with heavy metal culture in Los Angeles, where the gang formed among refugee and immigrant youth in the 1980’s, such trivial is not a substitute for a deeper analysis of the background of the conditions in Central America (195-196). Revealing that the child immigrant wave of 2014 was a direct result of U.S. deportations of gang members in Los Angeles back to their countries of origin, does not tell the reader much about the underlying conditions there other than to say the wars of the 1980s led to a refugee population settling in Los Angeles (203-204). Facile arguments such as the gang members fought because they liked to, and as a way to establish a reputation among the gang, does not go far in explaining the persistence of the gangs or the economic drivers behind the attraction of the gangs (199).
Grillo does do a decent job in tracing the cultural roots of the gangs and the sociological attraction of being in a gang as a way to protect the recent immigrant youths in the potentially hostile streets of Los Angeles. A better analysis of the U.S. policy to deport plane loads of El Salvadoran gang members onto the impoverished streets of El Salvador after the 1992 truce between the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the El Salvadorian government would have been useful. The short sighted U.S. policy, out of sight out of mind came back to haunt the U.S. with the exodus of the children in 2014 (185-186). Interesting factors also indicate that simply eliminating the gang wars with truces don’t necessarily work, as the short term results may be a dip in violence but quickly return to previous or higher levels (Katz and Amaya 2015). This would seem to indicate that the drivers for the violence is not a socially driven factor but has a strong economic driving force behind it and larger political dimensions that are not directly related to the immediate activities of individual gangs.

Conclusion

As the U.S. goes from one drug epidemic to another, with high grade heroin being the most popular in the news cycle of late (Ahmed 2015). The American appetite for drugs remains unabated and will not necessarily result in a decrease in the activities of the crime syndicates as drug legalization and harm reduction becomes increasingly the focus in the United States and other countries, witness the recent drug policy conference at the United Nations where the split between those who would double down on the punitive approach to drugs, were countered by the increasing view of the harm reduction parties who would reduce the violence resulting in something of an impasse (Glenza 2016). Clearly the policy of focusing on the war on drugs has been a disaster that has led to tine militarization of and occupation of poor communities around the world. If there was an intentional policy to oppress the poor around the world, the war on drugs could hardly have been improved upon. As neo-liberal practices have been increasingly causing disruption to traditional cultures and live styles around the world, there has been an increased disparity between the concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few, at the cost of social services in many countries, education, and traditional work opportunities, The results have been masses of young ambitious and desperate young men seeking out a path to follow their own aspirations to a better life. For thousands around the world and especially in Latin America that opportunity is in the cartels and the gangs.

Grillo describes the symptoms, and the personal stories of the actors, foot soldiers, tactical middle men and masterminds of this new world in which the alternative economy has emerged. His focus is on sensational descriptions with some background information for the casual reader with a focus on the criminal sociology of the gangs and cartels. The book was interesting in a tabloid journalistic sense, although having personal experience in the underground economy and with gang members the voyeuristic aspects of the book were not particularly interesting. Grillo does not propose particularly profound solutions but he is to be admired for his willingness to tread upon the paths local journalists have been reporting upon for years, describing the development of the underground economic and quasi-political response to the neo colonial and neo liberal policies of the wealthy elites of the world.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Azam. Aug. 29, 2015 Young Hands in Mexico Feed Growing U.S. Demand for Heroin. The New York Times. Accessed 2 April, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/world/americas/mexican-opium-production-rises- to-meet-heroin-demand-in-us.html?_r=0
Arce, Alberto. (April 22, 2016). Honduran Ex-Police Chief Says Government Faked Documents in Assassination Case. The New York Times. Accessed 24 April 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/world/americas/honduras-ramn-sabilln-pineda- police-antidrug-assassination.html?_r=0
Blitzer, Johnathan. (April 11, 2016).No Answers in the Murder of Berta Cáceres. The New Yorker. Accessed 22 April 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/no- answers-in-the-murder-of-berta-caceres
Glenza, Jessica (21 April 2016). Decriminalize all drugs, business and world leaders tell UN. The Guardian. Accessed 21 April 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/21/un-special -session-global-drug-policy- failure-critics-say
Global Witness (2015). How Many More? 2014’s deadly environment: the killing and intimidation of environmental and land activists, with a spotlight on Honduras. Global Witness Limited Accessed 22 April 2016. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/how-many-more/
Katz, Charles Max and Amaya, Luis Enrique (2015) The gang truce as a form of violence intervention : implications for policy and practic. Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo, San Salvador, El Salvador, América Central. ISBN 9789996149313 (E-Book, inglés, resumen)
Klein, Naomi. (2007). The Shock Doctrine The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Picador.
OHCHR. (22 April 2016). Honduras murders: UN Expert urges independent investigation into killings of rights defenders. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). Geneva. Accessed 22 April 2016. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19864&=E#st hash.pI5j67VO.dpuf
Pestano, Andrew V. (April 19, 2016). Why this protester is blaming Clinton for the murder of a Honduran activist. UPI. United Press International, Inc. Accessed 23 April 2016. http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2016/04/19/Why-this-protester-is-blaming-Clinton- for-the-murder-of-a-Honduran-activist/8981460996811/
Webber, Jeffery R., and Todd Gordon. 2013. “Post-Coup Honduras: Latin America’s Corridor of Reaction.” Historical Materialism 21, no. 3: 16-56. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 24, 2016).
Womack, John Jr. (1999). Rebellion in Chiapas an historical reader. New York: The New Press.

Sanders Campaign, Apathetic Youth, and Grumpy Old Me.

Sunday, February 28th, 2016


From Brecorder.com- Bernie Sanders Presidential Candidate.

I almost never post here anymore. School, work and my granddaughter are eating up my time. But I thought I would take some of my homework time to make a couple of comments. Perhaps it was watching The Big Short that got me fired up, or the work doing get out the vote calling for the Bernie Sanders campaign today. Whatever the reason, I am writing some of my observations on the current scene around me.

Once I got the hang of the automated dial system, I did pretty good calling to get out the vote for Sanders. Mostly I skipped the script and got to the point. I hate it when people read from scripts and so I didn’t feel like subjecting anyone to my version of the same. More Sanders supporters answered than Hillary supporters, fewer Republicans than I expected and lots of no answers since it was Saturday evening. I found myself encouraging people to go to the caucuses or primaries, no matter who they supported. Interestingly there was only one outspoken Trump supporter in the batch and only one lady lectured me on the evils of socialism. America truly does seem more liberal, or at least more frustrated with the system than four years ago. I think the failure of the Obama administration to gain significant headway has broiled over into the public at large. The copays on Obama care are too high, the wages are still stagnant, and youth unemployment is way too high.

Having my stepdaughter living with me has made me very aware of the levels of youth unemployment, that being around the relatively privileged student population at the university hasn’t. She is out of work, all of her friends are out of work or have marginal Mc Jobs. The worst part is the total lack of interest in participation in the political process. They have bought into the radical critique of the Occupy movement but they are totally apathetic in terms of doing anything about it. The same goes for the students, although not to the same degree. I spent a long five minutes in my Political Geography class lecturing kids on how things haven’t changed as much as they would like, because of the same generalized sense of malaise and despair over their personal ability to make a difference. It was a bit shocking actually.

Well I beat my head against the wall with my step daughter and her friends, but they just seem to want to hang out, smoke pot and joke around. I guess on a superficial level my generation was the same from an outside perspective, but we were fired up with ideals of revolution. Much of the changes we fought for have become part of their daily life and they just accept, liberal pot laws, racial tolerance and sexual diversity as normal. On the other hand I do find anti-homeless attitudes that I find inexplicable. My step daughter even approves of the gentrification of downtown LA, even though it meant that her former boyfriend could no longer afford to live there. She didn’t get connection between Whole Foods entering the neighborhood and the increased rents. Explanations of the dynamics of the situation on my part simply go over her head. I have actually had comments from her friends that I am spreading negative vibes. That sort of no-nothingism, has led me to the unhappy conclusion that all this easy access to pot is supporting an apathetic view that I find alarming. These kids are not getting high and dreaming of revolution. I am not sure what they dream of. Based on what I overhear of their conversations it is not of a particularly high intellectually stimulating order.

OK, I can hear it now, gramps is getting grumpy. I hear my irrelevance reflected in the incomprehension to my attempts at giving them political analysis. When I turn on CSPAN or a documentary about current events, on the TV in the living room they put on the ear plugs and turn up the volume of the latest Britney Spears tune on their iPods. Funny all these jobless broke kids have iPhones and recently I discovered that there is a thriving black market in stolen and second hand Apple products that these kids participate in. In fact it seems that they live in a third world like cash and barter economy. Most of them have little or no ID, don’t have driving licenses, take services like Uber or the disdained public transit, and seem to all have food stamps, but they don’t cook! My step daughter loves to buy overpriced organic junk food from Whole Foods. I tell her at least go to Trader Joes or Ralphs where the stuff is less expensive and the owner’s political views are not quite so fascistic. She likes the atmosphere, when she shops at Whole Foods she says she feels like she is part of the young healthy and successful. Explaining that that is simply a marketing ploy on the part of Whole Foods does not work, rational decision making is not her strong suit or seemingly something that any of her friends indulge in. They hang out, some at the Hare Krishna temple, and wait, for what I am not sure, but they seem pretty fatalistic about their prospects.

I don’t exactly live the life of a middle class success story. In fact I try to use my life as a warning as to what not to do with your life as I am spending my late working life trying to catch up and stash a little savings while I still can. The Revolution didn’t happen and as things stand it looks like our Socialist Vanguard in Bernie Sanders is about to get crushed in the Democratic machine’s super delegate insurance policy that a truly populist candidate can be crushed before it can capture the nomination. I am less optimistic than I wish I could be about the prospects for change. But people are pissed and even if these kids are not part of the solution, I do hope that eventually they become uncomfortable enough to desire more. My step daughter made the comment that she would support a candidate that gave her free child care for her daughter. I told her that both Clinton and Sanders had polices to expand just that, but she had to participate in the struggle to make the changes happen, not wait for it to be handed too her as a given. I don’t know if she got it. But perhaps the discomfort of being a single parent will eventually prod her into activism. The lack of jobs, or the hassle getting her GED, or the fact that she and most of her friends are in their mid-twenties with few prospects may prod them reluctantly into action.

Perhaps, like during Occupy, enough of them will become inspired. They don’t pay enough attention to the political process to catch the Burn, even though I have Bernie Sanders signs, bumper stickers, tee shirt and buttons all over the apartment. One can hope something will get them going. Sometimes I wish we had another Vietnam War, now that was a great motivator, the Draft and an ugly war in a faraway jungle. Right now the military is something to aspire too for these kids. But then that is the general idea. No prospects, the military can pick and choose its cannon fodder. But that is another conversation.

Mary Shelley’s Radical Sentiments

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Mary Shelley’s Revolutionary Sentiment and Liberal Positivism
Questions about Mary Shelley’s commitment to the radical causes of her youth, and whether or not she was a critic of technology, come up in an examination of some of the differences between the 1818 edition and the 1831 edition of Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus. I shall examine aspects of the relationship of the Shelley’s and their contemporaries, to developments in technology. Reading the letters of Mary Shelley, pertinent critical literature and its relevance to Shelley, I shall examine aspects of her changing perspective over time, including material from the book Frankenstein, but I shall focus on her letters. From my reading I shall propose that Mary Shelley maintained an interest in politics, remained true to what she called “the Cause,” in an abbreviation among her friends, in letters, for the cause of freedom and democracy. Her perspective on technology seems more complicated. She places her story of Dr. Frankenstein in the context of the technological advancements of the day, and seems to have maintained some interest. Percy Shelley writes in the “Preface,” to Frankenstein, “The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed by Dr. Darwin [Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin] and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence.” Her later novel, The Last Man (1826), reflects an apocalyptic world epidemic leaving one survivor, but her personal writings are not full of scientific stories, they rather reflect domestic concerns, financial matters, informed short commentaries on current politics, and work of her own writing or the writing of her husband or her friends. Thus, it is my contention that Mary Shelley’s perspective changed. However, it was not a transformation from a flaming revolutionary to conservative. Wordsworth for example, whose change, Percy Shelley laments in his early poem On Wordsworth:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty, -
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
Mary Shelly rather maintained an early position of supporting political and the liberation of the human spirt represented in her husband’s view of the Promethean spirt. Regarding science though, her youthful fascination seems to move in a darker direction in story form, but in personal writing, she has little to say about the factory system as the industrialization process proceeded. Shelly shows an abiding interest in reform as her letters to Robert Dale Owen, son of Robert Owen and Frances Wright, indicate. Owen was involved in his father’s New Harmony commune in Indiana and together with Frances Wright edited a socialist publication. They were major activists in the New York Workingmen’s Party. Mary Shelley wrote to Frances Wright a letter dated December 30th 1830, “I have felt timid at the idea of intruding myself upon one, whose noble mind is filled with such vast interests … amidst all your enthusiasm for the Cause, … the case seems to stand thus-The people will be redressed-will the Aristocrats sacrifice enough to tranquilize them-if they will not-we must be revolutionized…” Clearly, she has codified the language of socialism, industrial progress, and enfranchisement, into the simple phrase, ”the Cause.” Perhaps it was Frances Wright’s self-evident activism that elicited this response from Mary Shelley. Frances Wright had traveled to America with Lafayette on his farewell tour in 1824, where she was able to meet Thomas Jefferson, at whose home she spent a day engaged in discourse. In 1825 Frances Wright had embarked on an effort to free slaves by allowing them to work for their freedom in a community she established outside of Memphis, Tennessee called Nashoba. This is from a letter to her by Thomas Jefferson discussing her experiment to free slaves via labor:
I am cheared when I see that on which it is devolved, taking it up with so much good will, and such mind engaged in it’s encoragement. the abolition of the evil is not impossible: it ought never therefore to be despaired of. every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object. that which you propose is well worthy of tryal. it has succeeded with certain portions of our white brethren, under the care of a Rapp and an Owen; and why may it not succeed with the man of colour?
Regarding Shelley’s interest in technology, as Richard Holmes argues in The Age of Wonder, two conceptions of science predominated in the Romantic period; one was that of the “solitary scientific ‘genius,’ thirsting and reckless for knowledge, for its own sake and perhaps at any cost.” Secondly the concept of the “Eureka moment, the intuitive inspired instant of invention or discovery, for which no amount of preparation or preliminary analysis can really prepare….this became the ‘fire from heaven’ of Romanticism.” Mary Shelley fulfilled these romantic dictums in her own creation of the tale, ‘willing to boldly go where no man has gone before,’ to borrow the theme from that old television series Star Trek, or as Mary Shelly sets the task for herself, “a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beating of the heart.” That was the task she set herself, to outdo the band of celebrated geniuses with her own tale. Second, the Eureka moment, “Swiftly as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. ‘I have found it!’” Shelley, writing within the tropes established in the Gothic novel, establishes both her interest in the sciences and in following the literary norms of her circles, with an avid interest in current developments and their influence upon society She maintained the social interest through her life, in radical republicanism, even if her interest in science in later letters is not as evident, her following of the Owenite experiments and the activities of her friend in America, Frances Wright indicate at least an interest in the developments in industrialism and attempts to mitigate the negative impact of it upon the workers.
Silvia Bowerbank noted, “Mary Wollstonecraft, and her husband, Percy Shelley, were committed defenders of the radical perspective. In 1816-1819, when she wrote Frankenstein, Mary consciously shared their viewpoint.” By the 1830’s Mary Shelly was writing in her Journal:
“With regards to ‘the good cause’ –the cause of the advancement of freedom and knowledge, of the rights of women, &c.-I am not a person of opinions … Some have a passion for reforming the world; others do not cling to particular opinions. That my parents and Shelley were of the former class, makes me respect it … I do not feel that I could say aught to support the cause efficiently.”
As has been seen above, she was also writing incendiary material in her letters. I would think that she had good and bad days, due to the vicissitudes of life. From personal experience in the late twentieth century American radical left, I can identify with those feelings.
Mary Shelley’s world shaped by the death of her radical feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft shortly after her birth, in 1797, and her disagreeable relationship with her stepmother after her equally radical father, William Godwin, remarried. She met Percy Shelley who was part of the circle of intellectuals drawn to her father, Godwin author of Enquiry into the Principals of Political Justice, among many other works promoting the radical concept of the Necessary, more of which below. Shelley and Mary studied the works of her parents, including A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by her mother. As a teenager, Mary was struggling to find her place in a world in which she had the privilege to be among some of the most brilliant minds of her day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge reading Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, which shows up in Frankenstein in the second letter of Walton to his sister. Walton assuages her fears for his safety in his attempt to reach the North Pole and seek a polar passage to the Orient by telling her he will kill no albatross. The explorer character in Frankenstein, Walton, makes a telling observation “I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of the ocean to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets.”
This commentary on Coleridge who had by the time of the writing of Frankenstein, long split with his youthful enthusiasm for the French revolutionary materialism, and the circle around Godwin in which he had participated in his youth, who, like Shelley could have called himself “a compleat Necessitarian” following Godwin. The principal of necessity, which essentially states that man learns from experience not from reasoning, originally David Hume’s concept, was developed by William Godwin in his Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, and promoted by Shelley in Queen Mab. Coleridge, having doubts about the materialist approach believed “authority could not derive from a knowledge of space and time.” The ambivalence of Coleridge and his move to a more conservative position in the first decade of the nineteenth century may have influenced Mary Shelley to move away from the idealism of her husband to a more nuanced view. Certainly, Coleridge was a major influence, as Michelle Levy notes in her study “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley,” sharing with her certain “tension between their attraction to stories of the unknown and their repulsion by the effects of unbridled exploration.” However, to counter that view, I could not find any personal correspondence between Shelly and Coleridge, thus perhaps as an elder member of the first generation of the great English branch of the revolutionary fervor in the 1790’s in which her father and mother had been major players.
Coleridge had lectured in 1795 warning against imperial expansion, and the pernicious effects of the slave trade on the English as Levy writes, “Coleridge bitterly laments that both Englishman and slave alike have been cruelly ‘torn from the bleeding breast of domestic affection.’” The concern for domestic tranquility destroyed reflected in Frankenstein, first in the abandonment of his creation by Victor who observed, “his jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks.” This was the behavior of an infant reaching to touch his parent. “He might have spoken, I did not hear; one hand stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.” The wretch experiences abandonment, it would be interesting to discover child abandonment statistics for London of the period. But also in Walton’s insistence on reaching the North Pole at the expense of his own crew, and in the exploitation of the individual as Victor destroys his own heath, nursed back to heath by Clerval after creating the wretch, Shelley gives examples of irresponsible behavior, considered part of the cost of science. Victor in his last throws before perishing makes his final recommendation to Walton his companion in the Romantic version of the scientist/adventurer “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.” Percy Shelley said in his own review of his wife’s work speaking of the injustices suffered by the wretch:
Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; - let one being selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind – divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations – malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that, too often in society, those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart, into a scourge and a curse.”
There is further indication of an interest in science on the part of both Shelley and Mary as is exhibited by the note in her “Author’s Introduction” to Frankenstein in the 1831 edition. Writing of the conversations between Shelley and Lord Byron in Switzerland, she states, “Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.” This essentially mechanical process based on her understanding of the cutting-edge science of the times. It reflected her confluence of the differing theories of material or spiritual creation.
Galvanism, the use of the newly invented voltaic battery to run an electrical current through the legs of frogs by Luigi Galvani an Italian scientist, had been followed up by experiments in London by Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini in which he dramatically reanimated a recently hanged man, in 1803. Sharon Ruston, in her article for the British Library, “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” writes of the hanged man, a certain George Foster, “Onlookers report that Foster’s eye opened, his right hand was raised and clenched, and his legs moved.” The other matter mentioned by Shelley is vital warmth, which was part of the debate over whether humans were the sum of their parts or animated by a vital force, or vitalism promoted by John Abernathy, Coleridge’s doctor, who held the Professorship in Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons. Percy Shelley’s doctor and protégé of Dr. Abernathy, William Lawrence, took umbrage with that concept and promoted the materialistic conception of man. Lawrence had studied in Europe with the noted ‘German physiologists’ mentioned by Percy Shelly in the very first line of the 1818 preface. In a famous series of lectures between 1816 and 1820, the two doctors argued over the issue, Holmes on the debate says Lawrence “claimed that the development of this physiological organization [of the human body] could be observed unbroken ‘from an oyster to a man.’” Lawrence, influenced the Shelley’s views on the subject is a reasonable speculation, Mary had already been taken to see the great chemist, Humphry Davy’s lectures on chemistry in 1812 by her father. Davy’s words from an 1802 lecture, which Coleridge attended, almost verbatim as the words of M. Waldman in his introductory lecture so influential upon Victor:
We do not look to distant ages, or amuse ourselves with brilliant, though delusive dreams, concerning the infinite improvability of man, the annihilation of labour, disease, and even death. But we reason by analogy from simple facts. We consider only a state of human progression arising out of present conditions. We look for a time that we may reasonably expect, for a bright day of which we already behold the dawn.”
Returning to Shelley, “’The ancient teachers of this science,’ said he, ‘promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; but they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera.” He goes on to celebrate the potential of chemistry and science that captures the imagination of Victor. In the original 1818 version Victor goes on to join the professor after class and it seems to be a victory for science. In the 1831 edition, the paragraph inserted in which Victor says, “Such were the professors words – rather let me say such the words of fate – enounced to destroy me.” At that point the issue comes up, was Mary Shelley back tracking and taking a more conservative position regarding her radicalism. Was Shelley, as Edward Oakes says, “The claim is often made that the changes Mary Shelley made in the 1831 edition indicated both a loss of nerve and the intrusion of extraneous theological exculpation from the alleged materialist blasphemies of the 1818 edition.”
Shelley’s letters, especially those from the period around the time of the publication of the second edition, and reading her introductions to the 1839 edition of The Collected Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, give a clearer idea as to her public and private views. Reading this material has led me to conclude that Shelley although beset by financial woes, and expressing a certain modesty in terms of her ability to hold opinions regarding issues of the day, was actually fairly outspoken and quite savvy regarding the economics of the publishing industry, as well as the state of affairs in England and the progressive cause. Consideration to the possibility that Shelley, by the time she wrote the 1831 author’s introduction, was affected by the trauma of the loss of three children and her husband or that as Anne Mellor states Shelley’s “obsessive need to idealize her husband and the bourgeois family, the results of which are overly sentimental rhetoric and implausible plot resolutions.” Reading through Mary Shelley’s notes, in the text of the 1839-revised edition of The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the example of Queen Mab, is rather edifying. Mary Shelley writes “In the former edition certain portions were left out, as shocking the general reader from the violence of their attack on religion. I myself had a painful felling that such erasures might be looked upon as a mark of disrespect towards the author, and am glad to have the opportunity of restoring them.” Mary did not have an original copy of Queen Mab. In the process of hunting down a copy over the course of December 1838 and January 1839, she queries friends on their thoughts, in a letter dated December 11, 1838 to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, she writes:
The book seller (Moxton) has suggested leaving out the 6th and 7th parts as to shocking and atheistical. What do you say? I don’t like mutilations - & would not leave out a word in favor of liberty. But I have no partiality to irreligion & much doubt the benefit of disputing the existence of the Creator – give me your opinion.”
The lines were not included. Edward Moxton’s concerned over his copyright, which he could lose if the lines were considered blasphemous in a court of law. Reviews in several publications were critical of her, one in The Spectator, claimed her preface to be “a panegyric rather than a judgement.” Resulting from this criticism and letters from friends and acquaintances of her late husband, she decided to request that Moxton include the verses in the second edition later that year. The book seller did and was subsequently convicted but received no punishment. This might be a sign of caution, or as a sign of her being willing to do the right thing. Mary Shelley writes in “Note to Queen Mab,” that Percy “did not in his youth look forward to gradual improvement: nay, in those days of intolerance, now almost forgotten, it seemed as easy to look forward to the sort of millennium of freedom and brotherhood which he thought the proper state of mankind as to the present reign of moderation and improvement.” In the more liberal climate of 1839, the government would go through the motions of following the letter of the law but Shelley no longer considered threatening, even though it was quite evident there were many people who cared about his legacy.
Further, in 1830, just before the publication of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly wrote to General Lafayette, of the American Revolutionary fame, leader of the radical faction after the 1830 revolution in Paris:
How does every heart in Europe respond to the mighty voice, which spoke in your Metropolis, biding the world to be free… May England imitate your France in its moderation and heroism. There is great hope that any change operated among us will originate with the government. I was the wife of a man who – held dear the opinions you espouse, to which you were the martyr and are the ornament.
What I found interesting was the repetition here of what her husband had said that in the review of her book, Frankenstein, paraphrasing Percy Shelley’s the line about being benefactors and ornaments. Clearly, she had this in mind, whether General Lafayette would have understood the reference is conjectural, but he certainly would understand the meaning. This also indicates Shelly’s awareness and advocacy of the liberal position in English politics. At the time, there was a big push for the passage of the Reform Acts, which did pass in 1832, suppressing the rotten boroughs, and giving the franchise to many of the town dwellers. In 1828, the Test and Corporation acts were repealed, no longer requiring Protestant dissenters to take the Anglican sacrament to become representatives of town councils. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 did the same thing. This series of acts constituted the peaceful overthrow of the ancient regime. As Frank O’Gorman states in his The Long Eighteenth Century, the Anglican church “was simply unable to establish hegemonic presence in the new industrial towns.” Shelley was aware of the changing political and social environment; technological change had been part of the transformation that Percy and Mary Shelley desired. They had embraced technological innovation and the liberating tendencies this represented in secularism and the expansion of human understanding of how the natural world worked. For them it was part of a greater movement to human liberation and liberty. The development on the part of Mary Shelley towards a radical view seems to have stopped with the passage of the Reform Act. She must have been aware of radical publishers in the Chartist circles such as Richard Carlyle who in his publication Sherwin’s Political Register published excerpts from Chartist supporters Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Pirated copies of Queen Mab, which had been in print since 1821 had become what “George Bernard Shaw referred to it as the ‘Bible’ of Chartism.”
Although at the end of her life Mary Shelly was concerned with legacy, and that may have propelled some of her statements, she does not seem to have given up on the cause of liberty. She seems to have had, like Coleridge reservations about the elimination of a creator, certainly, she was more interested in human liberty than the abstract, and seems to have followed political developments and maintained her interest in affairs of the world perhaps in spite of her personal life distresses, which are also represented in her letter. She seems more to be on the side of the angels in the struggle for human emancipation. I do not think Mary Shelley saw technology as evil, but the technicians who misapplied it as so. I will end with the final words of Victor Frankenstein “Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”

Works Cited
Bederman, Gail. “Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818– 1826.” Am Lit Hist (Fall 2005) 17 (3): 438-459. Accessed June 26, 2015. Doi: 10.1093/alh/aji025.
Bennett, Betty T. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1983.
— “Review of volume I.” In The Spectator 12. 552, January 26, 1839. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, [41 d Park Street] 11th Feb-[1839].” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 309-310. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To Edward Moxton 41 d Park St. 5 March 1839.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 311-312. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Bowerbank, Silvia. “The Social Order VS The Wretch: Mary Shelley’s Contradictory- Mindedness in Frankenstein.” ELH, 46.3 (1979): 418-431. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872688.
Evans III, Frank B. “Shelley, Godwin, Hume, and the Doctrine of Necessity.” Studies in Philology 37. 4 (1940): 632-640. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4172506.
Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder. New York: Vintage Books. 2010.
Jefferson, Thomas. “From Thomas Jefferson to Frances Wright, 7 August 1825.” Founders Online, National Archives. Accessed June 28, 2015. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-5449.
Kipperman, Mark. “Coleridge, Shelley, Davy, and Science’s Millennium.” Criticism, 40.3 (1998), 409-436. Accessed June 19, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23124249.
Levy, Michelle. “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 44. 4 (2004), 693-713. Accessed June 19, 2015. http://muse.jhu.edu.ezproxy.library./csulb.edujournals/studies_in_english_literature/v044 /44.4levy.pdf.
Mellor, Anne K. “Making a Monster.” In Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretation Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Updated Edition, edited by Harold Bloom. 43-59. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007. Originally published in Anne. K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. (New York: Routledge, 1989).
Miller, Walter James. Forward: The Future of Frankenstein to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, v-xviii. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.
Oakes, Edward T. “Vitalism, Promethean Science, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture. 16, 4 (2013), 56-77. Accessed June, 21, 2015. DOI: 10.1353/log.2013.0036.
O’Gorman, Frank. The Long Eighteenth Century, British Political & Social History 1688- 1832. London: Hodder Arnold, 1997.
“Robert Dale Owen American politician and social reformer.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Copyright 2015. Accessed June 21, 2015. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert- Dale-Owen.
Ruston, Sharon. “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. London: The British Library. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-science-of-life-and-death- in-mary-shelleys-frankenstein.
Scriven, Tom. “Humor, Satire, and Sexuality in the Culture of Chartism.” The Historical Journal, 57.1,2014. accessed June 28, 2015, 157-178. DOI: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.library.csulb.edu/10.1017/S0018246X13000186.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Signet Classic. 2000.
— “Author’s Introduction.” In Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxi-xxvi. New York: Signet Classic, 2000
— “Note on Queen Mab.” In The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, notes by Mary Shelley. 850-854. New York: The Modern Library, 1992.
— “To Frances Wright, 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 30 Dec. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by. Betty T. Bennett, 123-125. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
— “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838,” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths.” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To General Lafayette London 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 11 Nov. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 117-118. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Preface to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxvii-xxviii. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.
— “On Frankenstein.” In The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol.1. edited by Richard Hearne Shepherd, 417-419. London: Chatto & Windus, 1906. Accessed June 20, 2015, http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2581 Facsimile PDF.

Burford’s Arcadia: Ancient Greek Agriculture, Slavery and Democracy

Monday, May 4th, 2015

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Image: Berlin Foundry Cup,Foundry Painter, Red figure kylix, c. 490
From lecture podcast on Ancient Greek Slavery by Dr Gillian Shepherd
http://podcast.blogs.latrobe.edu.au/2014/05/06/lecture-slavery-in-ancient-greece/

Below is a book review written for my Classics class on Ancient Greek History I had fun writing it but had to edit it down for the class. Perhaps I will post the long version at a later point in time. I focus on the issue of slavery in the ancient Greek world as well as agriculture and the creation of the classical Greek demos.

Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Allison Burford’s study of the ancient Greek agricultural world is based primarily on the extant ancient literary sources with some reference to archeological research, epigraphic and papyrus material as well as numerous secondary sources. As she states in the preface, Burford has not written an exhaustive reference work on the legal and technical aspects of land ownership, nor is it a statistical study of land tenure and agricultural practices over the course of the period, roughly the Eighth through the Second centuries BCE (Burford, ix). Basing her study upon a suggestion by M. I. Finley, she examines aspects of ancient Greek agricultural practices (x). The author argues that Greek civilization was based in agriculture and the ability to find free time from agricultural labor to via the labor of others, indicating that chattel slavery in Athens, and the institution of helotry in Sparta, for example provided much of the means for this freedom (1-3). She focuses more on the fundamental relationship between town and country emphasizing that agriculture concerned much of the population’s interest (3, 10). She also argues that the farming practices described in Hesiod’s Works and Days, were essentially the same as those of the time of Xenophon in his Oeconomicus written some three centuries apart, negating much of the idea of a transition from pastoralism, or the concept of an agricultural revolution in the Fifth century BCE (8-9, Morris, 1294). For Burford “the Classical city-state is, then, the developed image of the early community, not an entirely different creature” (12). Burford is interested in showing the continuity of the dependence upon agriculture and how it shaped ancient Greek civilization (12).
Alison Burford Cooper published studies in ancient social and economic history, including The Greek Temple Builders at Epidaurus (1969), Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (1972), and Land and Labor in the Greek World (1993). Born in England, she read Classics at Cambridge University. After teaching at the University of Nebraska and the University of North Carolina–Asheville, she and her husband Guy L. Cooper retired in Ann Arbor (Cooper, 1). The work under consideration, written near the end of her academic career seems to sum up her position regarding the importance of agriculture in the ancient Greek world building upon the work primarily of M. I. Finley.
Burford describes the dependence upon domestic food production and anxiety over the annual harvest as being primary to the Greek economy and civilization (Burford 2-3). She describes agriculture outside of Attica and Athens, especially descriptions of the Spartan system, but because of the dearth of literary source material, her focus is primarily, almost necessarily, upon Athens and Attica. She goes into some detail on the types of agricultural practices, division of land between productive agricultural and the more marginal upland where grazing occurred. She asserts that it was the exchange of surpluses locally and not dependence on international trade, even in Athens, except briefly during the Imperial period, was the driving force of daily life and policy of ancient Greeks (3).
Burford focuses on the mechanisms of land ownership, asserting that the state had overriding concerns and that the polis could and would intervene in private ownership, calling the polis “proprietor in chief of all landed assets within its boundaries” (16). This was true in Athens as well as the more obvious case of Sparta. She goes into some detail on efforts to make land distribution among citizens equal, not only in the new colonies but within the polis, citing Aristotle among others and examples from city states besides Athens (28). She then discusses the actual inequality of land distribution and the “concept of ‘ancestral portions’” asserting that the relationship between families and their land as going back to the foundations of communities and the preservation of the oikos through the “assured transfer of inheritance within the family, preferably from father to son” (29, 34-35). The legal dispute over distribution of the estate of one Hagnias of Athens, who had no children, became a multigenerational affair involving increasingly distant relations, to me indicates the power of families in property rights and privileges of the citizens within the context of the polis, whereas Burford sees the fact of intervention on the part of the courts as an indication of state power (43-45). Litigation rather than blood feuds is an advance of sorts.
She goes into some discussion of the position of the female inheritors, the epikleros who “had no independent rights to property,” but essentially used as a means of insuring that property stayed within the greater family or oikos to the extent that a male relative designated to marry an epikleros, had to divorce his existing spouse (46). Burford sees this as an indication that the community was more concerned with maintaining the stability of the oikos as the basis for the polis, citing Solon’s law providing for the dowry of an epikleroi with no estate by proscribing that the members of the pentakosiomedimnoi provide for epikleroi of the thetes within a family group (47). It seems to me that the state control of property is exaggerated and the families of the oligarchs still seem to have undue influence in the countryside even after the reforms of Solon as I will discuss further.
For the most part Greeks rejected feudal like peasantry an unacceptable status, one of being subservient to a greater lord, as was the case in Athens when Solon abolished indentured servitude. Defining helotry as feudal peasantry, according to Burford is not helpful, although I personally did not clearly understand the distinction she was trying to make other than to insure that readers would not look to medieval equivalency (85-86). The popular rebellion against indentured servitude by the citizens led directly or indirectly to the increased slavery of foreigners in Athens in my mind.
M.I. Finley’s contention that Athenian democracy was a result of chattel slavery, is taken up by Burford with her initial assertion that “chattel slavery became concomitant of radical democracy, and at the same time many landowners took a hand in working their own land” (3). Michael Jameson, agreeing with De Ste Croix, says “one might almost say that in the ancient world there was no true freedom without slavery” (Jameson, 122). Finley asserts that large scale agriculture of the wealthy classes was largely undertaken by slaves, including the overseers, indicates in my mind an oligarchic reaction to labor cost increases and the desire for control (Finley, Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor, 149).
Burford argues that in “Attica as in Chios and numerous other places, chattel slavery became the most important form of labor, not because the pelatai or thetes, the ‘nearby dependents,’ were reduced to slavery but because they were emancipated” (Burford, 209). This is an important point, as Finley points out using the analogy of the USA slave states before the American Civil War, he notes that three quarters of the land owners in the south had not connection to slavery and were small holders, yet close to one third of the population in the slave states were slaves, whereas in Classical Greece the practice of slave holding was more widespread (Finely, Was Greek Civilization, 151). Burford, discussing Attica, believes that the reforms of Solon reduced the availability of easily coercible labor, increasing the dependence on chattel slavery (Burford, 209). Burford cites Homer’s story of Eumaeus (Od. 15.415-84), Odysseus’ swineherd who had been kidnapped by Phoenician traders and sold into slavery as an example of piracy as a source of slaves as well as an example of the prevalence of slavery (Burford, 208). The question of Athens increased participation in the slave trade as a driver of empire, especially mass collusion versus resistance on the part of the thetes is an interesting issue. Were the oarsmen active slavers?
Contrasting Burford’s decidedly landlocked views on the shaping of Greek civilization are the views of those who would emphasize trade and naval power especially during the period of the Athenian Thalassocracy. Ian Morris, in his review of Burford, claims she doesn’t give enough weight to the “new model” of Greek agriculture with a shift to a market orientation Athens in the Fifth century BCE (Morris, Review, 1294). John Hale in his Lords of the Sea claims that without the navy there would not have developed the extreme form of Athenian democracy, the degree of democratization was due to the dependence of the Athenian Navy upon the urban poor for oarsmen (Hale, xxvii). David Lewis notes that trade with Barbarian parts of the world was required to maintain the extensive slave population required in the Athenian economy (Lewis, 91). This would tend to support the contention that there were economic drivers to the expansion of the Athenian Empire. Lewis considers the Greek Comedies as rich source of information on Greek attitudes about slavery; Aristophanes Scythian archers, the slave police force of Athens, are prominent in Lysistrata (Lewis, 100; Findley, Was Greek Civilization, 152; Lis. 15-24). Burford gives little if any information about the complexity of the relationship between overseas trade, slavery and agriculture.
I think that exploring further the implications of the slave trade and the economic basis of the more industrial aspects of Athenian agriculture in particular would have been helpful as Jameson points out the locus of slavery in Athens, unlike the more feudal like conditions in Sparta, where helotry actually inhibited urbanization similar in some ways to the American pre-civil war south, rather he points to slavery as being indicative of the importance of Athens as a trade and industrial center (Jameson, 123). One could be tempted to see the relative sympathy of the Oligarchs in Athens to the Spartans due to a confluence of interest in maintaining a lucrative slave market, with Nicias having some one thousand in the silver mines alone, the would have been sufficient economic reasons for a convergence of interest (Finley, Was Greek Civilization, 149). Aristophanes reminded his audience of the Athenian rescue of Sparta from the helots, (even if this was fictional, it would seem to have been a popular fiction) “Then Cimon went, taking four thousand infantry, /and saved the whole of Lacedaemon for your state,” indicating a resounding normalcy of slavery in Athens making a keener focus on the nature of dependence on slavery to be of even more interest (Lys. 42).
As the entire world population at least until the nineteenth century was primarily agricultural, and much of that of a subsistence nature, Burford’s focus on what the majority of the population did for a living is a good idea. D.W. Rathbone, reviewing Burford, is critical of the lack of focus on the growth of monetization, or any exposition of the field surveys and excavations of rural sites in more than a cursory manner (Rathbone, 330-331), to which I would add lack of geographic and topographic imagery in the form of maps, charts or photographic information, is to be regretted. Stylianos Spyridakis although largely praising her work, found the omission of evidence for a stronger case to be made for wealth generation outside of the purely agricultural sphere, pointing to trade in particular (Spyridakis, 107). Overall the impression is that Burford certainly went to great pains and into great detail to prove her point as to the rural nature of the Greek economy, but it presents a relatively static view of Greek agriculture. The book presents a massive amount of research mainly from the literary sources. The author tends to focus on detailed information giving the impression of a relatively static rural society over the time period with Hesiod and Homer side by side with Xenophon and Aristotle, where things happen, but there is not the focus on trends in population pressure, climatic conditions, the slave trade, etc. that would create a more dynamic model of the Greek world as it relates to the natural systems and practices of the populace over time. The book provoked a desire in this reader for more statistical data to verify the literary sources.
Works Cited
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Translation and introduction by Donald Sutherland. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1961.
Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Cooper, Alison Burford. “Feasting and Fasting in Classical Greece.” Repast Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. 20. 4. 2004.
Finley, M. I. “Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor?” Historia: Zeitshrift fur Alte Geschichte, 8.2 (1959): 145-164.
Finley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Updated Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999.
Hale, John R. Lords of the Sea The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. New York: Viking Penguin. 2009.
Jameson, Michael J. “Agriculture and Slavery in Classical Athens.” The Classical Journal. 73. 2 (1977- 1978): 122-145.
Lewis, David. “Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories.” Classical Quarterly, 61.1 (2011): 91-113.
Morris, Ian. “Forward.” The Ancient Economy. Updated edition, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999. ix-xxxvi.
Morris, Ian. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” The American Historical Review, 99.4 (1994): 1293- 1294.
Rathbone, D. W. “Burford, A. ‘Land and Labor in the Greek World’ (Book Review).” Classical Review, 44.2 (1994): 330.
Spyridakis, Stylianos. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” Agricultural History, 68.1 (1994): 106-107.

April Easter Meditations: Myth of Progress

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Moai Statues on Easter Island.
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I am feeling inspired this morning. Well perhaps inspiration is too strong a term, let me just say I am awake. It started at 4:38 AM and at that ungodly hour I awoke, thinking I was late for work, checked the time, and then remembered it was Sunday. Instead of falling back in to slumber land, I pondered, rather than feel existential anxiety over my piddling fate, I was struck by the big WHY question. Why now, why me, what is the purpose of all this. Perhaps it was because of a lingering sense of duty to adhere to some normative relationship to the great Christian holiday ensuing in the world around me, or perhaps it was because the last comment I made to a fellow human being before drifting off into the land of Nod, was how I thought the whole Easter business was nonsense but entertaining for humans in need of reassurance that their lives had meaning, whatever the reason, I found myself facing the eternity abyss without panic or defensive humor, simple wonderment was sufficient.

Ruminating over the Ancient Greeks whom I have been studying of late, especially thinking about how complex and modern seeming their society was, although watching a National Theatre Production of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers, emphasized the alien nature of Greek drama, what with the masks and chorus, but overall the Greeks seemed to be a pretty sophisticated bunch. Trying to follow the ins and outs of an ancient law suit Haginas Versus Haginas, to borrow the name from modern legal terminology, I was amazed at how tenaciously a group of fairly distant relatives battled over the estate of an ancestor who died without progeny to inherit the property, which was mostly agricultural land as described in Alison Burford’s book Land and Labor in the Greek World (Burford, 43-45).

I don’t know if the persistence of wrangling over property is a sign of advanced civilization, but it certainly is a sign of consistency in human endeavor. Artistically there seems to be evidence of a progression from geometric oriental influenced art to idealized human forms degenerating into naturalistic kitsch, or so the classical art historians would have us believe with their fetish for 5th Century Greek formalism, mostly surviving in Roman copies, which to my mind speaks more to nineteenth century European elite than ancient Greek taste. Which brings me to my question of the day, why did technology take off so grandly in the modern epoch? If humanity is not measurably more intelligent than before, except perhaps in the sense that more of us have the luxury of not having to work as physical drudges than before, it is not clear to me that all this excess brain power is feeding into the greater wisdom of the species, unless Youtube cat videos count as adding to the enlightenment of which we are the alleged beneficiaries. In truth, as ever was, the spark of genius that lies within, is only allowed so much physical candle power before it burns out all the moths that gather round its heated light.

Am I condemning us all to perpetual ignorance? No only to perpetual indulgence in phantasies of progress. The Hegelian in me rebels against such pessimism, but when I look at the past, I am amazed at the sophistication and complexity I see and my sense of the present day as having advanced is replaced with the concept that we have merely changed focus. By indulging in spending so much of the planetary resources in a brief incandescent moment of technological fixes, are we creating an enduring base for a vastly superior golden age to come, or merely depleting our resources in some recreation o Easter Island systemic collapse on a grand scale as Jared Diamond describes in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed(Diamond, 79-119). I am just as suspicious of fads in doom and gloom as I am of eternal optimism. We may be on the Titanic, but oh, how glamorous our departure into the depths. Perhaps some future civilization will write a Homeric epic on the fall of oil based technological civilization as the ancient bard wrote of Troy falling to the barbaric Greeks. It is hard to imagine aircraft carriers launching jet fighters and rockets red glare with solar and wind power. On the other hand in a collapse, these would probably be the last hold outs of the technology of the children of the Enlightenment as we moderns are.

Okay there I go again with my pessimism. But it is Easter Sunday, at least according to the revised Gregorian calendar, and we are here to celebrate a renewal of life, a second chance as it were. We, the people of the world, choking in our oil petrochemical waste, plasticizing our oceans as we are, eating organic produce wrapped in petrochemical products, etc, are we hell bent on removing the possibility of redemption simply because we have so clogged the arteries of divine cleansing that we are insensible to its effects? Divine cleansing, as if the divine could be reduced to a detergent, Mr. Clean genii popping out of another bag of tricks to provide us with an escape, just in the nick of time from our own childish refusal to see that over our shoulders there are dues to pay. Jubilee, indulgences for all, please divine daddy…

I should not be so dramatic, after all, there is progress in specific areas. It is just the unintended consequences that become problems. I am thinking about the extended life spans of people. Resources are spent on caring for the elderly that could be spent on early childhood education and poverty elimination. But we could also do that by simply eliminating the huge military budget. If the US spent as much as European countries we might even be able to afford socialized medical care, and take care of the young and elderly. One can dream. Maybe even throw in free university education, Obama has the right idea for free community college.

Perhaps we as a world civilization will move on to the socialist paradigm, and away from the Capitalist one but then there will be issues of the individual against the bureaucratic machine, Ayn Rand followers might then actually have a case. The State in the US is merely intrusive rather than overwhelming. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until I had a catastrophic illness that I really benefited from the state. Going back to school, medical care and tax relief were some of the most evident benefits, it made kidney failure almost enjoyable. Being back at work has been somewhat traumatic, especially because it has forced me to cut back on school. The experience has shown up the class distinctions in the US with education becoming again a luxury for the affluent, unless massive debt is something in your aspirational vision. Hmm not doing too good with this optimism thing, not really my forte.

This was what we used to do for Easter when I was a kid. Only our eggs were not so fancy.
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Works Cited

Burford, Alison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking. 2005.

Near Eastern Influences on Archaic Period Greece

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior fighting each other. Depiction in ancient kylix. 5th c. B.C. National Archaeological Museum of Athens
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Persian_Wars#/media/File:Greek-Persian_duel.jpg
img src=”http://www.crystalinks.com/Greco_PersianWars.jpg” alt=”" /

I recently posted this book review I did for an ancient Greek survey class. I have have had some health issues recently and had to drop most of my classes. Work has been excessively demanding and has taken up most of my waking hours, and being sick just left me too drained to continue most of my studies. I did manage to hang onto this one class and I am thoroughly enjoying my hours immersed in the Greeks. The question has come up in my mind, as I watch Congress fawning over Israel and evincing seemingly irrational fear of Iran, as to why this anti Iranian sentiment. It is more than simply the result of the Iranian take over of the embassy in Tehran. This is deeper cultural stuff. As I was thinking about the Greco-Persian Wars, I realized that the anti-Persian propaganda goes back to the ancient Greeks and the wars against the Persian Empire in the 5th Century BCE. Since the study of ancient Greece goes back to at least the 18th Century in elite American and Western European culture, this prejudice, part of a greater fear of Oriental domination, ingrained by experiences with the Muslims and Turks more specifically in the case of Europe, all has influenced the current political climate. I applaud the Obama administration for its breaking through to a more rational position vis a vie Iran.

I hope you enjoy reading my review.

Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Trans. Margaret E. Pinder and Walter Burkert. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press. 1992).

Burkert’s book is dedicated to the exploration of oriental influences in Greek culture particularly in the archaic period of the ninth through sixth centuries BCE. Burkert starts with evidence from scraps of Greek literature bolstered by an examination of the artifacts remaining from the period. He considers the period of the Assyrian battles for domination on the coast of Northern Syria in the later Ninth century and again in the later eighth and early seventh centuries BCE, in particular to be seminal in the diversification of Oriental knowledge among the Greeks, with refugee craftsmen relocating to the Greek speaking regions among others (Burkert 11-14).
Specific example Burkert uses for an early immigration is that of a family of goldsmiths and gem cutter in Knossos who reused a Minoan tomb consecrating it with oriental style foundation deposits in approximately 800 BCE known as the “Tomb of the Goldsmiths” (22, 54). He goes into a rather extensive description of the traditions of the “public workers,” or demioergoi (Od. 17.383-385 qtd. in Burkert 23), writing of their ability to move about due to their skills of techne (23). He indicates that immigrant potters, and vase painters came from Egypt, Lydia and Phrygia also, noting that as late as Aristotle craftsmen were as a rule described as immigrant non-citizens, and often slaves (23).

Banded Jug with Oriental Influences

The seventh century began with the influence of Oriential Style are influencing the current Geometric Style. Images of lions, foreign goddesses followed by strange animals, and the sphynx were all elements introduced into greek vase painting by eastern culture. The brunt of the oriental influence came from the greek east that had the most contact with eastern civilization. The areas of Rhodes, Samos, and Miletus had a strong influence on this trend.

(Carter, np)

Burkert also describes in some detail the transfer of magical and religious rituals and traditions citing the bronze liver models from Mesopotamia in clay and the very similar Etruscan liver model from Piacenza in the third century BCE and being an example of a clear transfer of systems of belief from the east to the west, in this case hepatoscopy or haruspicina, divination by interpreting sheep livers in particular (Burkert 46-48). He indicates that there was a very specific Assyrian school with a systemic approach that was somewhat abstracted from nature, also followed in their own system of saecula by the Etruscans (48, 49-50). The Greeks he argues followed a more naturalistic and behavioral model in interpretation with it becoming the preferred form of divination into the classical period as Burkert cites from Plato (49). He considers “the spread of hepatoscopy one of the clearest examples of cultural contact in the orientalizing period” (51). The mobility of seers and healers or “migrant charismatics” as he calls them, is a key part of the spread of oriental wisdom to the west along with the traders and craftsmen.

Burkert spends some time denouncing the “anti-oriental reflex” (3) as something that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries among German speaking academia, in particular, as an outgrowth of the “ideology of romantic nationalism” of Herder, the separation of philology from religion by Wolf and the new pagan influenced classicism of Winckemann (2). The emergence of national romanticism is seen by the author as part of the grounds in which anti-Semitism gained influence in classical studies. The discovery of the Indo-European linguistic base for most European languages, along with Sanskrit and Persian, furthered what was at the time a Greek-Roman-Germanic view of the world (2). A strong motivation for Burkert is quite evident in his almost crusader like approach to rehabilitating the Oriental and Semitic influence in particular in this study of the Archaic period of Greek history. He notes later in the text that Beloch went out of his way to separate “Rhodian Zeus Atabyrios from Mount Atabyron =Tabor, the mountain in Palestine” claiming this as a clear cut case of anti-Semitism (34).

While I am not an authority on German academic anti-Semitism, it is fairly clear that until recently Semitic roots to many aspects of Greek culture has been limited. A simple scan of the citations from the East in the text book A Brief History of Ancient Greece describes the period after the decline of the Mycenaean Civilization mentions grave goods from Greek tombs, from the Near East that may have been a result of contact with “Near Eastern traders roaming the Aegean Sea” (Pomeroy et. al., 47). They mention the emergence of iron working after 1050 BCE as a result of trade in bronze making raw materials being cut off, rather than being the result of technology learned from the Hittites or other Near Eastern sources where “Iron technology was long known” (43). Mention is made of Hesiod deriving a history of the gods in his Theogony from ancient Mesopotamian stories, but then goes nowhere with that connection (57). Later describing Hesiod’s Works and Days where “Sermonizing poetry, so different from that of the Homeric narrative, was clearly influenced by the Ancient Genre of Near Eastern ‘wisdom literature’” (77). The colonization of the wider Mediterranean word is attributed to Greek traders in partnership with Phoenicians (59) and that the Greeks took up the phonetic writing system in the Eighth century for reasons that are called debatable (60). They do better describing the origins of art in the description of the “Orientalizing style” from the Near East and Egypt in about 720 BCE, but the description takes up a couple of sentences only (62) and their description of the emergence of the classic Greek Temple at that time doesn’t mention outside influences at all (62). This may seem fairly substantial but it seems to allude to rather than explore the influences of the East. Burkert sets about to develop the influences his and others influence can be seen in the text above.

Lady of Auxerre
Lady of Auxerra. Limestone, probably from Crete, ca 650-625 BCE.

Source: Boundless. “The Orientalizing Period.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 14 Nov. 2014. Retrieved 05 Apr. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/art-history/textbooks/boundless-art-history-textbook/ancient-greece-6/the-geometric-and-orientalizing-periods-63/the-orientalizing-period-330-10889/

Burkert claims an eastern influence on the construction of large altars for burnt offerings and the large temples which he notes coincided with the period of movement of eastern craftsmen in the eighth century prior to which there had been no examples in Greece (Burkert, 20). The use of composite beasts and other animal motifs in pottery and sculpture are part of what has been known as the Orientalizing period as mentioned above. Creatures such as the Chimera have Hittite links, Triton’s to Mesopotamia, as well as lion motifs. He states that the sight of a lion would have been something unknown in the life of most Greeks (20). He goes on to say that “typically Greek” forms of portrayal of Zeus and Poseidon with the lightning bolt or the trident are derived from Syrio-Hittite statuettes. The same goes for the portrayal of the standing naked female goddess with hands touching breasts as being of Syrian origin (21). He goes on to state that the Hoplite weapons that came into use in the Archaic period were close to Assyrian and Urartian models, suggesting that mercenaries may have picked brought them back with them. Burkert notes the Carian and Ionian mercenaries in Egypt under Psammentichus among others in the seventh and sixth century (25). Burkert, a philologist, has an extensive discourse on the use of loan words from the Near East. He states that the earliest Greek writing shows up shortly before 750 BCE in Naxos, Ischia, Athens, and Euboea intersecting exactly with the time of the “trading connections of Iawones from Syria via Euboea to the West” (26). He says that while the exact location of the transfer may be hard to pinpoint, it occurred rather rapidly form Phrygians to the Etruscans in a matter of a few decades, indicating that the idea of a slow indigenous development of the Greek alphabet had been discredited by Lilian Jeffery’s work (27).

Burkert seems to go so far as to give short shrift to the Egyptian influence on Greek culture and religion. As he describes the possible roots of the Greek tradition of liver augury, describing the priest clan of the Tamiradae at Paphos claiming to have brought the tradition from Cilicia, citing Tacitus and discounting the earlier source Herodotus’ claim for an Egyptian source as being unfounded (49; note 16, 182). Although I understand is desire to accentuate Semitic roots, discounting Egyptian roots seems to be somewhat counterproductive. The distinctions being made by Burkert seemingly have more to do with late twentieth century revisionism than historical fact. Although his speculations on the migration of technology, myth, and religion seem perfectly valid, his emphasis on the Akkadian, Phoenician and Assyrian roots is noteworthy.

Bernal in his extensive review of Burkert, complains of the lack of inclusion of the Egyptians and of the narrow time frame in which Burkert sets the impact on Greek culture of the Near East (Bernal 138). Bernal has bigger fish to fry, he seems to be out to debunk the concept of the Dark Ages in Greece as one of isolation from which the Greeks emerged in the Archaic period stating “Burkert appears to share the Hellenocentric view that … the ‘Dark Ages’ provide a significant barrier between the cosmopolitan society of the palaces and the ‘repurified’ Greek society that emerged in the early eight century” (138). He goes on to argue that the initial Semitic influence goes back to the earliest period of Bronze Age Greece and Minoan Crete to the early second millennium BCE (144). While I agree with Bernal on his assessment on the weakness of the Egyptian influence in Burkert’s argument, I don’t read Burkert as excluding earlier influences so much as focusing on the Archaic period and expanding upon our understanding of the extent of the influence of dispersion of ideas across geographic regions.

Writing of purification rituals, Burkert describes how there is a wide literature available for magic rituals whereas that in Greek is brief, allusive or dependent on later reports Burkert, (Burkert, 56). He discusses the piglet bloodletting rituals in Aeschylus description of the purification of Orestes for murder (57). He mentions one example of ritual purification in the Iliad called lymata or dirty water being disposed of (57), Deciding to look for the citation I found (Il.1.313-314) “while Atreus’ son told his people to wash off their defilement. And they washed it away and threw the washing into the salt sea.” (Trans. Lat. 83). This seems to be related to the offense to Apollo and his priest. Seeking further information about the matter I found this extract on Theoi.com:

Arctinus of Miletus, The Aethiopis Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th B.C.): “Akhilleus [after slaying Thersites for his insults] sails to Lesbos and after sacrificing to Apollon, Artemis and Leto, is purified by Odysseus from bloodshed.” (Astima, Artemis n.p.).

An Apulian krater in the Louvre shows Apollo himself pouring the blood of the pig over Orestes Burkert affirms, although he does not show this image in the book (Burkert, 57). It is available on line from the web site of the Louvre in Paris. Below is the image described by Burkert with a description from the Louvre Museum in Paris where the krater is located:

The purification Orestes in Delphi.’ This exceptionally large bell-krater depicts the beginning of Aeschylus’s tragedy The Eumenides. The scene opens at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, symbolized by an altar surmounted by the Omphalos, the navel of the world. Orestes has taken refuge here, fleeing the Erinyes, the terrible goddesses of vengeance. He is still holding the dagger with which he has killed his mother, Clytemnestra, to avenge his father. Behind him stands Apollo, holding a laurel branch in one hand and, with the other, shaking a piglet above the young man’s head in a gesture of purification. Artemis, the god’s sister, stands by his side.

(Padel-Imbaud, np).

The ritual purification in the Semitic world involved the blood of a pig as Burkert indicates in an excerpt from Babylonian ritual texts of purification (Burkert, 58). There is much evidence of purification rituals in the Near East from which the Greeks could have picked up from traveling seers and healers the specific practices mentioned above He goes on to make the point that even Apollo had to undergo ritual purification after slaying the Python, by going to Crete which Burkert associates along with Cypress as a center for the early Orientalizing period. He also notes that there are indications that the cult of Apollo itself has links to Semitic culture including the rituals around the new moon and the seventh day of the month (61). Although he clearly states that not all coincidental similarities of names and timing of events, are not evidence of Semitic influences, he feels that not enough recognition of the links that are the most likely hypothesis are given credibility by experts in the field and this book goes a long way in rectifying that lack of credit.

With much detail and copious notes, half again as long as the book itself, Burkert packs in a short text of 129 pages plus 90 pages of notes and bibliography an extensive and well- argued case for the continuous and extensive interaction between the Near East and Archaic period Greece. While he doesn’t give much shrift to the continuity of prior connections during the Bronze age, focusing on the period from about 800 – 650 BCE, he does not state that this was the only period of interaction, but the main early period. As I have stated before he leaves Egyptian sources largely neglected, but his effort is primarily aimed at debunking the approach of Orientalists and Hellenists that tries to examine Greece as a pure case of indigenous brilliance as the source of western civilization separate from the Near Eastern cradle in which the Greek baby rocked.

Works Cited

Atsma, Aaron J. “Artemis Goddess.” Theoi Project 2000 - 2011, Accessed Feb. 21, 2015 http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisGoddess.html

Bernal, Martin. “Burkert’s Orientalizing Revolution.” Arion, 4.2 (1996): 137-147.

Carter, Xxavier. “The Geometric Style Greek Archaeology,” Metamedia at Stanford http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/113/655. Last modified Sat Dec 17/2005 06:09. Accessed 4 April 2015.

Lattimore, Richmond, Trans. The Iliad of Homer. Introduction and notes Richard Martin. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2911.

Padel-Imbaud, Sophie. “The purification of Orestes in Delphi.” Apulian red-figure bell-krateine 23. Collection Campana, 1861, 1861 Known as the “Eumenides Krater” Cp 710. Louvre, France. http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/apulian-red-figure-bell-krater. Web, accessed 2/22/15.r. Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC) Sully wing 1st floor Galerie Campana V Room 44 Vitr

Pomeroy, Sarah B., Burstein, Stanley M., Donlan, Walter, Roberts, Jennifer Tolbert, and Tandy, David, W. A Brief History of Ancient Greece Politics, Society, and Culture. Third ed. New York: Oxford U. Press. 2014.

Betwixt and Between

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

Betwixt and Between talk with Mihika
From: betwixtandbetween.libsyn.com-

I am hovering over a decision whether to drop the pretense of understanding the English language well enough to write it properly. Questions about my willingness to persevere in, the process of dissecting the English language, and attempting to become a better writer via the English Rhetoric program at CSULB have arisen. Dread at another sleepless semester has me halting before the gateway to eternal wisdom.

Dante purportedly originated the phrase: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” the warning at the gates of hell
From: wordwhoops.wordpress.com

Invested as I have become in attaining a degree in English Rhetoric, I find myself falling into continual despair at my inability to articulate correctly the brick and mortar terminology of the language. I have been reduced to watching ESL videos on YouTube in attempts to prop up my poor understanding of grammatical structure.

From: http://tracifishbowl.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-one-where-i-get-little-crazy-about.html

I am at another Rubicon, and sit here on my writing bed Hamletizing over whether to wrestle with my travails and misfortunes or to throw in the literary towel. And yes, I did consciously use Hamletize, that literary no-no. As my old girlfriend Nadine would famously say “fuck em’ if they can’t take a joke.” I am becoming much too aware of my phrasing for my native heart to take. Hesitating and bemoaning my lack of clarity, denigrating the artless expression of raw content, and thus forfeiting immediacy, for fear of clunky exhortations.

From: The Vault at Pfaff’s - Biographies - Search digital.lib.lehigh.edu-

Arguments over passive voice and active voice, transitive and intransitive verbs, proper pronouns and the lot have me quivering in fear over the next word, whether or not this sentence will falter and die a thousand deaths, or land in some version of literary limbo.

Aldous Huxley with “Limbo” From: aleaftothebean.wordpress.com

I can envision Dante, led by his faithful Roman guide Vergil, observing myself same words, enduring the slings and arrows of abuse from Chiron’s centaur horde. I can reference with the best of them, but only with the help of a well-worn Google search. Only the fragments of memory from the days when I could roam over the literary fields with some felicity have aided in my hunt and pecking in these more dour times.

Chiron Descending From: ebooks.adelaide.edu.au

So should I continue to abuse myself, lacking sleep, deferring literary projects, following the dubious path of academic acknowledgement, into my doddering last days, or eschew the trappings of academia and strike forth upon my own, hacking a path in the primordial-chthonic stew? I suppose, imagine, conjure, that to be the question dear reader.

I singe the body eclectic!

From: Scientists Are Cracking the Primordial Soup Mystery | Motherboard motherboard.vice.com-

New Year

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

A Tale of Two Hoodies
From: globalgrind.com

It is a new year a dawning. I hear fireworks, shouting and pan clanging around me as I write. Out with the old, and in with the new.

We have begun to see the resistant remnants of ugly racism fall before the angry critique of the aroused brown and black peoples. It is my firm belief that the US will be able to face at last the lingering distasteful odor of race based discrimination and cleanse itself, from this bloody relic of slavery and colonial imperialism. Good luck and well wishes to us all.

From: socialistorganizer.org

May 2015 be the year we finally make it to a world where there is only one race, the human race.

From: http://blog.loukavar.com/2014/08/28/moving-beyond-racism/

See you around the block folks, and may we all grow in tolerance, empathy and understanding.


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